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Jordan Whittley’s journey to Michigan, outlook for 2021

The big man’s journey continues in Ann Arbor but will it work out?

NCAA Football: Oregon State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

For some players, it seems as though they are in college for seven years. For Jordan Whittley, that is actually the case. A graduate transfer from Oregon State, Whittley is using his seventh and final year of college eligibility at Michigan and hopes to crack the rotation. His journey to Ann Arbor is remarkable and worth diving into.

The Story So Far

Whittley is originally from Richmond, California, where he played running back at Castlemont High School in Oakland. Normally, this would be the part of the article where I would discuss his recruitment, rankings, and measurements coming out of high school. However, Whittley’s journey is so long that I’ll skip straight to his commitment to San Jose State.

Unfortunately, Jordan didn’t academically qualify for San Jose State so he chose to pursue the junior college (JUCO) route at Laney College as a part of the 2014(!!) recruiting class. If Laney College sounds familiar, that is most likely because it was featured for a season on Netflix’s Last Chance U series. Early in his career at Laney, Whittley sustained an injury to his ACL and gained a substantial amount of weight. This paved the way for a position change to defensive tackle and took quite a bit of time to recover from.

Whittley would then return from injury for the 2017 and 2018 seasons and lead Laney to a California Community College Athletic Association championship and look to up-transfer. Rated as a three-star JUCO prospect, Jordan was recruited mainly by group-of-five west coast teams such as Hawaii, New Mexico, and San Diego State. Eventually, he committed to Oregon State before the 2019 season.

Now a full-fledged giant on the defensive line, Whittley measured in at 6-foot-1 and 324 pounds in his first year at Oregon State. He tallied 13 tackles and one pass deflection in 14 games, despite only starting in one game in 2019. In 2020, Jordan was diagnosed with a tumor in his heart. Understandably, the combination of the tumor and the risk of Covid led Whittley to opt out of playing 2020.

This offseason, Jordan entered the transfer portal and was immediately contacted by Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan staff. He committed shortly thereafter and prevented us from seeing what kind of offer sheet he could have received had he stayed on the market for long. Other potential suitors included Ole Miss, Tennessee, and UAB.

If you’re wondering how the eligibility math works out, Whittley was granted a medical exception for his first two years at Laney (2015 and 2016) due to his ACL injury. He is also opting to use his extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. Essentially, by the end of 2021, he will have played in four full seasons, two medical redshirts, and one covid year, equaling seven total years of college football.

Outlook For The Future

475 words later and he is here! Whittley joins a Michigan defense going through a major transition but with quite a bit of talent. At this point in his career, Jordan is a true nose tackle and will likely split playing time with Mazi Smith. Every scouting report on Whittley raves about his aggression and athleticism for a man of his size. Michigan will undoubtedly need him to eat up double-teams consistently throughout the year.

You can understand why the Michigan staff was so eager to bring him to Ann Arbor. He brings an abundance of experience, an abundance of size, and even a bit of potential as he has yet to have a breakout caliber year. If you’ve watched Michigan football for the past few years, you’ve surely noticed that depth on the interior of the defensive line has been lacking. At the very least, Whittley can be some solid bench depth.

With that being said, there are some major red flags with the most notable being the heart tumor. As a fan, you wish nothing but the best for him and his career and have to trust the medical staff and their judgment on whether he can play major collegiate football again. I certainly hope that he can return to 100% but you never know with a heart tumor. There is always the possibility that Whittley may never play a down at Michigan.

Assuming he can stay healthy, Whittley gives me the impression of being a “high floor, low ceiling” type of player. I would be amazed if he were to usurp Mazi Smith on the depth chart, however, I do expect him to see on the field some throughout the season. He is certainly a more proven depth piece than a true freshman would be in this situation. Only time will tell how his career plays out at Michigan.