The offseason departures of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Dion Lewis in combination with Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension created some uncertainty in the New England Patriots’ offense early on in 2018. Luckily for the team, it had running back James White to rely on: the fifth-year man played on a Pro-Bowl-worthy level over the first half of the season and helped the Patriots’ offense as a versatile chess piece.
As such, he finished the year with 1,354 yards from scrimmage as well as 12 total touchdowns — the best numbers of his career. White found himself among the most productive backs in all of football, especially because of his receiving: during the regular season, he ranked first in the league in receiving touchdowns, second in yards, and third in catches. Once again, he was one of the NFL’s most productive receiving backs.
And yet, White kept flying under the radar a bit as teammates such as Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and for a brief period of time Josh Gordon took most of the spotlight. It is therefore no surprise that White has recently been named the most underrated running back in all of football by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus — one “deserving of more public or contractual recognition” for his performance.
The rationale presented by PFF’s Michael Renner reads as follows:
With the revolving door of running backs that have come and gone in New England during the Belichick era, the players are often seen as replaceable. But there’s a reason why White is going on Year 6 and is signed through the next two seasons. His ability as a receiver and mismatch weapon is where he — or any running back for that matter — truly adds value to that offense. In an offense predicated on flexibility, White defines the term after racking up 87 catches for 751 yards last season while taking only 94 handoffs for 425 yards.
Renner sums up White’s contributions to the Patriots offense well: he is primarily a receiving threat and as such used to create mismatches. 2018 was a perfect example of that as coordinator Josh McDaniels moved him around the formation — from the backfield to the line of scrimmage as a de facto wide receiver — to put pressure on the defense. White is a tough matchup for any linebacker, after all, or is able to otherwise manipulate the coverage scheme.
While his role creates solid numbers, its rotational basis will never allow White to gain the national or financial recognition other running backs receive. However, his value to the Patriots’ offensive operation — just like Kevin Faulk’s, Danny Woodhead’s or Shane Vereen’s — cannot be understated. As a result, seeing White on PFF’s list again next year would be no surprise whatsoever.