Ten days until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Whitlock has struggled to stay on the field throughout his career at Wake, so it’s never easy to quantify his importance to this defense, or how he stacks up against other ACC defenders. But that doesn’t mean he’s an enigma either. The 5’11″, 250 pound nose tackle makes up for his lack of size by getting a quick jump off the snap; shutting down runs up the middle, while also getting through to the quarterback. He had three sacks last season, which is par for the course over the first three years of his career. If they want to get back to the postseason though, Wake will need him to finally increase those numbers in 2013.
This year, Whitlock is just one veteran cog in a three-man front. He’s surrounded by experienced defenders, so you would think that spells ample opportunities for him to take advantage of one-on-one matchups between himself and the opposing center. While Whitlock is well-regarded as a run-stuffer, it’s also tough to glance over the fact that his numbers have dropped a bit since his breakout freshman season back in 2010. After 10.5 TFLs in his first season, he bumped that up to 14 in 2011… and then dropped to just 5.5 last year. You can blame it on injury if you’d like, but that overlooks the attention he’s paid by offensive linemen. As an interior linemen who runs a 4.7 40-yard dash, that’s still an incredibly tough man to stop, blitzing or not.
Wake coach Jim Grobe calls going up against Whitlock a “baptism under fire,” especially for the younger members of the team who are just getting accustomed to the college game. Center Cory Helms called him “unreal” while matching up with him this summer. But will opposing linemen still feel that way? Whitlock was voted first-team All-ACC, so it’s obvious that the media still buys in. Now let’s see how he does against the conference’s improving offensive lines. He’ll get an easy test to start the year against Presbyterian — which should be a nice showcase for him to get warmed up for the season — and from there, he’ll be tested continuously. As long as he stays healthy, Whitlock should be able to regain his previous, more elite form. His career after college, and his team’s success most importantly, depend on it.