Tahir Whitehead might be a name for New York Giants' fans to pay attention to in free agency. Whitehead, a four-year veteran for the Detroit Lions, checks off a lot of the boxes for the type of players Giants' General Manager Jerry Reese likes to target on the free-agent market.
First of all, Whitehead is a linebacker. That in itself pretty much automatically puts him on the Giants' radar. Second, Whitehead offers versatility as he has experience at both the MIKE and SAM spots. Third, Whitehead is just 25. Fourth, study Whitehead and you find a player who seems to have been under-appreciated by the Lions. Fifth, Whitehead is a Jersey City, N.J. native.
Finally, there is this. The Giants just added former Lions GM Martin Mayhew to their front office an assistant for Reese. Mayhew drafted Whitehead, making him a fifth-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. No one is going to give the Giants a better assessment of what Whitehead might, or might not, bring to their defense than Mayhew.
Whitehead actually seems reminiscent of J.T. Thomas III, whom the Giants signed away from the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. The 2014 season in Jacksonville was the first time Thomas had been a full-time player in his four NFL seasons. Although he apparently did a nice job for the Jaguars at both the WILL and the MIKE spots, the Jaguars felt he wouldn't be a starter for them in 2015 and let him leave in free agency. Thomas' first season in New York was wrecked by an ankle injury that caused him to miss four games and limited him in others.
Whitehead was purely a special-teamer his first two seasons in Detroit, become a starter in 2014. He moved from SAM to MIKE after Stephen Tulloch suffered a season-ending injury three games into the 2014 season. He returned to the bench to start the 2015 season, but started Detroit's final eight games. The Detroit Free Press referred to Whitehead's benching as "puzzling."
Here is more from the Free Press:
Whitehead, 25, certainly has made a good case to be a starter. He has worked his way up the roster since the Lions drafted him in the fifth round out of Temple in 2012. When Stephen Tulloch went down with a knee injury early last season, Whitehead filled in, started the rest of the season and finished second on the team in tackles.
This year, Whitehead took a backseat to Tulloch in the first half of the season. But he started the final eight games, bolstering the defense and helping the Lions go 6-2 in the second half.
For good measure, Whitehead closed the season in Chicago with one of his best games: An interception and six tackles, including two for a loss.
"When given the opportunity, I can make the best of it," Whitehead said. "I can take advantage of it and that I'm a good player. That's more so what I wanted to go out there and show. I believe I did a good job of stating that case."
SB Nation's Lions' website, Pride of Detroit, offered a hearty endorsement of Whitehead:
In addition to talent, Whitehead still has youth and room to grow. Whitehead will turn 26 in a month and has been reliably healthy throughout his career. In his four years with the Lions, Whitehead has appeared in all but two games. He's talented, improving and reliable. What else could you want?
Here is more take on what Whitehead brings to the market:
Detroit's Tahir Whitehead may have shown potential suitors that he was ready to take off by performing well when the Lions put him in the starting lineup in the second half. Just 25 and hitting free agency for the first time, he appears to have that upward trajectory that makes a free agent signing particularly attractive for a new team.
The Giants currently have a gaping hole at middle linebacker, where the underwhelming Uani 'Unga is the guy they have who played there for them last season. Jon Beason retired. Jasper Brinkley is a free agent though some reports have indicated the Giants would like to bring him back.
Whitehead played on the outside in 2015 but would like to return to the middle:
"When I look at it, me personally, I see myself as a MIKE," he said. "To be able to utilize my speed and being able to play sideline to sideline.
"Never really playing MIKE prior to last year (2014), I’ve grown to really like the position and get comfortable there. I see myself as a MIKE backer."
Should the Giants give him that opportunity? Your thoughts, Giants fans?