Whitehair's positional versatility could lead to a first-round selection
Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is the only guard on our board with a first-round rank. Interior offensive lineman rarely hear their name called on Day 1, but Whitehair may well prove an exception. He possesses a rare combination of athleticism and technical proficiency that is unmatched in this class.
However, Whitehair’s combine performance and experience at left tackle make his projection particularly fascinating. While he outperformed the majority of tackles in the athletic tests, Whitehair’s arms are significantly shorter than most of players who start at the position in the NFL. The issue of whether Whitehair’s arm length prohibits him from manning the perimeter in the pros is also considered. A week from the NFL draft, let’s take a closer look at the top prospect:
Over the two that PFF has graded college football games, few players have outperformed Cody Whitehair. He has a combined grade of +76.7 in two full years of starting at left tackle for the Wildcats. In 2015, his +31.0 run blocking grade led the nation. Whitehair also finished second with a run block success of 94.3 percent. He provides offensive coordinators with the versatility to call any run concept on their playbook. While Whitehair lacks the power of a number of his peers (he benched only 16 reps at the combine), he can certainly contribute on double teams. Blocking in-line is far from an issue for KSU’s left tackle. Although he’s unlikely to overpower defensive lineman, Whitehair’s technical proficiency makes up for a lack of strength. His hand placement and foot quickness make him mightily effective blocking at the line of scrimmage.
Below is an example of Whitehair’s quality in the run game (lined up as LT No. 55 on all plays).
He frequently eliminated defensive lineman from plays, not by overpowering them, but by consistently sustaining his leverage. By keeping himself between the back and the defender, Whitehair totally nullified the influence of his opponent on a number of plays. Below is one of a couple examples from KSU’s game against West Virginia:
Whitehair is most effective, however, when blocking on the move. Whether required to pull out and lead on a power run, or quickly climb to the second level, Whitehair stands out. He moves incredibly smoothly whilst remaining balanced, enabling him to quickly re-direct to match linebackers. Once Whitehair locks on, he’s able to sustain blocks to the whistle. Few lineman possess Whitehair’s combination of athleticism and refined technique, making him such attractive an attractive prospect. The following play against Texas is one of the most impressive reps by any offensive lineman in 2015. He drives the linebacker about 15 yards on this play:
Below is another example of Whitehair’s ability at the second level.
And, to show his versatility, here are a pair of plays with Whitehair pulling out in front on power.
Whitehair’s football awareness also stands out on tape. In the run game, he shows exceptional decision-making. Knowing when to move to the second level, or when to sustain the initial double-team, is an underrated trait in offensive lineman. Whitehair frequently maintained the combo block when the linebacker vacated his gap, whilst showing the awareness to move to the second level when needed. His football instincts also show up in pass protection. Whitehair recognises stunts early enough to give the defensive end a shot, before relocating the looping tackle. Kansas State’s left tackle has the athleticism, instincts and technique to be an outstanding NFL player.
Can Whitehair play tackle?
Cody Whitehair has many strengths, the question is whether his one deficiency precludes him from lining up against edge defenders at the next level. His arms are a mere 32-and-a-half inches. That length leaves him in the fourth percentile amongst tackles. Length alone might not be significant, but the issue crops up fairly frequently on tape.
Whitehair loses the first contact in pass protection consistently, simply because his reach is inferior to the defensive lineman he was matched up with. His shorter arms cost him bullrush pressure in a number of instances. Whitehair only ranked 55th in the nation in terms of pressure allowed per-snap on power moves.
Below are a couple of examples from his games against Arkansas and Oklahoma State:
If his length was an issue at the college level, the deficiency is likely to be magnified in the pros. With that said, Whitehair’s hand placement and quick feet ensured he was able to prevent defensive lineman from shedding him laterally the majority of the time. Even when initially driven backward, Whitehair flashed a remarkable ability to redirect and prevent clean shots at his QB. A pair of plays from the same game show his ability to recover:
Few current NFL tackles have arms of similar length to Whitehair’s. The Giants’ versatile lineman, Justin Pugh, measured in with 32 inch arms at the 2013 combine. Pugh also played tackle at Syracuse, but was perceived as a guard at the next level. After taking him with the 19th overall pick a couple of seasons ago, Pugh has lined up at left tackle, right tackle and on the interior. He recorded the highest grade of his career last year, when shifted inside to left guard. Pugh ranked 14th amongst guards with an 85.3 overall grade. No doubt he had his best season inside, but Pugh proved he could at least hold his own when lined up on the perimeter. As a full-time right tackle in 2014, Pugh allowed six sacks, four hits and 18 pressures, ending the season ranked 32nd in pass protection. It seems plausible to suggest Whitehair can be a similarly competent, if not ideal, tackle in the pros.
The bottom line
Pugh’s selection with the 19th overall pick in 2013 likely provides an insight into Whitehair’s value. As well as possessing the potential to become an elite guard, Whitehair’s experience at Kansas State enables him to backup at both tackle spots. That versatility will prove invaluable on game day. Teams traditionally only dress two backup lineman, one of which is often a specialist center, forcing a single player to provide the depth at both guard and tackle.
Whitehair’s ability to play inside or out alleviates the difficulty in finding an effective swing tackle. If Whitehair can be at least a serviceable tackle, he can provide offensive line coaches with flexibility when establishing their best combinations. Whitehair is arguably the most pro-ready offensive lineman in this draft, can play a number of positions, and has the versatility to produce in any scheme. I believe he’s well worth a Day 1 investment.