With opening day still three months away, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, the New England Patriots will hold their minicamp this week.
It will be the next step for players to secure their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the Patriots’ Super Bowl heroes.
Name: James White
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 28
Opening day age: 25
Size: 5’10, 205 lbs.
2016 review: The biggest performance of James White’s career came on the biggest stage in pro football. During Super Bowl LI, the former fourth round pick scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion for a title game record 20 points. Along the way, he also caught 14 passes (another Super Bowl record) for 110 yards and ran the ball six times for 29 yards. In short: White delivered a game for the ages.
The season he had prior to the big game was not too shabby either. During the regular season, White appeared in all 16 games and played the second-most snaps of all running backs (426 of 1,120; 38.0%). As a dual-threat out of the backfield, he finished with a combined 717 yards from scrimmage – 551 on 60 receptions plus 166 on 39 rushing attempts – and five touchdowns.
White’s impact could have been even bigger if not for the week 11 return of fellow receiving back Dion Lewis off PUP midway through the season. Once Lewis was back in the fold, the duo shared duties as versatile backfield weapons. Having established himself as a productive and trustworthy player in the Patriots’ offense, White still saw his number called regularly, though; predominantly in the passing game.
Never more evident was that than during the above-mentioned Super Bowl, which helped him finish the postseason as the running back with the most offensive playing time (46.3%; 112 of 242 snaps). In three postseason contests, White also recorded 18 catches for 137 yards and two scores as well as seven rushes for 29 yards and a pair of touchdowns – capping the most productive season of his career in style.
Not only was White productive, especially as a pass catcher, he also was among the best in the league when it came to breaking tackles and furthermore held his own as a pass protector: On the year, White gave up one sack and eight hurries. While those numbers could still be improved upon, they reflect how the Wisconsin product has grown into a reliable do-it-all running back.
2017 preview: Two months after the 2016 season, the Patriots awarded James White with a three-year contract extension worth $12.0 million. Naturally, this makes him a lock to be a member of the team's 2017 roster. The question therefore becomes just how his role in New England's revamped offensive backfield will ultimately look like.
The starting point for assessing it is as follows: The 25-year old is one of four receiving backs currently under contract with the Patriots, being joined by Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden. It is likely that only one of the trio will join White on the active roster, and as things currently stand, Lewis has the inside track to do that. As a result, White's role might look similar to the one he held in 2016.
When both White and Lewis were active, they split duties as New England's top receiving back: White played 37.6% of offensive snaps after Lewis' return off PUP, while Lewis played 29.8%. Depending on the opponent, New England's coaching staff either used the one-dimensional but more consistent pass catcher White or the more well-rounded and elusive Lewis.
The system has worked well for the Patriots in 2016 and it would be a surprise to see it change too much entering the 2017 season – even if the team wants to take pressure off Lewis and use him in a specialized role à la Danny Amendola. White, granted he stays healthy, will therefore once again play around 40% of offensive snaps and be among the team-leaders in offensive touches.