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NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Northwestern "Superback" Dan Vitale

Dan Vitale could turn into a fun match-up weapon for Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady.

Superback with a super stiff-arm.
Superback with a super stiff-arm.
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It's a running back, it's a fullback, it's a tight end, no it's Dan Vitale the "Superback". This obvious poor attempt to rip off a Superman cliché aside, Dan Vitale is a very curious prospect if you're a Patriots fan. He doesn't have a fully-defined NFL position, but there is a lot of athletic talent available for a create offensive coordinator. Vitale is listed as a fullback, but that's not the only role he can play. He can be a running back that can run the ball between the tackles about 5 times a game, catch passes out of the backfield as a receiver a la Shane Vereen, line up as a wing TE, or flex out in the slot or out wide to create advantageous match-ups for Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady.

In short, this guy could have an Aaron Hernandez type role where he's a Joker TE that can line up all over the formation and be an effective receiver. Early on he's going to have to earn his way on Special Teams as a coverage player before working his way into the offense. He's not James Develin when it comes to being a road-grading fullback that can open holes yet, but there is room for growth in that area. Vitale has more upside as a receiver than Develin and can line up anywhere in the offensive formation, including tailback. My only concerns about him are pass protection and if he can separate from linebackers in single coverage.

The combine has catapulted Vitale from an unknown to a borderline Day 2 prospect. This is how he did:

HT: 6' 0 7/8"
WT: 239
40 (10): 4.60 (1.65)
Vertical: 38 1/2"
Broad Jump: 10'3"
Shuttle: 4.12
3-Cone: 7.12
Long Shuttle: 11.36

For a guy who is roughly 240 pounds, that is impressive athleticism. Compare that to the 5'10" 215 Kenneth Dixon, who cemented himself as a mid to late 2nd rounder, Vitale beats Dixon in every timed measurable except the 3-Cone drill and 10-split while essentially tying on the 40. I think his best fit is as a Joker TE, think Aaron Hernandez minus the urge to murder people, where he can move around the formation to create match-ups against slower linebackers. The Patriots used to send both Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez up the seam and Brady would throw to the guy being single covered since both were automatic 1-on-1 match-up victories. If Vitale is half the receiver Hernandez was, the Patriots will have their #2 TE issue solved for a while.

I have Vitale graded as a mid 4th round pick, but he is also on my board at the 97th pick which the Patriots will likely get for Darrelle Revis signing with the Jets last offseason.