Holy Cross defensive end, Benton Whitley, was a heavily sought after UDFA. He reportedly had offers from at least 10 teams and he narrowed his pick down to 3 finalists: the Rams, the Cardinals and the Falcons. Chad Reuter ranked Whitley as the 5th best available UDFA edge defender. If you went off of Reuter's rankings, Whitley is probably the best UDFA the Rams signed this year.
Whitley is a traits based developmental project. His game tape isn't particularly impressive. He has good size and strength, is very intelligent with a good attitude and if he can focus on football full time instead of having to balance his time as a student athlete, maybe he can take a big leap forward. Whitley being a raw edge rusher from a strong academic school reminds me of Zack Hodges, an OLB from Harvard who was on the Rams PS for about half a season in 2015.
Hodges initially was an UDFA with the Colts, then after the Rams waived him he got a look with the Chargers, but he failed to catch on with an NFL team. Lance Zierlein had nearly identical draft grades for both Whitley and Hodges. In terms of their physical strengths and weaknesses, Hodges and Whitley are almost exact opposites. Hodges was agile and fluid with a good spin move, but he had a slender build and lacked strength and bulk. Whitley is strong who prototypical size, but he isn't very fluid or agile.
Just as Hodges wasn't able to make the Rams roster, I'm not optimistic that Whitley will be a productive player, but NFL teams must see something in him they like, because Whitley had about 1/3 of the NFL as suitors as an UDFA and likely was on the edge of being a 7th round pick.
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl: 6'2 1/2'' tall, 257 pounds, 33 5/8'' arms, 9 3/4'' hands, 81 5/8'' wingspan
Pro Day: 6'2 5/8'' tall, 257 pounds, 34 1/2'' arms, 9 7/8'' hands, 80 5/8'' wingspan
4.80 sec (40 time), 1.63 sec (10 yard split), 33'' vert jump, 10' broad jump, 24 bench reps, 4.41 sec (shuttle), 7.19 sec (3 cone)
Whitley was an excellent wrestler in high school. He won 2 state titles and only lost one match his entire career. He started wrestling was he was 7 years old, encouraged by his dad, who was a former wrestler. He was a LB on the football team and set the school record for sacks in a season. He also played some TE in a spread offense.
Initially he intended to pursue wrestling in college, but then he got a scholarship offer from Holy Cross and decided that football would offer a better path for his future. When he arrived at HC, he weighed 208 pounds. Moved from LB to DE his 2nd year in college. 5th year senior in 2021.
In 30 starts over the last 3 seasons, he had 12.5 sacks. In 2021 (13 games) he had 49 tackles (another source listed it as 43), 5.5 sacks (3.5 per another source), 9 TFLs and a FF.
He progressively added weight each year in college and was listed at 6'4'' tall and 260 pounds last season, about 50 pounds heavier than when he was a freshman.
Biology major with a minor in environmental science. Has aspirations to get a PhD in microbiology, focusing on cancer research, then start his own private research company.
He says that one NFL team asked his former middle school to provide them with information about his K through 8th grade disciplinary record. In his spare time, he enjoys mixing music and playing video games.
Drafttek 576th overall (UDFA)
Not ranked by Draftcoutdown, PFF or ESPN
Lance Zierlein 5.59 grade (UDFA), power DE, long arms, strong base, has physical tools to defend run, lacks consistent method to disrupt pocket, makes mental mistakes vs run. A longshot to make a roster.
Good arm length. Has size and NFL type frame with thick build.
Strong at POA. Good upper body strength. Flashed ability to stack and discard defenders at the POA.
Combination of size and play strength could make him a candidate to develop into a strong side OLB.
Effective power move into the chest of OTs. Solid long arm technique.
Drives OTs back into the QB.
Pass rushed against both LT and RTs.
Flashed decent get off from 2 point stance.
Pushed back when OT tried to bully him after the whistle, didn't back down from challenge.
Arms and legs lack definition and his frame looks like he could add additional muscle and fill out more. I don't think that he's physically maxed out yet.
Intelligent, has analytical mind, mature and grounded personality. Praised by coaches for his work ethic in weight room, film study and in meeting room.
Former elite wrestler with background to learn how to win hand fights and better pass rush moves if he can be coached properly.
Ascending player, best football could still be in front of him. Raw, developmental project who isn't ready to contribute much right now, but has long term upside potential.
Played primarily out of a 3 point stance as a DE on a 4 man line in 2021. Rarely asked to drop into coverage.
Not enough lower body strength and explosiveness. Lacks closing burst to get to the RB. Average effective tackling radius relative to his actual arm length.
Got rotated out, didn't play full snap load.
Pad level too high.
Slow to shed blocks and disengage. Doesn't have counter moves to redirect himself off of block back towards the RB or the QB. Once he moves in one direction and is engaged with a blocker, he struggles to stop his momentum and react back the other way to get to the football.
Not fluid or dynamic with pass rush moves. Hands are not violent or accurate. Swipes miss or aren't effective. Lackluster when used on twists. Unable to effectively link pass rush moves together.
Not able to bend the edge with proper lean, technique and burst.
Doesn't convert speed to power. Lousy spin move.
When his rush stalls, he doesn't know what to do next and tends to get stuck.
Woefully late finding football with eyes. Combination of poor recognition and inability to redirect resulted in a gigantic run as his gap was left wide open. Concerning lack of awareness on the field.
Lacks aggressive play demeanor on field.
Diverse interests, doesn't eat, sleep and drink football.
Played against low level of competition.
The Rams signed 5 undrafted EDGE defenders, so definitely the position was a point of emphasis after the draft. There door is pretty wide open at the backup OLB position for the Rams and since the Rams didn't draft an EDGE in the middle rounds, there should be plenty of competition. All of the candidates are late 7th round to UDFA types, so there isn't a clear favorite. Whitley has at least a chance to emerge from that battle and make the regular roster.
Whitley doesn't look NFL ready to me. I think he needs to get stronger in his lower body and needs plenty of work on his pass rush moves. Since other NFL teams were interested in him, it might be difficult to get him to the PS and keep him there, because another team might claim him off waivers or sign him off of the PS at some point during the regular season. If Whitley does make the roster, he might end up being inactive on game days or just play special teams.
Both Whitley and 7th round pick Daniel Hardy are raw players. Whitley has more size and length, while Hardy has better testing results. I don't know if it matters that one player was drafted and the other one was an UDFA. Both prospects have substantial flaws and are on the same tier.