By Adam Aniba
Training Camp is only a few weeks away and over a dozen undrafted rookie free agents will be vying for a spot on Washington's 53-man roster.
The Commanders upgraded their cornerback room, after drafting back-to-back corners in round one with Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin in the second.
Although the first 4 cornerback slots are locked in, there will be competition for the last spot depending on how many the Commanders decide to keep.
Rivera had a clear goal during the draft, by selecting Forbes (14 career ints) and Martin (7 career ints). Washington ranked 28th and 29th in forced turnovers over the last two seasons. One undrafted free agent brings his 12 career interceptions to Commanders training camp with Saginaw Valley State University CB Nick Whiteside.
Nick Whiteside II
6'1" 200 lbs | CB | SVSU
Undrafted FA WSH
Career (43 games) 131 TAK (67 solo), 2.5 TFL,12 INT, 26 PD & 1 BLK
2022 (10 games) 30 TAK (15 solo), 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PD & 1 BLK
Whiteside grew up in Auburn Hills, MI and attended Avondale High School where he was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and track. During his time at Avondale Whiteside was a standout receiver, earning OAA All-League honors in football and was a OAA Scholar Athlete.
The Avondale HS receiver garnered interest from Michigan State and had an unofficial visit January of '17. Whiteside would ultimately commit to Saginaw Valley State University.
As a true freshman in '18 Whiteside played in all 11 games for the Cardinals with coaches believing he was a better fit at defensive back. Whiteside registered 15 tackles, 1 interception and 4 pass breakups on the season.
In 2019 Whiteside appeared in all 11 games for Saginaw Valley, registering 46 tackles (27 solo), 9 pass breakups (3rd in the GLIAC) and a team leading 5 interceptions (2nd in the GLIAC). Although the SVSU corner registered 5 picks, he only received Honorable Mention All-GLIAC.
Fast forward 2021, in which the Cardinals corner appeared in all 11 games for SVSU. Whiteside recorded 40 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, including one for a touchdown vs Texas A&M Commerce (10/9/21).
Whiteside was named the GLIAC Defensive Back of the Year and earned First Team All-GLIAC honors, in addition to being named to the NCAA AP DII Second Team All-American team.
In '22 Whiteside was active in 10 games, adding 2 interceptions to his career total of 12. He also recorded 30 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 5 pass breakups and 1 blocked field goal.
It was evident that opposing quarterbacks shied away from the SVSU corners side of the field last season, after allowing only 3 receptions for 10 yards on his way to another First Team All-GLIAC selection.
Although Whiteside dealt with a minor injury in '22, he was a 2X All-American and Cliff Harris Award finalist, which is given to the top small college defensive player of the year from either NCAA Division II or III.
Tale of the Tape
Displays a ballhawk mentality
Excelled in 50/50 jump ball situations
Plays with physicality, most notably in man coverage
Instinctual player when in coverage
Excels in run support as a reliable tackler
Solid hands with background at receiver evident
Q&A with Nick
*Who was the most influential person during your time playing for Saginaw Valley?
"During my time at Saginaw Valley, Defensive backs Coach McKeown and Strength Coach Winters were influential. Coach Mckeown came after my freshman year and really elevated my game as a DB to the next level, due to the fact I had only been playing it for 1 full year. He made sure I never settled, and made sure to emphasis the little details that would help me be a great football player. Coach Winters really showed me how to work for what I wanted in life. He made it known to me, I had to work hard each day and enjoy the process over the end goal. He helped changed my body to get bigger, faster and stronger each year."
*You seem to have a playmaking mentality and a nose for the football, recording 12 career interceptions. What do you believe separates you from other college DB’s trying to make an NFL roster?
"I think my play making ability really comes from me making the position change from Receiver to Corner. With that receiver knowledge, I'm able to tell when they're getting the ball based on their mannerisms. Depending on certain splits and releases, I can get a jump on what type of route they're running and how I would run routes based on how the corner is playing it. I think what separates me from other college DB's trying to make the roster is my presence, frequently being around the ball and turning those opportunities into interceptions or pass breakups. I believe I can play in any scheme. I can play multiple positions on the defense and I showed that during my last year in college. I can play off man and press as well, I move really well with my size and I have good speed."
*What was the most exciting part of attending OTA’s?
"I think the most exciting part of OTA's was just being able to really get in a groove coming off my injury. Just being able to have that confidence in myself to know that I belong. Being able to compete each day with guys that I watched the past couple years. Lastly, being able to learn from great defensive backs, which we have in this DB room here with the Commanders vets and the rookies I came in with."
*Which Player/Coach have you leaned on since arriving in Washington?
"Since arriving to Washington I've been a sponge honestly. Trying to learn from every one in the DB room and all the coaches. Watching the film of every play during OTA's and last years games, allows me to pick up good habits from the rest of the DB's. Also constantly asking what can I do to be a better player. I'm big fan of everyone honestly, we are all good football players in our own way. I'm picking up good habits that they display on the field, which helps me to be a great player."
*What aspect of your game are you looking to refine this summer?
"I want to refine every aspect of my game. Becoming a smarter player, understanding the playbook and knowing what everyone is doing on the defense. Understanding splits, route combos, and situational football. Becoming a better DB in off man and the press game as well. Being efficient with my movements and playing smooth on the field. Lastly, constantly looking to take that next step each year and evolving my game to be a great defensive back in the NFL."
*What is your early impression of DC Coach Jack Del Rio/other coaches?
"Coach Jack is a smart and a real coach. He knows what he's talking about, not only has he been a Head Coach and DC, but he played in the NFL as well. He's very knowledgeable of the game and how the game has evolved over the years. He just demands us to be great each day. He doesn't settle for anything less than that. Coach Vies, Coach Christian and Coach Rock welcomed me with open arms. They're constantly adjusting my play each day, even if it's the little things. They don't only care about what's on the field, but their players well being off the field as well. They have treated everyone the same and makes it feel like a family. Just blessed to have this opportunity honestly."
Forbes, St-Juste, Fuller and (R) CB/S Martin are locks, but the 5th cornerback spot should be up for grabs. Although Whiteside comes from the DII level, he's a versatile prospect that understands the nuances of the game after playing receiver and cornerback during his football career.
It'll be an uphill battle to make the final 53-man with Danny Johnson, Christian Holmes, Tariq Castro-Fields, Rachad Wildgoose and others likely vying for the final cornerback spot.
Regardless if he makes the final roster or practice squad, Whiteside is an UDFA that has the upside to play in the NFL.
*Games Watched- 9/10 vs Bowie St., 9/17 vs Northwood, 10/8 vs Ferris St., 10/15 vs Indianapolis, 10/22 vs Wayne St. & 11/5 N.Michigan
*Find Nick on Twitter @_nickwhiteside