IOWA CITY — Riley Reiff hears the whispers but ignores them.
Reiff, Iowa's dominant junior left tackle, already is listed as a top NFL prospect and he has two years of eligibility remaining. Reiff, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 300 pounds, was tabbed as the top offensive tackle available by The Sporting News for a draft of which he has yet to declare.
"I don’t follow any of that stuff," Reiff said. "I plan on being around here for two years, so that doesn’t really even matter. They must not watch film if that’s the case."
But the people watching film on Reiff see the upside. He's physical and fundamentally sound. He plays in a pro-style, zone-blocking scheme that's NFL ready. Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Services, said Reiff already is "on everybody's radar" because of the shallow talent pool available at offensive tackle for 2012.
"He's a guy that's pretty equal in regards to his effectiveness as a run blocker and a pass blocker," Shonka said. "Fundamentally, this guy is a really good football player. He plays with good functional strength and balance. He's got the things you're looking for from an offensive lineman. Will he take his game up? Will he improve this whole year? Will he get better every game? If he does, he's going to have a big decision to make."
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz knows the routine as well. In 2010 he lost starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga a year early to the NFL. This spring, strong safety Tyler Sash declared for the NFL draft a year early. Ferentz acknowledges Reiff will need to decide between Iowa and the NFL after the season. But that's not Ferentz's priority this fall.
"Right now he needs to worry about getting better, and I know that's what he's thinking about and playing well this year," Ferentz said. "If there's a decision to make, he'll make it. But I'm going to ask him. I don't even have to tell him. I know how Riley is. He's not worried about that stuff."
Reiff, a Parkston, S.D. native, came to Iowa in 2008 as a defensive end before shifting to offensive line almost immediately. He found a home on the scout team and said he took pride in preparing the defense for their upcoming opponent.
As a red-shirt freshman in 2009, Reiff replaced an ailing Bulaga at Iowa State in the second game. Reiff started three games at left tackle, then shifted to left guard when Bulaga returned. Reiff finished the season as the starter at right tackle in the Orange Bowl.
Reiff credits Bulaga, now the starting right tackle in Green Bay, for helping him learn Iowa's offense and study his opponents.
"Right before the games — I roomed with him that whole year — he was telling me, ‘You’ve got to look out for this,’" Reiff said. "He knew a lot more because he’d been playing a lot more than me. He helped me out tremendously, even when I was playing beside him that year. We’d watch film together and he was like, 'Hey we need to stay on this block longer. You need to help me out a little bit here.' That helped me out a lot."
Once Bulaga left, Reiff shifted permanently to left tackle. Last year he faced premier defensive linemen including first-round picks Cameron Heyward of Ohio State and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. Reiff also had to block Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a first-round pick as well, every day in practice.
"Adrian helped me significantly going up against him every day, just knowing that every day you’re going to have to bring your best to try to compete with him," Reiff said.
Reiff's physical tools and sound technique make him a prime All-American candidate. But it's his attitude that puts him in that position.
Iowa senior linebacker Tyler Nielsen often runs into Reiff during strong-side running plays in practice. Nielsen said Reiff is good with his hands and is athletic for a big guy. But there's more.
"If you knew Riley, it’s more about a mentality than anything else," Nielsen said. "He’s going to fire off the ball, and he’s going to try to put you on your back every time he hits you. So that’s kind of the approach he takes and that’s what makes him a good player."Based on his progress and amplified by his health, Reiff has a chance to become Iowa's sixth first-round draft pick under Ferentz. The question is, will it be in 2012 or 2013?