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Giants roster preview: Is there still a place for Nikita Whitlock?

Giants have been signaling they may be moving away from using a traditional fullback

Nikita Whitlock
Nikita Whitlock
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

During training camp and preseason a year ago, observers like myself and others kept watching Nikita Whitlock, and thinking "he needs to make the team, but how?" The New York Giants already had incumbent fullback Henry Hynoski, and the Hynocerous had become of the NFL's better fullbacks.

No way the Giants could keep two fullbacks. And they wouldn't cut Hynoski for a stumpy 5-foot-10 kid who played defensive tackle in college and had never played a regular-season snap at fullback. Would they? Well, as we know now, they did exactly that.

Whitlock won the job, as we know. The Giants decided they would live with his growing pains as a fullback because of the other things Whitlock brought to the table. Those would be his ability to make plays on coverage teams, and his ability to rush the passer when used in that role from the defensive tackle spot.

Whitlock's all-around efforts also won the hearts of Giants fans.

Now, the question for Whitlock is whether or not he can hold onto his job. Let's take a closer look at that situation as we continue profiling the players on the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

2015 Season in Review

Whitlock played in 14 games, starting five, before finishing the season on IR with a knee injury. The Giants didn't use the fullback a great deal on offense, as Whitlock played only 132 offensive snaps. That's 11.85 percent of the team's offensive snaps, an average of 9.4 per game. He played 276 snaps on special teams, fourth-most on the team. He played 61 fun-to-watch snaps as a pass rush specialist, using his spin move to net one sack and four quarterback hits.

2016 Season Outlook

Now we come to the tricky part. Whitlock earned the adoration of the fans for what he did last season, and the admiration of the coaching staff. He earned praise from then-coach Tom Coughlin for his improvement as a fullback. Yet, his roster spot appears to be in serious jeopardy as training camp closes in.

Why? Mostly because of the presence on the 90-man roster of Will Johnson. A four-year veteran with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson was signed as a free agent during the offseason. Listed as a fullback, the 26-year-old Johnson is really much more than that. He is a hybrid fullback/tight end/H-Back. He spent the spring practicing with the tight ends, but during 11-on-11 drills the Giants would often line up with a tight end in the backfield rather than a fullback, sometimes two tight ends.

Fullback, of course, is a vanishing position in the NFL. The Giants are one of only a few teams that still used one in 2015. If the Giants are ever going to move away from utilizing a traditional fullback, the presence of Johnson and the overall depth of the tight end group the Giants have on their 90-man roster, would make now the time.

Whitlock has done nothing wrong, it's simply that he appears to be a more limited offensive player than Johnson and a couple of the other tight ends who may be able to lead block from the backfield.What about defense, you ask? Whitlock did bulk up to around 260 pounds, but that is still too small to play defensive tackle regularly. He did so to be a more forceful blocker. With some of the additions the Giants have made, it seems unlikely Whitlock's role as a pass-rush specialist will be reprised in 2016.

All of that could, unfortunately, leave Whitlock as the odd man out when the 53-man roster is finalized. I wouldn't, however, count him out. Remember, few people thought he would knock Hynoski off the roster a year ago.