The New England Patriots selected RB James White out of Wisconsin with their fourth-round pick (130th overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. Even though the NFL is a passing league and the Patriots have QB Tom Brady, they finished the 2013 season tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 19.
LeGarrette Blount didn’t exactly go gangbusters at the beginning of the 2013 season, but he was a really good short yardage back for the Patriots. Over the final two weeks of the regular season and in the Patriots’ Divisional round win over the Indianapolis Colts, Blount was incredibly productive. As a free agent this offseason, Blount signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots will be okay, but Blount does need to be brought up when discussing the Patriots’ current running back situation. The Patriots still have Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden on the roster, but all of them are entering the final year of their contracts, so Patriots head coach Bill Belichick felt the need to draft a running back in this year’s draft. There are other positions the Patriots should have addressed in the draft before running back, namely a big, physical receiver or adding depth at the tight end position, but with the potential running back departures after this season, Belichick must have felt a need to draft a one. Will White be a good fit in New England?
White is 5-foot-10 and 195-pounds. At Wisconsin he had 643 career carries for 4,015 yards and found the end zone 45 times. At the NFL Combine White ran a 4.57 second 40-yard dash and put up 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press. White has good vision, hands, short-area burst and balance. In 716 touches (643 carries, 73 receptions) in college, White fumbled only twice. White may be expected to replace Vereen (who has been injury-prone) since they are basically the same size — Vereen is 5-foot-10, 205-pounds. Ridley (5-foot-11, 220-pounds) was benched last season after he couldn’t hold onto the football (four lost fumbles in 10 games; eight fumbles over the last two seasons), so it’s possible White replaces Ridley in the red zone. White is also a willing blocker in pass protection — he was Wisconsin’s primary pass-protection back.
The days of NFL teams having one dominant back are largely over. Many teams utilize a running back by committee approach, and the Patriots are one such team. White is no stranger to sharing the workload in the backfield. In his time at Wisconsin, White had to share carries with both Monte Ball and Melvin Gordon. Belichick may love the competitiveness in White (he works hard and always wants the ball) as well as the maturity he shows in putting the team first and not complaining about sharing carries.
However, White did play in an offense that helped inflate his numbers. He is undersized and has incredibly short arms and small hands. White’s size makes it difficult for him to move a pile or break a lot of tackles. Due to Wisconsin’s academic schedule, White missed the first week the other rookies got at the Patriots’ facility, but he is working on catching up as quickly as he can.
The Patriots probably didn’t need to address running back in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but if White can follow in the footsteps of other diminutive Patriots players (i.e. RB Kevin Faulk and WR Wes Welker), show his versatility and continue to protect the football, he might just do alright in New England.