Breaking News Bar
updated: 2/28/2016 6:21 PM

Northwestern's Vitale could become NFL jack-of-all-trades

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Northwestern running back Dan Vitale runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on Friday in Indianapolis.

    Northwestern running back Dan Vitale runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on Friday in Indianapolis.
    Associated Press

  • Northwestern fullback Dan Vitale looks on during a game against Iowa on Oct. 17, 2015, in Evanston.

    Northwestern fullback Dan Vitale looks on during a game against Iowa on Oct. 17, 2015, in Evanston.
    Associated Press

  • Northwestern running back Dan Vitale runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday in Indianapolis.

    Northwestern running back Dan Vitale runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday in Indianapolis.
    Associated Press

 
 

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the role of a true fullback continues to be phased out of the NFL or morphed into a hybrid position, Wheaton-Warrenville South's Dan Vitale is in ideal position to take advantage of the shift.

Vitale played "superback" in Northwestern's offense, but he would be a new-age fullback in the NFL, capable of being a lead blocker when needed, as fullbacks of the past, but he's more of a jack-of-all-trades type, capable of contributing in multiple roles.

"I think I'm moving toward the new route, which is kind of like that H-back-type spot, playing all over the place, the second tight end," Vitale said. "In college I played a little in the slot, a lot of times on the wing, too, but, being able to play a traditional fullback as well."

On one hand, Vitale is the top fullback on NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper's board. But no NFL team played a fullback even 50 percent of its snaps last season, and the league continues to become more pass heavy, replacing fullbacks with an extra wide receiver or tight end.

The jacked-up Vitale's exceptional performance at the Scouting Combine increased his NFL stock and solidified his standing as the top fullback in the draft.

Among all running backs, Vitale tied for first with 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. His 4.12-second 20-yard shuttle led all running backs, and his 38½-inch vertical jump was third. His 10-foot-3 broad jump tied for fourth.

The 6-foot-1, 239-pound Vitale did more bench reps, had a better vertical and was faster in the three-cone drill (7.12 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle (11.36) than Alabama running back Derrick Henry. After Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Henry is expected to be the second running back selected, possibly in the first round.

But because Vitale doesn't have the run skills to be a featured ball-carrier and is too small to be an in-line tight end, he just hopes to get drafted. He could project to more of an H-back (move tight end) in the NFL and is a proven pass-catcher with the toughness, mindset and athleticism to be a special-teams terror.

"My first two years, I was pretty much on everything," Vitale said of his special teams involvement at NU. "But the last two years I was playing 60-plus plays a game, so coach (Pat) Fitzgerald told me he was going to take me out of some of them.

"I had to beg him to get on our kick-return team. (But) he wouldn't put me on the kickoff coverage, which was what I really wanted to be on."

Vitale caught 135 career passes for 1,427 yards (10.6-yard average) and 11 touchdowns for the Wildcats but had just 6 carries for 29 yards.

You won't hear the ultimate team-first guy second-guess his involvement as a ball-carrier, though.

"I don't think so at all," Vitale says when asked if he was underused. "We found our strength was in the run game, and I didn't have the production that I wanted.

"But that wasn't what was important. What was important was winning football games. We went 10-3, we had a phenomenal run game I thought, so my role was blocking, and that's something that I just accepted and really put my heart and soul into."

That's the kind of player some NFL team will get with Vitale, regardless of where he lines up.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.