Buccaneers Drafted Sneaky Good Athlete in Sixth Round

Oct 3, 2015; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats fullback Dan Vitale (40) stiff arms Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Jalen Myrick (5) during the first quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2015; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats fullback Dan Vitale (40) stiff arms Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Jalen Myrick (5) during the first quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

There is usually very little reason to ever get excited about a sixth round pick.  Many of the guys drafted at this point don’t usually stick with the team and most who do usually end up as special teams players.  However, once and awhile a sixth round pick will greatly outperform expectations.  There is something about those guys that scouts overlook.  Whether it’s a work ethic, a subtle elusiveness, a high football IQ or just a passion for the game these guys prove some of the smartest evaluators in the world wrong time and time again.

I believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of these in Danny Vitale.  The trait that could make him one of these rare exceptions that defy the odds is freak athleticism.

Vitale had a special position created for him while at Northwestern called the “Superback”.  He played this role because he literally did everything a running back could possibly do for his offense.  He led the team last year in receiving yards with 33 receptions for 355 yards and four touchdowns.

Although Vitale rarely ran the ball, he was efficient in this aspect of his game as well.  He averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the course of his college career.  Not bad numbers from a guy who’s position is almost always reserved for blocking.  But when you’re this athletic there isn’t much you can’t accomplish on the field.

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At the combine, Vitale put up explosive numbers.  It’s not a stretch to say that he’s one of the top overall athletes in the entire draft.  Let me put it into perspective for you….

Vitale’s 4.6 time in the 40 yard dash was only 0.10 seconds slower than the Buccaneers first round cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves. It was also the exact same as 2014 tenth overall pick Eric Ebron.  This is significant because the Buccaneers are planning to use Vitale in a tight end role as well as a traditional fullback.  Considering that the Lions drafted Ebron so high for his great athleticism and the kind of mismatch he would present for linebackers, being compared to him is very high praise.

Vitale also has the quick ability to change directions.  In the 20 yard shuttle he posted a 4.12 time, which was only 0.04 seconds slower than the number twenty-two overall pick, Josh Doctson.  At the combine, Doctson posted the third best time among all wide receivers, so for Vitale to be anywhere near this time is excellent.  Pairing this ability to stop and start with his excellent speed, by tight end standards, the Buccaneerss might have drafted a real mismatch in the sixth round.  However, Vitale’s primary role will always be as a blocker.

Vitale is what some people might call “country strong”.  His raw power is staggering for a skill position player.  To put it in perspective his 30 reps on the bench were more than number six overall pick Ronnie Stanley (24) and number eight overall pick Jack Conklin (25).

Not many players can say they have better upper body strength than a pair of top ten offensive tackles, but that’s the case with Vitale.  Obviously he has all the power he needs to hold is own as a blocker in the NFL.  This is shown in his run blocking more than anywhere else.

Northwestern’s running back, Justin Jackson, had a career high in rushing yards last year with 1,418.  This was in large part due to Vitale paving the way in front of him.

This was always his main role in the running game, despite proving to be very efficient when actually carrying the ball.  While not a blocker like many fullbacks in the NFL, Vitale is very good at taking the legs out from under his opponents and preventing them from making the plays.  This is likely where the Buccaneers will utilize his skills the most.  With one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks on their schedule, Tampa Bay needs a fullback who can block first and foremost.

So what is this “superback” that the Buccaneers drafted?  Is he a playmaking tight end who is a physical mismatch for NFL linebackers?  Is he a shield to protect Jameis Winston from opposing defensive linemen?  Is he the lead man to help pave the way for one of the best running games in the league?  The answer is yes, he is all of those things.

His outstanding athleticism gives him the potential to change the game in more ways than one and the ability to be one of those rising stars that defy the odds of where he is drafted.  Vitale is a fullback like Buccaneers fans have never seen before.  Don’t expect him to be the next coming of Mike Alstott, that’s not the game Vitale brings to the table.  What you should expect is a versatile playmakers who will do anything and everything the Buccaneers offensive coaching staff can dream up.