The New England Patriots will not have All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski for the opening week against the Arizona Cardinals. We do not know whether wide receivers Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola are rusty or at full strength, even though they’re not on the injury report. We don’t know how running back LeGarrette Blount will perform behind a questionable offensive line.
But I’m willing to bet that not only will James White contribute, he will do so in a fantastic way for your fantasy football team- and he’s only owned in 46% of fantasy leagues, per Yahoo! Fantasy, so there’s a chance he’s still available in your league.
I say this because I believe that James White is the leading receiving back on the roster, ahead of Brandon Bolden and D.J. Foster, even if both players will receive some time on Sunday.
I also say this because I think history shows that White thrives when the offense is short-handed.
There were four games in 2015 where White earned six or more targets out of the backfield, and two more games against the Jets where he saw five targets. These games all happened when the offense was struggling with injuries.
I’m going to focus on the four games where White earned six or more targets.
Week 13: Eagles
The Patriots were without Julian Edelman or Rob Gronkowski, and Brady had to rely on Keshawn Martin, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, and Scott Chandler. Guard Josh Kline went down with a shoulder injury.
White’s statline: 2 rushes, 4 yards; 13 targets, 10 catches, 115 yards, 1 touchdown
Total: 15 opportunities, 12 touches, 119 yards, 1 touchdown, 57% of offensive snaps
This was White’s coming out party as he proved the offense could rely on him to produce. White is not a rusher- and he won’t be one against the Cardinals- but his value will always come in the passing game.
The Patriots were extremely short-handed on offense and needed White to pick up the slack in the passing attack. He was the 15th most productive non-quarterback in fantasy football this week and the RB #5 by standard scoring.
Week 14: Texans
The Patriots were without Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski were playing hurt. Brady relied on Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin.
White’s statline: 1 rush, 2 yards, 1 touchdown; 6 targets, 4 catches, 38 yards
Total: 7 opportunities, 5 touches, 40 yards, 1 touchdown, 37% of offensive snaps
Amendola and Gronkowski were playing while hurt and only played roughly 60% of the snaps, opening the door for White to be an active participant. White didn’t score as much since this game expected to be a heavy LeGarrette Blount game- but a Blount injury early in the second quarter opened the door for Brandon Bolden to lead the team in snaps.
But I think the point stands that even though White failed to crack 40% of the offensive snaps, he was still the RB #21 on the week, worthy of being in a starting line-up.
Week 15: Titans
The Patriots were without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola barely played (12 snaps). Brady relied on Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell, and Keshawn Martin.
White’s statline: 1 rush, 6 yards; 8 targets, 7 catches, 71 yards, 1 touchdown
Total: 9 opportunities, 8 touches, 77 yards, 1 touchdown, 33% of offensive snaps
The Patriots were playing without their two top inside receivers and White was a big benefactor, even though he only played a third of the offensive snaps. He also had a 70 catch-and-run called back due to an offensive penalty.
White was the RB #12 this week, which made him an RB1 in most leagues- and even more desirable in pass-per-reception leagues.
AFC Championship Game: Broncos
The Patriots have everyone on the field, including Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, but Julian Edelman was playing hurt. Brandon LaFell was phased out of the offense in favor of Keshawn Martin.
White’s statline: 5 rushes, 11 yards; 16 targets, 5 receptions, 45 yards
Total: 21 opportunities, 10 touches, 56 yards, 69% of offensive snaps
While this game wasn’t a part of the fantasy season, it showed how heavily White was used when the coaching staff felt it was too difficult to get the ball to Edelman and Amendola. It also showed that White had the trust of the coaching staff to have chances to make a play, even if he ultimately was unable to make the catch.
Additionally, the goal in this game was to get the ball out as quickly as possible in order to compensate for weak offensive line play. The Patriots will not have their ideal offensive line against the Cardinals, and Edelman will likely be blanketed by Patrick Peterson, so the door is open for White to be a serious contributor.
In 2015, White was asked to take over for Dion Lewis and he didn’t earn the trust of the coaches until week 11 against the Bills. After that point, there was only game- the regular season collapse against the Broncos- where he wasn’t a viable fantasy option.
Over White’s most prominent fantasy games- and games which mirror the Patriots’ current situation in week 1- he was always worth having in the line-up. Not only did he earn a place in the roster, he excelled and even won the week due to his performance.
I don’t know if White will be a 100-yard player this week against the Cardinals. I just think that everything we’ve seen with the Patriots line-up and their prior usage of White implies that he could be a major factor this week.