Two Northwestern players, Dean Lowry and Dan Vitale, were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. Lowry was picked in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers, and Vitale was selected in the sixth by the Buccaneers.
In addition to the two players drafted, Traveon Henry and Deonte Gibson both penned unrestricted free agent contracts. Henry will be reunited with Vitale in Tampa, while Gibson will head to the Detroit Lions.
Will these players have the opportunity to play in their rookie season? Last year Ibraheim Campbell and Trevor Siemian, who were drafted in 2015, barely got any playing time. How will this year’s players fit with their respective teams?
Dean Lowry, DE, Green Bay Packers
With the 138th pick in the NFL Draft, the Packers selected Lowry. The Rockford, Illinois native was a Bears fan in his youth and will now play for its rival. President and CEO of the Packers, Mark Murphy, was the former athletic director at Northwestern and has always kept a close eye on prospects coming out of Evanston.
Lowry, one of three defensive linemen prospects who were over 6 feet 6 inches and 290 pounds, is one of the more physically gifted prospects. The other two, DeForest Buckner and Chris Jones, were picked in the top forty.
Lowry’s biggest limitation is his arm length, 30.5 inches, which is comparatively short for a man of his size. The Packers run a 3-4 defensive scheme, and I peg Lowry as a 3-technique defensive end. Lowry is a better run-stuffer than he is a pass-rusher, and with his high motor, he could push offensive lineman into the backfield and disrupt plays.
Lowry will need to take on multiple blockers to open holes for experienced pass rushers like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. I do not see Lowry becoming a 5-technique defensive end because of his short arms, which will pose a problem against lengthy offensive tackles. The Packers have multiple solid defensive ends on their roster, so right now I predict Lowry being on the third string. He will get limited snaps but still be in the defensive front rotation. I don’t predict much production coming from Lowry during his rookie season, though he possesses many physical traits that will allow him to fulfill his potential.
Dan Vitale, FB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vitale was selected 197th overall in the NFL Draft, and I’m quite excited about this selection. As many Northwestern fans know, Vitale was a “superback” in Evanston, not a fullback or tight-end. Superbacks have the ability to positon themselves in multiple locations, in a variety of formations.
Vitale could be used in the backfield, slot or line up as a tight-end. I envision the Bucs using him as a true fullback who lines up in the backfield. Tampa already has two tight ends who were successful last season, and there is no fullback on the roster after the team did not resign Jorvorskie Lane in the offseason. The Buccaneers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL with a deadly offense. Jameis Winston will salivate when he witnesses all of Vitale’s skills. Vitale’s run blocking will need to improve, but he is already one of the best receiving fullbacks in the NFL.
The Buccaneers’ new head coach, Dirk Koetter, utilizes the fullback position often, so I expect Vitale to get playing time early in his career. He will also be used on special teams, with his speed and strength combination being a perfect fit. Versatility is Vitale’s best asset, and it will be exciting to see all of the different ways the coaching staff utilizes him.