James White has undoubtedly been the New England Patriots’ most valuable player so far this year. Whether it’s been running the ball or catching it, White has produced in every scheme and situation he’s encountered.
He ranks first amongst all running backs in the NFL with 61 receptions for 531 yards and is ranked second behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt with six receiving touchdowns. White’s 61 receptions are also tied for fourth in the entire league behind only wide receivers Adam Thielen, DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas.
Heading into the season, a lot of the focus was on the lack of depth at the receiver position. However, the focus quickly shifted to running back after Rex Burkhead was placed on injured reserve, Jeremy Hill tore his ACL, and Sony Michel has missed time due to a knee injury. As a result, White — a player that has gotten progressively better year after year — now has 121 touches on the season through nine weeks.
For comparison, White’s career-high in touches over an entire 16-game season came in the past two years when he had 99 each time. His role certainly got bigger and bigger as the year has gone on due to the injuries and his superb play and role in the offense. However, his workload should be something the Patriots need to manage as they head into the second half of the season and gearing up for another postseason run.
Also, with White amassing career highs in just about every offensive category, the Patriots need to be cautious in a sense where they don’t want to tire him out by the end of the season, when they are going to need him the most. With Michel playing a different role, Burkhead just returning to practice yesterday, and Cordarrelle Patterson and Kenjon Barner as the only other options at the position, the Patriots cannot afford to lose a reliable piece like White.
However, I guess you can play devil’s advocate here and make the case that the Patriots need to continue to use White because he has been the x-factor on offense. And with the Patriots battling the Chiefs for the number one playoff seed in the AFC, the Patriots cannot afford to give key players time off.
In my opinion, the Patriots can’t afford to lose White down the stretch. We already had to hold our breath this past Sunday when it looked as if White may have dinged up his leg. With Michel likely back soon, it should put White into his normal role again on third downs and in passing situations. However, giving him touches late in games when the game looks to be wrapped up isn't something the Patriots should do.
Whether you believe in this or not, we can all agree on one thing: who really knows where this Patriots season would be headed if the Patriots didn't have James White this season?
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Ryan is one of the hosts of the Patriot Nation Podcast