I was asked a few times today about why I didn't include Cody Whitehair in my center rankings earlier today. It's a fair question considering I had him ranked 8th overall in the entire draft. Whitehair is 6'4, 301 pounds with just over 32" arms. The former left tackles frame screams to kick him inside. During his college career he played both tackle spots as well as left guard. In the post season circuit he has worked out almost exclusively as an interior lineman. That continued at his pro day, too, where Whitehair worked out as both center and guard.
Today I want to go over 4 traits with Whitehair. How he is in space, how he is against speed rushers, how powerful he is, and tie it all in with technique.
A Stud in space
When I mention blocking in space I'm looking for a guy that can both pull laterally effectively but also climb to the 2nd level and locate linebackers. It's one thing to get there, it's another thing to be able to lock on. Finally, once you lock on, you have to stay engaged and drive your feet.
This guy.....he just completely washed Ridgeway the play before, too pic.twitter.com/xk1s8U3P1d— KP (@KP_Show) April 18, 2016
This is what makes this block so impressive. First off, he doesn't get caught up in "traffic" working to the 2nd level. Second, not only is his footwork efficient to get there, but he does a good job of breaking down prior to reaching the linebacker that way he there's no chance of him lunging or over-pursuing. Then you see Whitehair locks on and RIP to you, 46. Below are a few more examples of Whitehair pulling and working in space.
You see good athleticism in the the first 2 clips where he has to execute long pulls. Nothing too fancy but he executes each assignment at a high level. Love how he is always looking to locate a defender when he's on the move and is under control. Whitehair is about as good as it gets when it comes to working in space.
Issues against speed?
The problem with most offensive lineman is that once they get beat once by something, that's the play that sticks in your head. When it comes to evaluating speed rushers I'm looking for a player that can not only protect the edge if he's a tackle, but isn't getting beat by quick arm overs or rip through moves. At the same time I'm factoring in if they're keeping their head on a swivel and picking up blitzers that are coming in at full speed. As far as the latter goes, Whitehair is very aware at what's going on in front of him. I don't have any issues with him picking up stunts or blitzing linebackers/defensive backs.
As far as facing speed rushers, he was able to counter their counter move, which is a rarity at the college level and why I believe he'll be great in the NFL. While there were times where Whitehair's hands were a little too far outside, or he just got beat like most offensive lineman do, his technique is more than good enough against speed rushers.
You can see in the first clip Whitehair oversets and gets beat to the inside. Then on the final clip against a longer edge rusher he just doesn't have the length to compensate. Most of the time when analysts project to move a player inside it will only magnify that players problems. With Whitehair that won't be an issue. He's not susceptible to quick pass rush moves and that's why he'll be just fine inside. He'll be dealing with much more compact players there. Even if a team wants him to play tackle in a pinch, he was beaten under 5 times in 5 games against speed rushers. That's pretty ridiculous.
Generating gaping holes and holding his ground
I've mentioned how efficient Whitehair is with his footwork. Watching him as a run blocker you really get a chance to see him snatch up defenders and move them with ease. Putting together good technique as a run blocker and the type of strength he has led to him tossing guys on the ground or paving the way for big running lanes for his running back.
As far as protecting the passer, I think against power rushers his strength really stood out. Initially there were reps where Whitehair would give initial ground, but after a step or maybe two there would be nothing doing for the edge rusher. This mostly has to do with longer defenders getting into his frame then once they made initial contact, he was able to neutralize them. Not much tape against him as an interior pass protector so we have to use what happened at the Senior Bowl.
This was against 327 pound nose tackle D.J. Reader. There will surely be a learning curve going from blocking 240-260 pound guys to 290-320 pound guys. I don't doubt Whitehair will have an issue with this.
What is he?
If another convert scares you off ala Chris Watt, I certainly understand your concern. Let me make this clear, they're not in the same stratosphere talent wise. Whitehair just didn't make the same mistakes Watt did. Hell, Whitehair rarely made any mistakes. His awareness and ability to change directions is off the charts. Not to mention he is strong like bull and plays with good technique so he's not relying on just physical tools. Whitehair will likely be there at the top of the 2nd round when the Chargers pick and Tom Telesco will have a tough decision to make. There's a strong chance you're getting best player available at a position of need. I'd do it without thinking twice. Don't be the team that passes on a damn good football player because 1 negative trait (arm length/size.) There are 8 traits where you'd think he will be an all-pro.