Updated: 5:40 p.m.
Yet, he led the Cardinal in receiving for consecutive years and overcame an elbow injury his senior year to help push the team to an Orange Bowl victory. He’s loaded in little things, known as a strong blocker, precise route-runner and even academic all-American.
Bengals receivers coach James Urban couldn’t deny that when a player succeeds over and over again in circumstances where few believe he should, he deserves an opportunity to prove doubters wrong in the NFL.
That’s why the 6-1, 205-pound wide receiver was selected by Cincinnati with the second pick of the sixth round and No. 167 overall.
With their first of two picks in the seventh round, the Bengals went for a cornerback in 5-10, 180-pound Korey Lindsey of Southern Illinois.
“He’s one of those guys that there are so many superlatives on his résumé of quality of character and things that he has accomplished that it sort of hurts your head,” Urban said of Whalen. “He’s the kind of kid you can build a winning organization around and a great guy to have in your meeting room and, obviously, on your team.”
Whalen caught passes from highly-touted quarterback Andrew Luck each of the past three seasons and led the team with 41 receptions for 508 yards his sophomore year and 57 receptions for 982 yards as a junior. He likely would have produced a threepeat as leading receiver if not for an elbow injury keeping him out of three games early in his senior season. Despite missing time, he still finished second with 41 receptions for 439 yards.
Yards and catches are nice stat stuffers, but what sold the Bengals on Whalen was the matter with which they were compiled. Whalen showcased elite consistency and intelligence in a complex pro-style system under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“He is one of those guys that does it the way you want it done,” Urban said. “When you watch enough of the film you see, man that was a 14-yard comeback, next time he runs it, it’s 14 yards. Next time? Fourteen yards. You see obviously he’s very coachable and does it the right way.”
Whalen will be given an opportunity to play in both the slot and the outside, as well as on special teams, according to Urban. His size and history of productivity stand among the characteristics in his corner.
“(Consistency) is what separates guys,” said Whalen, who ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump. “A lot of guys have talent at this level. Everyone is good. I think the attention to detail and little things and making catches and getting open when your team is counting in you is important.”
Urban noticed the timing of when Whalen got open and trust Luck saw in him as a reason the Stanford wideout was targeted late in the draft.
“They spread the ball around pretty good,” Urban said. “But it sure seemed like on third-and-6 who they were looking at. It sure seemed like when they needed a big completion, he would show up.”