Wake Forest's Nikita Whitlock is a vastly underrated talent who had a sensational senior campaign attacking opponents' backfields as a nose guard/defensive tackle, despite taking on offensive linemen that normally outweighed him by 50 to 80 pounds. He shows excellent footwork and a sudden burst out of his snap, but life for 250-pound nose guards in the National Football League is not a daily occurrence.
Talent evaluators anticipate that Whitlock is subject to a position change in the professional ranks. Teams utilizing a 3-4 defensive alignment might shift him to strong-side inside linebacker, where size and straight-line speed are crucial. Others might look at the success that teams like the Buccaneers, Giants and Broncos have had in recent years converting smaller defenders to the offensive backfield.
With his frame, strength and ability to widen rush lanes a requirement at the fullback position, the Demon Deacon could be the "feel good story" in training camp with a potential move to that position. Still it is hard to overlook his defensive accomplishments in the trenches – fourth in school history with 18.5 quarterback sacks, second with 49.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage, along with causing five fumbles and registering 241 tackles in 47 games.
Whitlock's absence from the Scouting Combine might have saved the 335 players that did attend the 2014 event from embarrassment with his simply outstanding raw power, strength and lateral quickness. Instead, the soon-to-be NFL fullback had to wait until Wake Forest's Pro Day on March 17 to show NFL teams what they might be missing out on, if they bypass him for a more seasoned fullback on draft day.
In the weight room, Whitlock registered an incredible 43 reps in the 225-pound bench press. To put that in proper perspective, only guard/center Russell Bodine (North Carolina) bench pressed 40 times (42) at the 2014 Combine. In the last decade, just eight of more than 3,000 players to attend a Combine reached 40 reps in the bench press test. Among fullbacks at the Combine over the years, Tommy Bohanon holds the record with 36 reps. Since 2005, only Jerome Felton (30 in 2008) and Tony Fiammetta (30 in 2009) have even reached the 30-level mark among Combine fullbacks.
Whitlock registered a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9'0" broad jump, clocking in at 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He then ran an impressive 4.34 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. His three-cone drill time of 6.91 would have rated the best ever for a fullback at a Combine. That figure would have placed him first among all fullbacks and seventh among all running backs at the 2014 Indianapolis show. The only defensive lineman to record a better time in 2014 was Missouri's Kony Ealy (6.83), with speedy Texas edge rusher Jackson Jeffcoat placing second at 6.97.
Wake Forest University Demon Deacons
NOTE-Because Whitlock's college career was confined to defense, the offensive evaluation, which is a projection based on his athleticism, is followed by his defensive report:
Whitlock has marginal size to play defensive tackle in the NFL, but he is solidly built with more than enough room to add additional body mass. He has a thick upper-body frame with adequate arm length and wingspan, displaying a firm midsection and hips, along with a good bubble and a very strong lower body that shows solid thigh and calf thickness. He is too short for what teams are looking for in a two-gap tackle, but he has good upper-body thickness, a solid lower frame, firm midsection, good bubble, thick chest, average arm length, and while he does not have a wide body, there is room for additional growth.
Whitlock is a bit of an overachiever, but shows above average quickness and balance. He is cat-quick when coming off the snap, and shows intelligence and a high motor to deliver steady production. He lines up mostly at weak-side defensive tackle, but is more suited for left end at the next level, as he has enough field smarts to play off blocks when attacking from the edge, even though he's had very good success taking angles and shooting the inside gaps. He has outstanding feet, along with good agility and balance on the move, along with the smooth change of direction and flexibility to recover when he out-runs a play. The thing you see on film is that sudden acceleration when closing on the pocket (see 2013 Boston College, Army and Florida State games).
Whitlock is a player who is quick to locate the ball. Even though he does not show good hip snap, he has a very quick burst off the line. He is not fooled by play action and shows good effort on every play. He is a tough blue collar type who will play hurt and likes the challenge. He is a physically tough player who will throw his body around with reckless abandon to make the play. He is such an intense player, the coaches must rein him in during practices, fearing that he will injure and punish his own teammates on offense. He is a smart player who does not need to take time digesting the playbook, as he is an instinctive lineman, even though I still see that "middle linebacker-Jack Lambert, balls to the walls" approach in his game that has generated much of his success attacking the backfield as a senior (nine sacks in 2013 are tied for fifth on the school season-record chart, while his 19.0 tackles-for-loss rank fourth).
Whitlock is the type that wears his heart on his sleeve and plays as if he's on a "search and destroy" mission. He plays hard on every down and is physically tough. He will sacrifice his body willingly in order to make the play. I do not think there is a more competitive player in the country than this kid. He will get a little out of control at times, but he shows the desire to dominate and plays until the whistle. Whitlock won't take plays off, even when not involved in the action. He has all the ingredients needed to be a good contact seeker on running plays and appears to have the vision needed to pick up the blitz and maintain position in pass protection. He attacks defenders with vengeance and with his power, as a fullback, he should have no problems taking on contact and moving the pile.
Whitlock has good quickness off the ball and to the hole, but will need to learn how to attack the linebackers shooting the gaps while maintaining a lower pad level than as a nose guard. His burst and leg drive to the line should allow him to quickly gain advantage on the defender as a lead blocker, if he does not get too upright. His ability to get out on the edge will help in attempts to quickly pick up stunts and games in pass protection, but he will need some time learning how to do the job of keeping his hands inside his framework to generate better force behind his punch, rather than try to counter moves like he did as a defender.
Whitlock has an explosive burst, building to top speed in a hurry. As a shor-yardage receiver, he seems to have the size and reach to be a big target over the middle and certainly has the ability and loose hips for adjusting to the ball in flight. He shows good speed down the hash, and while he has more built-up speed than instant acceleration, he shows more than enough ability to get into the holes quickly. In the second level, he has the quickness to stalk, and with his power, there should be no issues in attempts to neutralize the linebackers as an up field blocker.
Whitlock plays with good balance and body control, especially when working in-line. He plays on his feet and his strong base will prevent defenders from getting him to the ground. He does a good job of avoiding trash, showing the hip snap to redirect and mirror edge rushers in pass protection. When he sinks his weight, he has the ability to keep his leg base wide and do the job of delivering forearm shots to clear out the rush lanes. He is the type that should give a strong effort widening the off-tackle hole and show good aggression in attempts to sustain. With his vision, I am confident that he can do a good job of locating short area targets and reading keys when lead blocking, but he might need some time learning to take angles as a cut blocker.
At a shade under 5-10, Whitlocks's 19 tackles-for-loss last season demonstrates his ability to sink his weight and run behind his pads. He has the leg drive to power through low blocks and the upper-body strength to move the piles. He is very capable of exploding hard up the inside lanes, but you won't see any finesse in his runs, considering his lack of experience on offense, but with his 6.91-second three-cone drill numbers, he shows effective lateral agility. Because of his stout frame and low center of gravity, Whitlock will likely develop into a powerful lead blocker. He has good power to move the pile when he keeps a low pad level and will not hesitate to toss his body around. He gets good leverage and explosion on contact when he does not get upright in his stance, but might be better blocking inside than in space, once he shows better angling in the short area than on the second level moves.
Whitlock runs to the line with good urgency, showing very good explosion and burst out of his stance. He's the type that should show a warrior's aggression facing up to the defender and be very good at rooting his opponent out of the rush lane, taking vicious arm swipes to clear the path for the tailback. He has all the making for becoming a punishing lead blocker with the size and strength to widen the rush lanes and keep his feet when working through trash. He quickly recognizes the blitz and appears quick reacting to it. Look for him to be quite effective using his hands well to prevent the speedier defenders from utilizing a crossover arm action. He won't shy away from contact and will throw his body around, and will be just as effective blocking in space as he is when blocking inside.
Whitlock flashes explosion as a bull rusher, and is very quick into his second move (see 2013 Boston College, Army and Maryland games). He is routinely quick off the ball to engage the blocker. He shows good feet in his straight-ahead burst and is sudden in his moves to gain advantage. He is a quick twitch type who is very active with his hands in attempts to disengage, as he is very successful in attempts to gain immediate edge at the snap, along with the quickness to get into the gaps and disrupt. No other college defensive tackle has his snap quickness on the pass rush.
Strength at Point
Whitlock might lack the bulk you look for in a defensive tackle and will more likely move to defensive end in the pros, but much like the Falcons' Jonathan Babineaux, he can fight and stack when he is able to gain good leverage. He does get a little high in his stance and along with his adequate arm length, this allows taller offensive linemen to get into his chest. He will compensate by keeping his hands active while generating strong upper body power. When he stays low in his pads, he can control blockers with his hand quickness. He shows more than enough hand usage to keep separation, but plays better on the move, as the larger blockers can use their size to stymie him when working in-line.
Use of Hands
Whitlock uses his hands very well to disengage, and has very good lateral and up-field quickness to get past the offensive tackle. He does a nice job of using his hands to keep separation and get off the line while controlling the blockers. His excellent upper body power is evident when he generates a hand punch that consistently rocks the offensive tackles back on their heels. Even with just a 32-inch arm length, he has enough presence to use them well to spit double teams or generate low block protection to keep linemen away from his legs (see 2013 Army, Florida State and Vanderbilt games).
Whitlock uses his hands very well to keep the blocker off his body, but it is his lateral quickness that allows him to slip past the bigger blockers when redirecting inside (see 2013 Presbyterian, Boston College and Maryland games). He shows a strong desire to get to the ball and always plays with effort. He plays on his feet and is quick to clear them when he chases down the ball carriers or quarterbacks from the backside. The thing you see on film is his burst tracking down plays in pursuit. He is an all-out hustler, especially coming from the back side and he definitely has that burst needed to close.
Whitlock is generally a good tackler, using his strength and leg drive to stop ball carriers immediately at the line of scrimmage. He is better as an open field tackler, as he does not have the bulk to face up to the bigger offensive linemen on every play, but he does have enough strength to compensate. He wraps up well when he gains position. Whitlock shows very good strength when locking up the runner and will deliver explosive hits. He does get a little out of control at times, as he feels he has to make every play, but this is improving as he is maturing. With his strength he displays in locking up, he has had very good success vs. massive offensive guards the last two years (see 2013 Boston College, Army and Maryland and 2012 Maryland and Boston College games).
Whitlock lacks bulk, but can hold at the point of attack. However, he can get a little too erect and a bit exposed when he rises out of his stance and fails to keep his hands inside his frame, which leaves his chest exposed for blockers to attack and latch un under his pads. He is a very efficient leverage player, but when he stands tall, he can look mechanical in his shed. He relies more on his strength and hand usage to disengage. One thing I like about him on the run, whether he is giving up 50-60 pounds to the blocker, he is still relentless in his pursuit. Even with that obvious weight disadvantage, he has the strength to hold his ground and when he keeps his pad level low, he is tough to move out. A lethargic blocker can also lose the battle with Whitlock, thanks to his quickness in the gaps, in addition to having the speed to disrupt the plays in the backfield when in pursuit (see 2013 Boston College, Army and Florida State games).
Whitlock is quick off the ball, thanks to an explosive initial step. He shows good feet, along with above average spin and swim moves. He generates a sudden burst to get to the quarterback after he clears his blocker. He has very good up-field speed and is effective on the bull rush due to good counter moves when pressuring. You can see on film that he is a savvy player with above average snap reaction (see 2013 Presbyterian, Boston College and North Carolina State games) and a smart team that plays him at end will also benefit by having him work in-line, especially on stunts and twists, where he can be quite effective because of his explosion and strength.
Closing on the QB
Whitlock chases hard all the time, and makes a lot of plays out of sheer effort. He can look choppy when he gets too tall and tries to get through the interior trash, but has the straight line burst to close on the ball carrier or quarterback. He shows an explosive burst to flush out the passer. Coming off the edge, he sets his sight on the quarterback and will not stop until the whistle (see 2013 Boston College and Maryland games). You can see on those films his consistency and explosiveness when flushing the QB out of the pocket, and he's been very effective generating big plays off twists and games.
Whitlock plays with good awareness, has a good feel for pressure, keeps his feet and routinely works to transfer. He plays off blocks well, but while instinctive, he does get a little reckless in his play, resulting in him exposing his body for the blocker to come up with the reach block. When he stays low in his pads, he has better success and feel for playing off blocks and reacting to block pressure, along with being able to locate the ball.
WILLIAM HENDERSON-ex-Green Bay
If you are looking for a punishing lead blocker, Whitlock appears like he is more than capable of widening and sustaining the rush lanes. He might not be your best option at fullback, considering he has no playing experience there, but with a patient coach, just look at how well Erik Lorig developed after moving from defensive end to fullback at Tampa Bay, earning a great contract this off-season from New Orleans. A lot of teams look at the classic fullback as an endangered species, but if a team needs one of those classic old-school types, Whitlock is ready to strap on the "leather helmet."
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.