The Patriots offense has been up and down throughout the first five weeks of the season, but the one constant for the unit has been running back James White. The former fourth-round pick out of the University of Wisconsin has been the most valuable player in an offense that is still trying to work through its kinks in the first half of the season. He is also on pace for a historic season, from the historical standards of both the Patriots and the NFL.
White has made incredible strides in his four and a half year career, developing from a minor utility player to one of the focal points of the Patriots offense over the past few seasons. His ability was on full display in Super Bowl 51, where he set records for receptions (14) and points (20) while finishing with 110 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown, 29 rushing yards, and two rushing touchdowns, spurring the team’s miraculous comeback victory over the Falcons.
A year and a half removed from his historic championship performance, the former Super Bowl hero has become the most important player in the Patriots offense not named Tom Brady. Now don’t jump down my throat. Rob Gronkowski is still the best tight end in the NFL and his presence in the Patriots offense is incomparable. However, so far in 2018, White has played the most crucial role in the success of New England’s offense.
So far in 2018, White has caught 32 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns and ran the football 23 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. He has done so while playing on 62% of the team’s offensive snaps. He has accounted for 21% of the Patriots total offense. For comparison, Patriots receivers Cordarelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, and Josh Gordon have all together only accounted for 32% of the team’s offense so far this season.
With Edelman suspended for the first four games of the season, White has become Brady’s security blanket. He has the highest number of targets on the team by a wide margin, many of which have come on third down situations. His ability to run routes both out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver has made him a dynamic offensive weapon. Brady has targeted White on a variety of routes designed to attack a defenses’ weaknesses, from out routes and crossers, to wheel routes and fades. White has been a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, as few teams have linebackers fast enough or cornerbacks agile enough to cover him.
White has also had impressive development as a runner. He has never been a consistent three-down back, lacking the strength and size needed to be a hard-nosed power back. However, his workload has increased every year, without any real reduction in his production as he has averaged at least four yards-per-carry in every year of his career other than 2015. His vision has improved dramatically, and he is an extremely hard runner to take down in the open field.
White is currently on pace to finish the season with 102 receptions, 864 receiving yards, 13 touchdown receptions, 352 rushing yard, and three rushing touchdowns. These numbers would more than double his previous career highs in all of these categories. In addition, these would be some of the best numbers ever put up by a Patriot player, never mind just a running back. 864 receiving yards would be the most ever by a Patriots running back in a single season, and 13 receiving touchdowns would be tied for third all-time in Patriots single-season history (Randy Moss, 2009). His 102 receptions would rank seventh in Patriots single-season history, just behind Edelman’s 105 receptions in 2015 and ahead of Moss’ 98 receptions in his historic 2007 season. White would also tie Matt Forte’s single-season NFL record for receptions by a running back with 102 catches.
The return of Julian Edelman and the continued development of Josh Gordon means that White will be unlikely to keep up the pace that he is currently on. Both of these receivers will get more receptions, and their success will open up the other Patriots’ receivers for more touches. However, that will make White even more dangerous, as teams will have to prepare for New England’s receivers and tight ends first, leaving White free to expose the weaknesses in opposing defenses.
White is the perfect example of a New England Patriot. He was a minor player who has developed into an extremely potent weapon through hard work and a commitment to constantly improving his game. He is not a flashy weapon who receives national recognition, yet he still puts up numbers that are on par with some of the most recognizable running backs in the NFL. The Patriots needed someone to step up in Julian Edelman’s absence and make sure that the offense was still able to function. White did that quietly and confidently, showing the world why we never should have doubted him and the Patriot Way.
Until next time – B$