Dan Vitale was an awesome superback at Northwestern — maybe even the best Wildcat fans have seen at the position. Northwestern's hyper-hybridized position allowed Vitale to be an impact player blocking for teammates and catching passes, whether they came on seam routes, underneath patterns or shovel passes. He might not have gotten the touches Northwestern fans always wanted, but he emerges from his time in Evanston as a legitimate NFL player.
Of course, superbacks do not exist in the NFL. But Vitale is tailor-made to be a pass-catching fullback. He led Northwestern in yards, receptions and touchdowns last year, but his powerful, sturdy frame is stocky by NFL tight end standards, so fullback/H-back is the perfect fit.
Measurables, Combine results
|40-yd dash||Bench press reps||Vertical jump||Broad Jump||3 cone drill||20-yd shuttle|
|4.60 sec.||30||38 1/2 in.||123 in.||7.12 sec.||4.12 sec.|
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size|
|6'1"||239 lbs||31 3/4 in.||9 3/4 in.|
A complete rundown of Vitale's performance at the Combine can be found here.
Below, courtesy of MockDraftable, is a look at how those numbers stack up historically to other fullbacks.
Per MockDraftable.com, Vitale would be in the 0th percentile in height and in the 5th percentile in weight and arm length as a tight end. Fullback, however, is another story, and that's why.
- Holy cow, that Combine performance. Vitale is a certified Combine Darling. A football-in-shorts Olympian, as Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald would say. His 30 reps at 225 pounds on the bench were tied for the best by any running back this year. Vitale beat out the likes of Robert Nkemdiche (28) and Joey Bosa (24). That's the kind of grown man strength we're talking about. His 40-yard dash time is within 0.06 seconds of that of Heisman winner Derrick Henry. His vertical jump would put him in the top five at any position group. You name the event, Dan Vitale crushed it. Teams should be salivating over his athleticism.
- Spider 2 Y Banana. For the uninitiated, John Gruden's favorite play is a play-action pass out of the I-formation with the fullback leaking to the flat as the primary target. Dan Vitale is built for that play. There are no fullbacks in the draft who combine his hands, strength, and speed in the open field. You might have to work harder to get him the rock, but there aren't too many fullbacks more explosive. Vitale was a high school running back.
- The great thing about the superback is that you have to do it all. Vitale's college tape shows someone who can catch as well as block in every place imaginable on a football field. Versatility is good.
-Vitale isn't all that big for someone whose main job is going to be to crack people in the face while blocking. By all accounts, his performance in that role in the Senior Bowl was exemplary, but teams could be excused for shying away from an undersized fullback, no matter how strong or explosive he may be.
-The bad thing about the superback is that you don't specialize. While Vitale might be well-rounded, there are fair concerns that he isn't as polished at downhill blocking as a true fullback should be. For a team that has limited roles for its fullbacks, Vitale's versatility might be more of a strike against him than a positive.
Dan Vitale's highlight reel looks like that of a tight end. He runs wheels and seams with speed and precision and has soft hands to bring in passes. He was the best target Northwestern had last year, and the Wildcats moved him all around to try and get him involved.
You have to dig a little deeper to find him blocking, but he acquits himself well there too. Here's him lined up in the backfield in a pass protection, something he may be asked to do more of at the next level. (Note: The arrow is not pointing to Vitale)
|YEAR||Games||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Long||Receptions per game||Yards per catch||Yards per game|
Dan Vitale is pretty much universally expected to be drafted, but it could be anywhere from the 5th to the 7th round. NFL.com's Chad Reuter pegs Vitale as a 5th round choice to the Green Bay Packers, but also has him listed as a tight end. CBS, who correctly labels him as a fullback, has him as a 6th-7th rounder and ESPN has him as a 7th-rounder or an undrafted free agent. Either way, Vitale should absolutely get his name called at some point this weekend.
ESPN – 258th overall, No. 1 fullback
CBS – 232nd overall, No. 3 fullback
Dan Vitale suffers from playing a decidedly unsexy position. No one is drafting a fullback in the early rounds. The usage rate just isn't high enough to necessitate such an investment. But being among the best, if not the best, at a position in the NFL Draft is far from a bad place to be. Vitale should be drafted, and if a team wants to design some funky packages for the playmaking fullback they selected, he might be a unique weapon. His adjustments to blocking from the backfield will be the telling story of his career at the next level.