Tahir Whitehead Was A Full-time Starter At Middle Linebacker For The First Time In 2016
Coming in at 6’2, 235lbs, Tahir Whitehead was one of the very few late-round Martin Mayhew picks that have made it to a second contract. A fifth rounder from Temple in the 2012 NFL Draft, many thought he may find a new home in the 2016 offseason. However, lack of depth at the linebacker position and lingering health questions regarding DeAndre Levy, made Whitehead one of new GM Bob Quinn’s first signings. Whitehead was given a 2-year contract worth $9 million, with a $3 million signing bonus.
Let’s Begin With His Strengths:
Whitehead is a grinder, evident from his first year with the team when he was given the ‘Iron-Man’ award for toughness and special teams play. He is well respected by his coaches and teammates, and occasionally is a game-day captain or has something to say when Glover Quin is quiet. He also has optimal speed for the position and is a sure tackler. Has no issues tracking down a running back and knocking him down for a minimal gain on a swing pass. We will get to some of his deficiencies in coverage, but Whitehead never has issues staying in phase with bigger slots or tight ends the way Stephen Tulloch did for the Lions in 2015.
Unfortunately, Whitehead’s 2016 was filled with more good than bad. He had 99 solo tackles, good for 3rd in the entire NFL, however only two of these tackles went for losses. A majority of his tackles came from wrapping up tight ends who would run little hook routes into his zone, then he’d wrap them up immediately after the catch. Whitehead’s inability to make plays is frustrating.
He had no sacks, no fumble recoveries, no forced fumbles, and no interceptions either. He lacks instincts in zone coverage, often a day late and a dollar short when it comes to getting his hands up to deflect a pass or knock the ball out of a receiver’s hands. In fairness, Teryl Austin’s conservative ‘keep the offense in front of you’ game plans didn’t put Whitehead in game-changing positions often, but rarely did Whitehead ever pop out of the TV and make a noteworthy play.
My biggest grievance with Whitehead is that he tends to get lost in the sauce. Great linebackers like Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly make a living shooting gaps and making stops in the backfield. Whitehead is rarely quick to diagnose a play, and often ends up trapped behind his own defensive lineman with no idea where to go. The Lion’s d-tackles didn’t do many favors for the linebackers this year with their inability to beat double teams and getting driven off their landmarks, but at some point you want to see a guy overcome those circumstances and just make a play.
Being that it was his first full season being a NFL middle linebacker with the green dot on his helmet, I’m more than willing to give Whitehead the second year on his deal to grow and become a bigger force. What’s promising is that his limits aren’t physical. If he can pick up the speed of his mind and become better at diagnosing tendencies in the film room, I expect a much better 2017 for Whitehead.