04/29/2012 - A closer look at the Lions' picks: Round 5/138 - Tahir Whitehead, OLB, 6-1, 233, Temple...Whitehead played outside in a 3-4 system at Temple, but they see him as a 4-3 outside backer. He plays with a lot of speed and he's good in coverage. - The Sports Xchange
Whitehead is a classic example of what strong pre-draft workouts can do for a prospect's draft stock. He scored a coveted invite to the scouting combined and impressed with a 4.70-second 40-yard dash and 37-inch vertical.
Whitehead then improved his 40 time a nudge to 4.68 at his March 16 pro day and started rising into mid-round potential. He also benefitted by playing on a Temple defense that also featured linebacker Stephen Johnson and rush end Adrian Robinson, who helped draw more attention to Whitehead's game tape.
What scouts saw was a playmaking outside linebacker who led the Owls with 12 tackles for loss as a senior while also picking up five sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Those are the difference-making plays that separate defensive prospects in the middle rounds.
The Jersey City, N.J. native was a safety, wide receiver, tight end and running back for his 2007 state high school championship team. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman at Temple, and was a special teams standout as well.
He started eight games in 2010 while continuing to play on the punt and kickoff return units.
Strengths: Productive, high-effort football player who doesn't back down from a challenge. Diagnoses the run quickly and willingly takes on blockers, showing good upper body strength and hand usage to shed and make the stop in the hole. Long arms and heavy hands to chop away on the blitz. Gets a strong initial jam on the tight end. Generates good speed when he has room to accelerate and shows an impressive closing burst to explode into tackles and force fumbles (seven forced fumbles over his career). Plays with the straight-line speed and aggression to make an impact on special teams immediately and has the work ethic to develop into a solid contributing defender early in his career. Voted a team captain in 2011.
Weaknesses: A bit of a 'tweener. Possesses the size scouts associate with a weakside linebacker in the 4-3 alignment but lacks awareness in coverage, as well as the fluidity to turn and keep in the hip-pocket of tight ends and running backs. Straight-line speed does not translate well onto the field as he struggles, a bit, with balance. Is a limited athlete who may have already reached his peak.