James White: The NFL’s Most Underrated Player

James White

A lot happened during the New England Patriots 38-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Julian Edelman made his return, Josh Gordon channeled his inner Randy Moss for his first Patriots touchdown, and Tom Brady put together another spectacular game. However, lost in the excitement is the fact that James White, once more, had a fantastic game and is establishing himself as one of the top pass-catching backs in the league.

White may be the most criminally underrated player in the entire NFL. James White ranks at or near the top of every receiving category among running backs over the past three seasons and has steadily improved every year he’s been in the league.

James White: The NFL’s Most Overlooked Player

White recorded a team-leading 10 receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown during the Patriots Thursday Night win. Said touchdown reception was the White’s 16th since the start of the 2015 season, which is by far the most in the league for running backs. The next closest in that timeframe is the Detroit Lions Theo Riddick with 10.

White’s more than just an endzone machine. Since 2015, White is second among running backs in receiving yards (1,583) and fourth in receptions (178). White managed to put up these fantastic numbers despite sitting behind Dion Lewis for the first half of the 2015 season. Really, White’s done more in two and a half seasons than the rest of the NFL has done in three.

White In Franchise History

While White is among the best passing backs in recent memory, he’s well on his way to being the best receiving back in franchise history. Among all Patriots running backs, White currently ranks sixth in receiving yards, fourth in receptions, and second in touchdowns.

White’s done all this despite playing in significantly fewer games than the players ahead of him in the record books. White’s 32.4 receiving yards per game is the most in franchise history. While that is somewhat a product of the era in which he plays there’s no denying that White deserves recognition as arguably the best receiving back in Patriots history.

White currently owns two of the top five receiving seasons by a Patriots running back. In 2016, White recorded the third most receptions (60) and second most receiving yards (551) for a running back in franchise history.

White’s 2017, while not quite as good, was still a great season. Splitting snaps with Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis, White recorded 56 receptions (fifth-best in team history) for 429 yards and three touchdowns. White is currently on pace for 71 receptions for 618 yards and 13 touchdowns. While he probably won’t hit the touchdown mark (13 receiving touchdowns for a running back is absurd), he could very easily sustain his current yards and receptions pace.

White As A Runner

The biggest strike against James White is that his work between the tackles leaves a lot to be desired. While nobody will ever confuse him with Barry Sanders, White’s numbers on the ground have steadily improved throughout his career.

After averaging a paltry 2.5 yards per carry in 2015, White ran for 166 yards on 39 carries in 2016 (4.3 YPC). White followed that up with 171 rushing yards on 43 carries in 2017, good for a respectable 4.0 yards per carry. So far in 2018, White has run the ball 23 times for 110 yards and a touchdown, good for a career-best 4.8 yards per carry.

Yards per carry isn’t a be-all, end-all statistic by any means, but it shows that White is capable of moving on the ball on the ground. Per sharpfootballstats.com, White currently has a 38.1% success rate on rushing attempts this season. The league average is 45.4%, so White is a somewhat below average runner.

However, that’s all he needs to be when he’s so good out of the backfield. As long as defenses respect his ability to run the ball, they won’t be able to key in on a pass every time White’s on the field. He’s a complete enough back who excels in the passing game and is serviceable as a runner.

Last Word on James White

Over the past five years, James White has developed from fourth-round afterthought to one of the best pass-catching backs in football. White is at or near the top of just about every receiving category for running backs and is one of the most overlooked players in the game.

Historically, White already has a case for being the best receiving back in franchise history. He leads all Patriots running backs in yards per game and is already second all-time in franchise receiving touchdowns. While he’s not an elite runner of the football, he’s good enough on the ground to keep defenses honest.

Julian Edelman’s return and Josh Gordon’s breakout game are justifiably being celebrated all around Patriots Nation. While everyone imagines what that duo would look like with Rob Gronkowski, don’t forget about James White. While he’s not as hyped up like those other three, he’s also among the best in the league at what he does. If all four of these players can stay healthy for the remainder of the season, the Patriots offense will be nearly impossible to stop.

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