The NFL for a long time was a game won in the trenches. Our big guys verse your big guys. A time where Woody Hayes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense could win five championships.
But that is no longer the case.
Now, football is a game that is won in space. Get the ball in your athletes’ hands as quickly, and as often as possible. Speed kills and those who refuse to adjust (looking at you Jon Gruden) will be left in a cloud of dust.
That must have been the thought process when the Chicago Bears drafted Kerrith Whyte Jr. out of Florida Atlantic in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
Because he has speed to spare …
Whyte did not receive a single scholarship offer at any level coming out of Seminole Ridge high school in Loxahatchee, Florida. Instead, he attended a football camp at Florida Atlantic where coaches were so impressed with him they offered him a scholarship.
Whyte spent his entire career as second fiddle to star running back Devin Singletary (who was drafted just one pick after the Bears selected David Montgomery). He got a boost in playing time this past season and finally broke out of Singletary’s shadow by rushing for 866 yards on 134 carries and eight touchdowns.
Whyte did not receive an invite to the NFL combine but firmly implanted himself on NFL radars after his pro day, where he registered a 4.37 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump. All of which would have been the best marks by running backs at this year’s combine.
How Whyte Wins
I’ll give you one guess … You’re right, it is with his speed. Good job!
Whyte’s long speed and instant acceleration make him a threat to score a touchdown on every single play. He is ideally a one-cut runner, capable of running outside zones where he can stick his foot in the ground and explode upfield in an instant. Now, Florida Atlantic doesn’t run a zone scheme as the Bears do, but the play below is a good example of what I mean by a one-cut runner.
Whyte isn’t a player you want dancing behind the line of scrimmage too much. Instead, you want him to see hole, hit hole and let his speed take care of the rest. When he does that, he doesn’t have to worry too much about making defenders miss because he’s probably already five yards past them.
Whether the Bears choose to use Whyte much on offense or not is still a mystery. But there is no question he will be a mainstay on special teams if he makes the roster.
As you probably guessed he was a standout as a kick returner. In his career, he had over 2,100 kick return yards including two touchdowns. He averaged 28.7 kick return yards in 2018 and 26.1 in his career. He also has experience in punt and kick return coverage. Interestingly, he never returned a punt.
Another fascinating tidbit about Whyte’s usage is that he was not used much as a pass catcher in college. He had his most successful receiving season this last year, where he totaled 10 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2018, he did not drop a pass and his 1.91 yards per route run was seventh amongst draft-eligible running backs according to Pro Football Focus. Florida Atlantic did not throw the ball to running backs very often.
One of the knocks on his teammate Singletary was also his lack of receiving production. It will be interesting to see how he performs in this role during training camp.
Why Whyte Was Available in Round 7
Remember earlier when I said you don’t want to see Whyte dance behind the line of scrimmage too much? Yeah, well he does that a lot. His vision needs some work and needs to be more decisive in order to get the most out of his athletic gifts.
While I hesitate to call him undersized, especially in today’s NFL, his 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame might have been below some teams draftable thresholds.
There is also the issue of how to use him. He hasn’t proven to be a reliable pass catcher or pass blocker, so his utility on third downs is still up in the air, and at only 200 pounds, he will never be a true bell cow running back.
As a gadget player and returner, the seventh round was probably exactly where he should have gone.
How Whyte Fits on the Bears
Last season the Bears carried four running backs and one fullback. They currently do not have a fullback under contract (unless Ryan Nall makes a position change).
Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen are locks. If they keep four running backs again, it will be a battle between Whyte, Taquan Mizzell and Nall. With Cordarrelle Patterson’s ability to play running back it would not surprise me to see them only carry three.
Assuming Whyte makes the team his best case scenario is that he splits kick return duty with Patterson while also being used as a gunner on special teams. If he contributes on offense, it will probably be as a gadget player with one or two plays a game designed specifically for him.
One thing is for sure, Matt Nagy has got to be licking his chops to get his hands on such a talented athlete.