Welcome to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!
We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.
Jordan Whitehead and the Buccaneers so far…
In a time of need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jason Licht went through multiple drafts attempting to fill the secondary with talented young men to compete in a pass-heavy league and division. One of those talented young men was Jordan Whitehead, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.
Whitehead found himself inserted into the rotation rather quickly. The Buccaneers’ safety room was not in good shape, so he was given a chance to compete. As a result, he played 63% of defensive snaps through 15 games and 11 starts. There were times when he looked like a rookie, but there were others when he looked like a composed veteran. He finished 2018 with four pass deflections and 76 combined tackles. He also aided in run support with four tackles for loss.
Not a bad showing for a fourth-round draft pick.
In the 2019 season, Whitehead was expected to take a step forward and he did just that. He recorded his first career interception and batted down nine passes in 14 games. He also improved his completion percentage allowed from 69% in 2018 to 57% in 2019. This all came as his role continued to grow. Whitehead played 81% of defensive snaps in 2019.
As good as he was during his first two years, Tampa Bay still needed help. So, they elected to draft another safety. The pairing of Whitehead with Antoine Winfield Jr. for the 2020 season was a formidable one.
More playing time meant more plays to make and that held true in 2020. Whitehead was in on 92% of defensive snaps, therefore, 2020 saw him notch two interceptions and four pass deflections. Additionally, he aided with two sacks, nine tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and three quarterback hits. He also decreased his missed tackle percentage from 14.6% his rookie season to just over 10% in 2020.
Still young and not yet in his prime, Whitehead has not yet reached his full potential.
What does he need to do in order to get that second contract?
As a safety in the Todd Bowles defensive scheme, you must be versatile. In run support, Whitehead excels. He’s a good “downhill” defender who quickly identifies run lanes and can meet the running back in space. His speed and ability to change directions serve him well in that aspect.
When lined up in the box he plays quick. His presence adds another layer to run support and the pass rush. He can make some strides in this area though. Keeping his head on a swivel and understanding the angles better could allow him to be more explosive. Especially against more dynamic running backs. Over his three years, he has found himself in the area to make the tackle, but with a better angle and quick play recognition, he could very well find himself stacking runners at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield.
His coverage skills are good, too, but there’s always room for growth. Increasing his coverage skills would nearly round him out as a player. He’ll need to reduce his opponent catch percentage back down to the 50% ranges in 2021.
Little improvements and continued growth for a player who turns 24-years-old in a couple of days are expected.
How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?
Whitehead’s prospects look very good for 2022. His torn labrum, however, is a concern at the moment. It shouldn’t have a huge impact at the end of the day, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
If he can stay healthy Whitehead stands to take a big leap in his abilities.
With experience comes wisdom. He is a young player who is not even close to his prime, yet he has the aptitude and physical skills to take another step this year to solidify himself as a well-rounded safety.
His ceiling is high, and although he may not reach it in 2021, he will eventually. The Bucs know this and their decision-making will reflect it.
Whitehead is going to come back fully healed and healthy to start the 2021 season. With a new winning culture in place and the example set by other players in the locker room, he will continue to grow.
With a great work ethic and routine game study, the game will slow down even more. Reads will become quicker and reactions will become more instinctual. He’s not that far off from where he needs to be mentally and when it all comes together, his play will explode.
For those reasons, Whitehead will get a new contract going into the 2022 season. The Buccaneers may have to fight off some suitors, but he will remain in Tampa Bay. After all, consistent, solid play by your secondary is important and hard to find these days.
For more follow us on Twitter @Bucs_Report and me at @BucSalty