Despite drawing interest from numerous teams last off-season, Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead opted to re-sign with Detroit, the only NFL team he has played with. That move didn’t only pay dividends for Whitehead, but also for the Lions.
Whitehead’s role with the defense sky-rocketed this season, especially in the long absence of fellow linebacker DeAndre Levy. For the season, Whitehead played (and started) in 15 games this season, and logged 99 total tackles. For a better perspective in his sky-rocket in production, he had 113 total tackles in the three previous seasons combined. He also contributed in pass defense with six pass break-ups.
The former fifth-round pick out of Temple in 2012 has seen his role expand a little more each season, and he has excelled in each opportunity that he has received. Originally a recipient of a spot on the special teams unit, he got his first full-time playing role in 2014 after an injury to Stephen Tulloch. Since then, he has been a regular contributor and starter.
“He steps into the defense as a leader now and a teammate that you can fully rely on,” said Levy. “Each year, he gets better and better. Each year, he comes back with a better understanding of football, how to play the position, aptitude to understand the defense — and fully using all of his athletic gifts.”
As the Lions prepare to take on Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card round this Saturday, Whitehead’s role on the defense is paramount. The Lions have struggled (as was showcased in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers) against quarterbacks with mobile tendencies. Wilson has always been regarded as a mobile quarterback, which leaves the Lions’ defense vulnerable. Unless Whitehead and the rest of the defense can find a way to contain Wilson, it could be a long night at the office for Detroit and their fans on Saturday evening.