Tony Collins’ 77 catches in 1986 still stand as the most ever by a New England Patriots running back.
Thirty years later, his 684 receiving yards from that season remain atop the archives as well.
James White won’t eclipse either mark by the time Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins draws to a close. He likely won’t match Leroy Thompson’s 65 receptions from 1994, either. But the former fourth-round pick has measured up to the most prolific out-of-the-backfield campaigns in franchise history.
Despite handling only 37 carries for 157 rushing yards as the third ground option behind LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, White ranks second on the team with 56 catches and fifth with 530 receiving yards.
His five touchdown grabs, meanwhile, reside behind only tight end Martellus Bennett’s six and have him tied with Collins and Thompson for the most all-time by a Patriots back.
The latest TD strike arrived following a wheel-route drop last Saturday versus the New York Jets, as No. 28 stuttered inside and out against veteran linebacker David Harris on the way to a 25-yard retrieval in the corner of the end zone.
That was, in a sense, the exclamation point for White in the pass-catching journey he’s been on.
“I think James, for example, has gained so much confidence of everybody over the course of his time that I have no problem going back to him, because he always finds a way to get open and he always comes down with it,” quarterback Tom Brady said during his postgame press conference. “Just like what happened, he came down with it. That was a big play in the game.”
White’s plays have grown similar to the ones Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen all generated over the decade-plus before him. But before 2016 began, it remained unclear whether his name would be held in such a company. It remained unclear whether the third-year Wisconsin product would be able to retain the passing snaps he inherited over the final nine games of 2015 – a span which saw him accumulate 39 receptions for 436 yards and four touchdowns.
Few questions remain now.
“Last year helped me a lot. I learned a lot and got the opportunity to play a lot of football,” White told reporters after New England’s 41-3 win over New York. “So, I just wanted to build off of that and become a good overall football player – running the ball, catching the ball, blocking, or doing whatever I can when my number's called.”
With 82 targets through 15 appearances, White’s number has been frequently. He’s put together one of the most productive receiving years on record for a Patriots back in the process, not mention the most productive of any in the era of Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.
TOP RECEIVING BACKS SINCE 2000
2000 – Kevin Faulk: 51 catches, 465 yards, one touchdown
2001 – Kevin Faulk: 30 catches, 189 yards, two touchdowns
2002 – Kevin Faulk: 37 catches, 379 yards, three touchdowns
2003 – Kevin Faulk: 48 catches, 440 yards
2004 – Kevin Faulk: 26 catches, 248 yards, one touchdown
2005 – Kevin Faulk: 29 catches, 260 yards
2006 – Kevin Faulk: 43 catches, 356 yards, two touchdowns
2007 – Kevin Faulk: 47 catches, 383 yards, one touchdown
2008 – Kevin Faulk: 58 catches, 486 yards, three touchdowns
2009 – Kevin Faulk: 37 catches, 301 yards, one touchdown
2010 – Danny Woodhead: 34 catches, 379 yards, one touchdown
2011 – Danny Woodhead: 18 catches, 157 yards
2012 – Danny Woodhead: 40 catches, 446 yards, three touchdowns
2013 – Shane Vereen: 47 catches, 427 yards, three touchdowns
2014 – Shane Vereen: 52 catches, 447 yards, three touchdowns
2015 – James White: 40 catches, 410 yards, four touchdowns
2016 – James White: 56 catches, 530 yards, five touchdowns
With three catches versus Miami, White would surpass Faulk’s career-high of 58. But neither the Patriots Hall of Famer, nor Woodhead, nor Vereen reached the 500-yard milestone in receiving for the Patriots.
None of those three reeled in more than three touchdowns in one season.
That isn’t to say White is on his own. His year-in, year-out consistency is still in its early stages. And his work in the flats, over the middle, and down the sideline are still often punctuated by a reference to one of his predecessors.
But somewhere between the Collinses and the Thompsons, as well as the Faulks, the Woodheads and the Vereens in more recent memory, White’s 2016 has set him among very few.