Tahir Whitehead was brought in by the Oakland Raiders to be a leader on the defense, and by the end of the season, he became just that.
The linebacker unit for the Oakland Raiders has been one of the more undeveloped parts of the team for years now. So Jon Gruden and the front office wanted to bring in a younger but veteran presence to help stabilize this group for the time being and help move the team forward as they began rebuilding the entire roster.
Insert Tahir Whitehead who after six years with the Detriot Lions signed with Oakland to get a fresh start and become a leader on the Raiders defense. The transition to Oakland did not go well for Whitehead to start, but by season’s end, he showed some definite signs of life.
Whitehead was brought in to start at weak-side linebacker and bring toughness and attitude to the Raiders defense especially against the run. In 2017, Whitehead ranked 13th among linebackers in run defense grade according to Pro Football Focus. And for a team that was bottom 10 in most rushing defense categories, this was precisely what they needed.
Reality hit hard for Whitehead as he was a complete mess at the beginning of the season. Missing tackles, slow in his read and abysmal in coverage. It got to the point where he was arguably the worst starting linebacker in the league for a while. And the linebacker group as a whole was playing at a really low level. He did consistently rack up tackles, but the reality is that tackle stats are the most overrated stat concerning a player’s actual success on the field.
However, Whitehead began to find his footing towards the end of the season. Starting in week 12, you could see him beginning to elevate his play to a level that no longer made him a liability and at times he was a strength. He played his best game against Pittsburgh where he got his only interception of the season and made plays all over the field. He went from allowing a perfect passer rating in coverage to actually being in a position to have quite a few more interceptions than he ended up with (but he can’t catch). Whitehead also proved his durability starting every game and by far playing the most snaps of any defensive player.
Though despite his late-season surge, Whitehead did not really bring much improvement to the Raiders defense overall in 2018.
Whitehead is no doubt going to be part of the team moving forward, he still has two years left on his contract, and there’s been no indication of the Raiders looking to release him from it. He was even out in Las Vegas visiting the stadium work site not too long ago, plus new GM Mike Mayock had kind words to say about him.
“Tahir Whitehead is a good football player, really solid,” Mayock said.
However, it will be interesting to see how the Raiders address the other linebacker positions next to him. Whitehead can’t be your best linebacker on the field given his overall struggles in coverage so how will Oakland address the need?
Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther’s track record says they don’t necessarily value the linebacker position in terms of high draft picks so it will be interesting to see if they break that mold.