Yes, folks. You read that right.
The rookie fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin is a picture-perfect Patriot in every way imaginable, and by the looks of it, you’ll see plenty of him on the field in 2014.
A four-year player for the Badgers, White racked up over 4,000 yards rushing despite never earning a full-time starting gig. In fact, White has been splitting carries dating back to his days at St. Thomas Aquinas High School when he shared the backfield with some guy named Giovani Bernard. As a freshman at Wisconsin, the Fort Lauderdale native was part of a three-headed attack that also featured 1,000-yard rusher John Clay and future second-round pick Montee Ball.
Following Clay’s graduation, White ascended to the No. 2 job behind Ball, who went on to re-write the record books by rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns. Still, White proved a valuable commodity, rushing for 713 yards on 141 carries while also catching 15 passes for 150 yards.
It was more of the same in 2012 as Ball carried the Badgers on his back to the tune of 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns with White playing the complementary role with 806 yards rushing of his own. It wasn’t until 2013 that White truly took over the top spot, but even then he had to deal with stiff competition. White carried the ball a career-high 221 times for 1,444 yards, but still seemed like an afterthought on the national scale as Melvin Gordon actually led the team with 1,609 yards rushing at an incredible clip of 7.8 yards per carry.
With four years of proven production as both a runner and receiver, White entered the draft as one of the more complete prospects at his position. However, he measured just 5’9”, 204 pounds at the combine and ran a 4.57—a below-average time for a back of his size. In what amounted to a weak running back class, White was overlooked by many national pundits and so-called draft experts. The Patriots were happy to scoop up the versatile tailback with the 130th overall selection and the early results have been promising. White has drawn praise from coaches, players and the media throughout the offseason and looks like he’ll be an integral part of the offense even as a rookie. Let’s take a closer look at his usage at Wisconsin and how he’ll fit in New England’s scheme.
How the Badgers Used Him
One area where White excelled at in college was the passing game. His predecessor, Clay, caught just 11 passes in three years. White, on the other hand, left Wisconsin with the most receiving yards (670) by a Badgers running back. It’s obvious the Patriots coveted his ability to catch the football, especially after the team failed to find a replacement for Danny Woodhead. And with skilled pass-catching back Shane Vereen set to hit free agency along with the hard-charging Stevan Ridley, White will be invaluable as a dynasty pick.
As a runner, the Badgers used White as a complement to homerun threat Melvin Gordon. Despite his smaller stature, White showed surprising strength and ran with a low pad level. He shows patience finding the hole and letting his blockers pave the way before getting into open space. He also flashed impressive cutting ability and shows a knack for finding cutback lanes. Overall, his game tape doesn’t scream CJ2K speed or Adrian Peterson power, but he’s a solid all-around back who does everything well.
How the Patriots Will Use Him
If he’s able to stay healthy, White looks to have sewn up the No. 3 RB spot and could easily become a huge part of the offense if the injury-prone Vereen gets nicked up. Early in his career, it’ll be interesting to see if White earns the coaching staff’s trust as a pass protector. Should he be reliable in that area, he could syphon snaps from Vereen on third downs, and at the very least, could spell him from time to time. Perhaps McDaniels might even find a way to have some two-back sets with both Vereen and White on the field. That would be an interesting look that would give linebackers nightmares trying to cover the speedy tandem.
Don’t mistake White as just a third-down back. Though he lacks ideal size for a No. 1 back, he’s absolutely an insurance policy should the Patriots lose Ridley and/or Vereen next offseason. Because of his intelligence, versatility and work ethic, I could easily see White being a bench option as a rookie who could ascend to flex status should the Patriots suffer an injury at the position.
He’s also someone who’d be excellent in dynasty leagues, as he’ll likely compete for the starting job in 2015. At that point, he’d be an intriguing RB2, especially in PPR leagues. He may not be a household name right now, but James White will be the next productive Patriots running back who will also be a fantasy asset.