The New England Patriots have drafted eight running backs since 2000.
The first seven never went on to have as long a stay in Foxborough as the one James White is slated to.
There was J.R. Redmond, Antwoine Womack, Cedric Cobbs, Laurence Maroney, Justise Hairston, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. And then there was White, who had been scheduled for free agency following the 2017 season prior to reaching a three-year extension Tuesday that’ll keep him under contract through 2020, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported.
At one point in time, such a pact – worth a base of $12 million with $4.69 million guaranteed, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport – was hard to foresee. At one point in time, it was unclear whether the 2014 fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin would see the end of his rookie contract.
White was inactive for all but three games over the course of his first campaign with New England. He garnered nine carries for 38 yards, five catches for 23 yards, and did not take the field during the playoff run to Super Bowl XLIX. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder’s place on the Patriots’ roster remained tentative entering 2015, even after Vereen departed for the New York Giants on the same day free agency opened.
The role Vereen previously held wouldn’t ultimately be taken by White that fall. Instead it’d be taken and expounded upon by Dion Lewis, a reserve-futures signing who had been traded, waived, waived again, and hadn’t appeared in a regular-season game in two years.
Lewis proved to be a revelation. Between the tackles and beyond them, the former Philadelphia Eagle, Cleveland Brown and Indianapolis Colt went on to amass 622 yards of offense and four touchdowns through Week 9 of the Patriots’ 2015 campaign. All the while, White amassed 67 and zero.
The latter did not have a touchdown on his NFL resume through that juncture. He didn’t have a definitive role. That became evident when Lewis suffered a torn ACL in the third quarter against the Washington Redskins. It wasn’t White who was subbed into that game in Lewis’ absence thenceforth; it was special-teamer Brandon Bolden.
White wasn’t in uniform.
But two weeks later against the Buffalo Bills, White would be to score the first two touchdowns of his NFL career, catching a 20-yard pass to go with a six-yard run. And now, dating back to that Nov. 23, 2015 matchup, he has tallied 15 total touchdowns and has caught 117 passes for 1,124 yards over 28 games when including the postseason.
He, too, has established himself as a revelation.
White’s value to the offense did not discernibly change when Lewis returned to action in the midst of 2016. He finished the regular season with 60 catches, the third-most by a running back in Patriots franchise history behind Tony Collins and Leroy Thompson. And his 551 receiving yards finished as the second-most at the position.
Even so, Super Bowl LI is what put White’s relevance in ink. Maybe not in the eyes of the organization that drafted him, but to those who tuned in to watch what took place at NRG Stadium.
No non-quarterback had ever accounted for more points in a Super Bowl than the 20 that White did versus the Atlanta Falcons. He reached the end zone on a five-yard touchdown catch, a direct-snapped two-point conversion, a one-yard touchdown run, and the game-winner from two yards out in overtime.
White’s three touchdowns matched a Super Bowl record by the time the Patriots had come back from a 28-3 deficit. His 14 receptions broke one.
Now the 25-year-old embarks on what would have been the final leg of his four-year contract with an interim role that has evolved into a permanent one. He enters it with a career rushing average of 3.7 yards per carry, yet with far more to outweigh that than the traditional description of a running back would suggest.
White never set out to be one of the seven names drafted before him in the Bill Belichick era. But he soon will outlast them in tenure. He’s carved his part in the Patriots’ past, present and future plans.
He’s become a “Superman” of his own.