Pitt pro day could provide boost for Jordan Whitehead
A hamstring injury kept Jordan Whitehead from doing any events other than the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine three weeks ago.
He was much more active Wednesday at the annual Pitt pro day, and he hopes NFL talent evaluators took notice.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi certainly did.
Asked which of the 11 former Panthers players benefited the most from the workout, Narduzzi singled out Whitehead, the safety from Central Valley who declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining.
“He went away to train, and I don’t know what happened there,” Narduzzi said. “I think if he had trained with (Pitt strength coach) Dave Andrews, he probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt. But he had a hammy and went to the combine and didn’t get a chance to do much there.
“He had a 4.5 in the 40, which is important for him to test. That was the guy. … Guys that didn’t go to the combine, those are guys who have stuff to prove.”
Whitehead, who turned 21 on Sunday, said he returned to Pitt immediately after the combine and went to work with Andrews in preparation for the pro day, which was attended by representatives from all 32 NFL teams, including Steelers assistants Tom Bradley, Joey Porter and Mike Munchak.
“I felt very prepared,” Whitehead said.
Most of his testing numbers were not available, but Whitehead did improve his bench press results from 21 repetitions in Indianapolis to 24 on Wednesday. Whitehead did more reps than any of the four other players who lifted, including two offensive linemen and a tight end.
Despite missing three games last season because of a suspension, Whitehead finished as Pitt’s third-leading tackler and he had four pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery. He continued to contribute as a two-way player, rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Whitehead is hopeful what he did on the field for three seasons at Pitt will persuade an NFL team to draft him perhaps before the third day. He is considered a fifth-round prospect by NFL scouting personnel.
“Teams look at the tape,” he said. “Every defensive back is fast and runs 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, all in the same category. When you look at positions drills and see how efficient you can move, speed coming out of breaks, that is more important than the 40.”
Like Whitehead, cornerback Avonte Maddox is a member of Pitt’s secondary that is part of the draft class. No Pitt defensive back has been drafted since Kennard Cox in the seventh round in 2008. Whitehead and Maddox are trying to become the highest Pitt defensive backs drafted since Darrelle Revis went in the first round in 2007.
“We’re always calling each other and checking on each other,” Maddox said. “We didn’t train together, but … even when we were away from each other, we were FaceTiming each other and would go over plays and go over coverages and things like that.
“He’s a good friend and a great player.”
During meetings with NFL teams, Whitehead has faced questions about his three-game suspension for violating a team policy. Whitehead also was withheld from a 2016 game against Marshall.
“I handle it like I was supposed to, like a man,” he said. “They understand I learned from it, and I won’t make that mistake again.”
Whitehead is aware the off-the-field transgressions could impact his draft position.
“It is going to hurt,” he said. “It does hurt everybody that has off-the-field issues, but I really think that moving forward, when I tell people, I tell the coaches everything that happened. I’m dead serious it’s not going to happen again.”
Narduzzi tells underclassmen weighing the lure of an early commitment to the NFL if they aren’t going to be drafted in the first or second rounds they should stay in school for their senior season. Still, he didn’t try to talk Whitehead out of declaring for the draft.
“We talked about the advantages, disadvantages, and I think Jordan was ready to go to the next level,” he said. “I think that’s something he wanted to do. It was his dream. He had three great years here, whether it was offense or defense, he’s a superb football player.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.