Detroit Lions: 5th-Round Pick LB Tahir Whitehead Makes Strong First Impression

Sigmund BloomNFL Draft Lead WriterMay 21, 2012

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 12: Tahir Whitehead #59 of the Detroit Lions does a drill during a rookie mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 12, 2012 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

At first glance, the Lions feeling enough urgency to give up their 2013 fourth-round pick for a fifth-rounder to take Temple LB Tahir Whitehead seems to be of little help to a team looking to make it deep in the playoffs after ending a 12-year drought last season.

A closer look at Whitehead's strengths and an early report out of the team's rookie minicamp paints a different picture, one that has Whitehead making strong early contributions, even if they are on some of the unsung special teams units.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press got to talk to Whitehead's college position coach, Ben Albert, who told him that the linebacker's special teams duties meant he was one of their players that "hardly ever came off the field." Whitehead was on the kick coverage, punt coverage and punt return units. Birkett writes that he was on the kick return team too, until the coaches decided to cut down his special teams responsibilities to keep him fresher on defense.

In addition to helping the Lions instantly on special teams, Whitehead could be in the mix to start at outside linebacker next season with neither of DeAndre Levy or Justin Durant under contract in 2013. According to Birkett, his performance in the minicamp must have brought that up in the coaches' minds too. He reports that Whitehead's explosiveness and "ability to digest a new scheme" impressed the coaches. Tim Twentyman from the Lions official site reported that the team's linebackers coach Matt Burke called Whitehead one of the smartest rookies he's ever been around. Birkett even proclaims that Whitehead could be the "surprise pick of the draft this fall."

A surprise, that is, to everyone except GM Martin Mayhew and the Lions war room, who were willing to steal from next year's draft to be certain that they landed Whitehead.