By the time the Raiders signed Tahir Whitehead, many fans were confused about the direction of the team. In retrospect, he had General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s name written all over him as a bargain signing that would fill a hole. However, the devil is in the details as Whitehead could project to be a sneaky good signing and earn praise for McKenzie.
Tahir Whitehead was not signed to a three-year contract because the Raiders expect him to be a starter for the duration. Instead, it is likely the Raiders hope to have him as a starter for this season and draft his replacement. Whitehead struggles in coverage and is at his best when allowed to fill gaps and play fast. He looks lost in space when asked to flip his hips. In that case, Whitehead looks much more of a “run and hit” player, as opposed to a player who gets there first. In Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme, Whitehead will be expect to be more of a cleanup hitter.
If Whitehead’s pitfalls scare off most teams, what brings him to the Raiders are a few things he does really well. Whitehead is a tackle machine collecting over 100 in each of the last two seasons; the Raiders have only had two players make 100 tackles in the last 10 seasons. While tackles is not the best metric, it does illustrate that Whitehead finds the ball and completes a play. Additionally Whitehead features good hand usage and as very effective at jamming tight ends off the line of scrimmage. With Bruce Irvin converting full-time to end, the Raiders will likely use Whitehead in similar ways off the line.
More important than anything else though, will be Tahir Whitehead’s scheme versatility and capacity to play multiple positions. Initially drafted as a first/second down 3-4 run coverage linebacker, Whitehead contributed on special teams. After the departure of long time starter Stephen Tulloch, Whitehead became the new starter in the middle. During his six seasons, Whitehead started at all three linebacker spots and produced along the lines of an average starter. Coverage, again, will always been an issue. Yet, his football IQ appears exceptionally high as it is rare to find a player who can fill in at all three spots.
That versatility is exactly what the Raiders need heading into the 2018 draft as the top-5 slots shuffle. If Bradley Chubb drops 10 the Raiders could take him and do well with Whitehead as the starter. If Roquan Smith is available there, then Whitehead could shift to the weakside spot. Finally, if Trumaine Edmunds is the selection, Whitehead could play in the middle for him or on the weakside. McKenzie clearly positioned the Raiders to either take the best player available or trade back and accumulate picks. Whitehead’s signing is an example of that.