August 17, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) during their preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M

Detroit Lions 2013 Training Camp Watch List: Tahir Whitehead

Projected by many as the starting Sam backer this season, second year player Tahir Whitehead – whose most memorable moment in the first preseason game was his involvement in a scuffle – has not yet proven he’s capable of filling that role for the franchise. Certainly he passes the eye test, but does this former fifth round pick have what it takes? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s an excerpt from my 2012 scouting report where I gave Whitehead a 6.2 D grade (5th/6th round developmental prospect who projects as a solid backup):

Strengths: Possesses above average long speed. Effective blitzer with a quick first step off the edge and explosive hand usage to keep himself clean. Consistently gets a good jam on TE’s at the LOS and can hold his ground at the POA. Team Captain with excellent intangibles.

Weaknesses: Linear athlete who lacks ideal lateral agility. Struggles changing directions quickly and will allow separation in coverage. Lacks sideline to sideline range. Drag down tackler; doesn’t show stopping power on contact. Plays high and struggles breaking down to consistently tackle well in space. Not overly physical.

Summary: Tahir is a developmental prospect who doesn’t appear to have the ideal athletic traits and strength to be a starter, but brings special teams value and excellent intangibles. Though he lacks the lateral agility to stay in tight M/M coverage on passing downs, he does showcase the characteristics to be a pass rush threat in blitz packages. Tahir is at his best on the LOS where he can extend his arms on contact to keep himself clean and utilize quick hands to consistently slip blocks and work his way toward the QB. In the short term he could provide value on special teams with the upside to be an effective sub-package option in blitz packages. If he continues to add strength, he has the potential to be a solid SLB backup who’s effective vs. the run, but has to come off the field on passing downs when he’s not asked to rush the passer. Fifth to sixth round prospect.

To be fair, Whitehead played predominantly as the nine technique in Temple’s 3-4 scheme where he was primarily asked to rush the passer off the edge. His ability to transition to the Lions 4-3 scheme, play off the ball and cover in space will ultimately be the determining factor as to whether or not he can be a productive starter.

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