Tahir Whitehead hits free agency this off-season – would the Lions be wise to retain him?
Sixty-eight. That is the number of starts made for the Lions in 2017 by seven defensive players who are now free agents. Sixteen of those were made by Tahir Whitehead, a six-year Lion who has remained largely healthy in 95 total games, missing only three possible games in his career. Whitehead had a solid 2017 season after a dismal 2016 campaign which resulted in him being ranked the worst linebacker by Pro Football Focus. Now, the 28-year-old is a free agent and is probably in the back of many fans’ minds, but he has been a meaningful contributor for years now and has largely been undervalued.
4-3 OLB, 3-4 OLB
|Prospect (Last, First)
|Scout Name (Last, First)
Free agent (Detroit Lions)
|Games Played||Starts||Games Won||Winning %||Positions Started||Captain|
|95||57||44||46.3%||4-3 OLB, 4-3 ILB||No|
|INJURIES||2017 – pectoral (Week 5, missed no games)
2016 – knee (Weeks 13-14, missed one game) abdomen (Week 7, missed no games)
2015 – shoulder (Week 7, missed no games) elbow (Week 1, missed no games)
2014 – shoulder (Week 15, missed no games)
2013-2012 – N/A
|KEY STATS||2017 – 100 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 4 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defended, 950 defensive snaps
2016 – 132 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 933 defensive snaps
|Height||Weight||40 YD||10 YD||Arm||Hand||Vert||3Cone||SS||Broad||Bench|
|6020||241 lbs.||4.70s||1.63s||32 3/8||10 ¼”||37”||7.14s||4.37s||124”||21reps|
|TAPES VIEWED||2017: 9/24 vs. ATL, 10/15 at NO, 10/29 vs. PIT, 11/23 vs. MIN, 12/24 at CIN|
Tahir Whitehead is a good run defender who does his best work at the point of attack. He reads his keys to diagnose blocking schemes quickly and does a good job of leveraging his gap accordingly, and is particularly effective at defending the C and D gaps along the line of scrimmage, largely due to his hand usage and take-on leverage. He has very large paws and the timing and placement of his strikes allow him to stack and shed offensive tackles and inline tight ends alike. When he’s playing downhill, he flashes the ability to ‘stick and go’ – land a punch against oncoming blockers and continue pursuit. Furthermore, he has great size for a linebacker and has the play strength to stalemate offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. As a tackler, he plays with solid knee bend and demonstrates good burst and lift, with the ability to take down ballcarriers of all sizes. When defending the outside run, he shows good hustle to the perimeter and can break down and lasso elusive runners looking to cut it back on him.
And while Whitehead has been maligned for his pass defense, he displays some good traits in zone coverage. He plays with good discipline, mirrors the quarterback’s eyes well, and reacts quickly to throws in front of him and into the flats. He’s also something of a junkyard dog who brings a territorial mindset within five yards. Whitehead excels at disrupting releases at the line of scrimmage and relishes opportunities to physically impede route development.
But when you think of the linebacking position, you think of smart, tough players. Whitehead isn’t the best overall athlete, but his good mental processing and quick first step allow him to play faster than his 40-yard dash time would indicate. He’s also a good competitor who plays with a high motor and consistent effort. And as an added bonus, he’s an active presnap communicator who has experience calling a defense.
Lastly, he makes an attempt on the ball when chasing down ballcarriers from behind and is a solid edge blitzer who displays solid bend and ankle flexion to turn the corner.
What hamstrings Tahir Whitehead is his below-average athleticism. He accelerates well, but neither his top end speed nor his change of direction ability is anything to write home about. His arms are also a bit smaller than you’d like in a linebacker.
He’s not the best against the outside run because he takes some sharp angles to the perimeter and will run himself out of position as a result. And when he’s pursuing full steam ahead, he comes in hot and will hit high with subpar body control, causing him to fall off some tackles.
Despite his perceptiveness in zone coverage, he lacks the ideal fluidity and change of direction to be effective in space, making him a below average zone defender. He’s particularly woeful in man coverage, as he will bite on the first sign of a head fake and drive downhill on the route, putting him behind in coverage. He struggles to stay in phase and will allow throwing windows to open at the last second due to adjustments made by route runners.
Against the inside run, he’ll occasionally become a deer in headlights when blockers climb towards him and will get taken out of the play. He also struggled as an inside blitzer due to timing his rush. And lastly, I was unable to evaluate his ball skills because I did not see him in a position to make a play on the ball often.
Tahir Whitehead is a dependable, tough, smart, and strong two-down run-stopper. He has scheme versatility too, as he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 due to his ability to hold the edge. Whoever his defensive coordinator is will have to have a plan for how to use him in coverage, if at all, but he can be effective within five yards of the line of scrimmage. If Matt Patricia is, in fact, ultimately named the head coach, Whitehead would be a nice utility piece in a hybrid front.