2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Northwestern FB Dan Vitale

As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.

Breaking down the versatile Dan Vitale today.

#40 – Dan Vitale/FB Northwestern: 6-2, 239

The Good

– Comes across formation on wham blocks effectively
– Can actually get off the line of scrimmage as a receiver
– Quick in phone booth
– Runs aggressively
– Great burst
– Sure hands catching the ball
– Low pad level, explodes into defenders
– Blocks through the whistle
– Adjusts to throw of ball

The Bad

– Questionable balance downhill
– Bad open field angles, does not get a hat on defenders well in open field
– Can be lazy blocking technique, just throws shoulder
– Doesn’t always understand blocking angles/shoulder to target
– Fails to play to blocks with sense of urgency at times
– Lacks lateral blocking ability


– Outstanding combine. 4.60 40 yard dash, 30 bench press reps, 38.5″ vertical jump, 10’3″ broad jump, 7.12 second three cone, 4.12 second 20 yard shuttle, 11.36 60 yard shuttle
– Carried the ball just 6 times in his college career
– Three-time Academic All-Big Ten
– Career receiving statistics: 135 catches, 1427 yards, 11 TDs
– Played track, football and wrestling in high school

Tape Breakdown

Shotgun pass pro rep for Vitale, who has an isolated matchup one on one on a LB in space. He mirrors and resets well against the rusher. He drops anchor, and gets some active handfighting in. Great win on a blitz pickup for a FB-type who’s supposed to be stiff and overworked in open space, not as lithe as this.

For a WR, this is a solid route. For a TE, this is a very impressive route. For a FB? Fuhgeddaboutit. For a Dan Vitale, this is commonplace. You shouldn’t see H-back types running 10-yard corner routes from the slot as smoothly as this.

Vitale is asked to wham block the backside DE, who takes on this play too high. Vitale squares and settles, getting his pad level lower to fire into the end more effectively. On a wham block like this, this is the ideal outcome.

Tidy little play design here that sees Vitale take the pitch underneath from his wing left position with a pulling LG. Vitale then runs over, through or around four tackle attempts (by my count). This kind of running in the open field is rare from FBs or TEs generally, but it’s just another skill that Vitale brings to the table.

Although the contain corner takes a dreadful angle in the backfield, Vitale makes this happen. He blows up #33 in the hole. Note his low pad angles and hand placement. This is how you fire into a block in the gap, and he plays it to perfection.

This is savvy receiving by Vitale. In a hurry-up two-minute offense, he knows he has to keep the chains moving. Against the soft zone, he finds the soft spot and sits like he was taught, showing the QB his hands and numbers. The catch is high, but he adjusts, leaps and pulls it down. Again, folks, the NFL shouldn’t call this guy a FB.


As some anonymous wizened Chinese philosopher probably once said, “In trying to do everything, we accomplish nothing.” While that sage advice has no shortage of applications in personal life, it’s clear that a saying like that has no import on a player like Dan Vitale. Do I know what he is in the NFL? I think he’s everything, which does not mean he’s nothing.

Vitale will be able to play a lot of different roles in different offenses with a consistent level of success. If you’re a fan of a guy who likes to block, Vitale is the man for you. If you’re fan of an athletic guy who has a surprisingly expansive route tree, Vitale is the man for you. If you’re a power running team, Vitale will have a place. If you prefer to air it out with an H-back or in-line TE, Vitale also fits. His versatility is ridiculous – one of the most versatile players I’ve ever scouted.

As a blocker, he is powerful and explosive, with the ability to line up in different places (FB, RB, H-back, wing, in-line TE, slot) and still lock out a defender. However, he is still raw, causing minor errors that he can overcome against college opponents but will become an issue in the NFL. For instance, he doesn’t block to target so well. What I mean by that is, not using the leverage and angles of the field to his advantage to block a defender out of the play. His power overwhelms them in college, but in the NFL, a savvy LB is going to redirect that block and come in to make a play. It’s just something Vitale needs to be coached up on.

Vitale is a four-core special teamer as well, and that is a place where he’ll make an impact as a rookie. He should excel in the physicality of punt and kickoff return/coverage units while he develops a presence on the offensive side of the ball. Vitale isn’t just a combine workout warrior, he backs it up with his play on the field. Although he plays some positions that have been devalued in the NFL, he is so standout in them and has such added importance on special teams that I think an early Day 3 selection is not only possible but quite likely.

His fit as a FB with the Steelers is less pronounced, considering the presence of Roosevelt Nix. However, he could easily compete if taken with a later Day 3 selection as a move TE.

Projection: Fourth Round

Games Watched: at Duke, at Nebraska, Tennessee

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About the Author

Luc Polglaze
If it's not about football, it's about music. Colorado born and raised, living in DC now.
  • The Notorious TOM

    Oh man when did Northwestern get some white helmets??? Those looks so tremendous.

  • turtle

    As a Husker fan, I like Andy Janovich as well, but Vitale’s skills are great. you can never have enough of those types of players imo

  • Nicholas Allen Cotner

    Looks sharp

  • taztroy43

    Would not mind this dude in the 4th at all….

  • jujudoublestuff

    Read where the Patriots were showing serious interest in this kid.

  • Brian Tollini

    A player I never would have looked at, love this site.

  • Interesting. His game highlights (I watched NB) show him more or less as a slot receiver. My gut feeling is much like Will Johnson, he has the talent to contribute, there are just too many other guys at skill positions that can get open and catch the ball. I could see the pick though.