By Bryan Dietzler
The Bears made an interesting move this offseason shortly after the draft by letting guard Matt Slauson go. This was most likely a direct result of them drafting guard Cody Whitehair in the second round of 2016 NFL Draft. Whitehair hails from Kansas State and was one of the most athletic and complete lineman to play for the team (or play in college football) during his career there. He has a lot of experience as a starter and can come in and play right away for the Bears.
Every player has his ups and downs and Whitehair is no exception. In this article, we will take a quick look at Whitehair and see what his strengths and weaknesses are as well as some analysis of how he will fit into the Bears scheme this season and, hopefully, for several seasons to come.
While at Kansas State, Whitehair was their strongest and most athletic lineman. He competed at the left guard position and also at the right tackle spot but was moved to left tackle during the last two seasons of his college career. This versatility surely made him an attractive prospect in the draft and could have led to the Bear selecting him where they did.
Some of the upside that Whitehair has includes very good footwork which can allow him to hold off rushers coming from the edge. He also knows angles and what angles are needed to get the running back free from the line and through the trash at the line of scrimmage. One thing that really stands out about Whitehair is his versatility. He played at guard and at the right and left tackle spots in college and could really play all five positions if a team wanted him to. However, he does project to guard at the next level but could possible step in at center if needed.
Whitehair was a four year starter in college and voted to be the team captain in 2015. He participated in 50 games garnering All Big-12 honors in all four years as a starter. He did finally earn first team honors in his senior season. His overall technique makes him one of the better offensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft class. To go along with that, there are several other things that make Whitehair a solid prospect. This includes the fact that Whitehair has a strong work ethic and has spent a lot of time in the weight room and has worked very hard in practice. He did get a lot of accolades from his college coaching staff for the work ethic he displayed as well as his leadership ability so NFL teams will like what he has to offer in that respect.
During his entire career at Kansas State, Whitehair was known to be very dependable and consistent in his play and this is something that the Bears will really like about him. He is also a team-oriented individual and isn’t selfish (he plays for the team and not himself).
There is something that could be considered a positive for Whitehair although some may not consider it as such. While his natural position on the offensive line is guard, when he did have to play tackle, he played very well. Still, he can’t be considered an NFL tackle and will be playing guard during his time with the Bears.
There are some mechanical things that Whitehair does well. His body composure and control is very good. He is in complete control of his body almost 100% of the time thanks to his superior core strength and balance. This core strength and body control assist him in redirecting defenders who get to out to his edge. His combination of strength and body control made him one of the best and most well-suited offensive linemen in the 2016 NFL draft. In addition, Whitehair always plays under control and doesn’t over extend himself much. When it comes to his movements he is very efficient with his movements after the ball is snapped.
Some other things that Whitehair does well include his ability to mirror opponents thanks to a wide and stout base. He also has a solid ability to keep the defender square to his body during the play. Whitehair is also very athletic and smooth in his motions when asked to pull and he can find a defender quickly getting a good initial blow stuck on him to start out (when he is blocking). Whitehair does struggle with having shorter arms than some other linemen do but he makes up for that with huge hands that can lock on to defenders and keep hold. He has consistent hand placement and uses the strength in his hands and balance in his body to grab and take control of a defender. He also gets squared up well and will ride defenders away from the ball carrier. With this he uses his hand and arm punch well and keeps his hands properly placed to lock on to the defender and keep engaged with them.
There are several scouts who feel that Whitehair has the strongest hands out of any offensive linemen that came out in the 2016 NFL Draft. When he locks in on a defender (with his hands) he will not lose control once he has a lock on them. He also has aggressive “always working” hands. In regards to his hips, he can sink his hips down when he makes contact and he should be able to stymie larger opponents with this effort. When it comes to battling opposing players with great speed and quickness, Whitehair has the ability to combat faster and quicker players with good technique and a wide base which allows him to handle that speed off the edge.
There are a few other minor positives to consider with Whitehair. He does have the size you desire in an offensive lineman although he is more of a “guard” size player than a tackle size player. He does have the confidence and ability to start right away and it already seems that he plays like a seasoned veteran because of his awareness. Whitehair also has outstanding vision and has the instincts and ability to see pressures prior to the snap. Whitehair does have a high ceiling with a lot of potential and the skills to reach an All-Pro level in the NFL. He is also a pretty sound assignment blocker that stays square to his target.
He is a good athlete that runs well and can find opponents to block in space. When it comes to pass protection, he is very patient and relies on his talent to help him succeed. Finally, playing in the scheme he did at Kansas State allowed him to work in a system that used several different blocking schemes and types of blocks so he should well versed in a variety of blocking schemes and moves.
There are drawbacks to every player in the league but for Whitehair there aren’t too many. One thing that stands out is his arm length which is below average for an interior lineman. He also struggles with allowing bigger and stronger defenders into his body and doesn’t have the best strength as he relies on his finesse to play as well as he does. When it comes to his hands, Whitehair needs to play with a little bit faster hands and improve the timing of his punch. There are times when he will get grabby and this will get the attention of officials at the NFL level who will throw flags if this happens.
Some of the downside to his frame is that he won’t be able to carry much more weight on his body without sacrificing some of the speed and quickness that he possesses. This may rule him out for a move to tackle if that should ever come up during his career with the Bears. Whitehair does possess a lot power in his core but doesn’t have the length and girth which could cause him to have some concerns against bull rushers. While in college, Whitehair played from a two-point stance playing tackle and will have to work on getting out of a three-point stance in the NFL (where he will be playing guard). Part of working in a three point stance does have to do with run blocking and he should get better at blocking for the run coming out of a three point stance (with the Bears).
In regards to transitioning to the guard position (after having played tackle in college) there are some that feel that Whitehair may need additional work and repetition to get his timing and angles correct for the move to the guard position. Although he played tackle in college he does project to the guard positon better and fits there although his move to guard and his ability to play the position are still up in the air.
To wrap up the weaknesses portion of our look at Whitehair, he will get caught lunging sometimes when he is playing in space. When he is working against a defender with superior edge speed he can get beat because he lets rushers attack his body which can force him upright on this heels. While he is one of the toughest to play the position (in this year’s draft) he could be a little nastier in his play.
It’s thought that Whitehair is going to be a much better guard than he would be a tackle and the Bears must have thought that was going to be the case because they let their best guard (with the move of Kyle Long back to tackle) Slauson go shortly after the draft. Now all hopes lie on Whitehair to fill the void left by Slauson and play well enough to compensate for that loss and make the Bears line one of the better lines in the NFL.
Post-draft commentary has stated that several experts feel that Whitehair could have been the best offensive lineman, if not the best guard, in the 2016 NFL Draft. That remains to be seen but the Bears, after seeing him practice and participate in off season workouts to include mini-camps, feel that he is going to be an asset to the team and one of its best players. Time will tell but hopefully the Bears made the right decision in drafting Whitehair and letting Slauson go. The Bears will hope that they made the right decision.