Through five games, no New England Patriot has caught more passes than running back James White.
He is up to 32 entering Sunday night’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
That tally is one that only 13 targets around the NFL have surpassed at this point in October. And just one other back, the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara, sits in that baker’s dozen above White.
As for the others? Their names are Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Stephon Diggs, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Zach Ertz, Michael Thomas and Adam Thielen.
In the conversation with wideouts and tight ends is a good place for White to be.
It’s where the 26-year-old has been for the better part of the past three seasons.
That may have served as a surprise when the Wisconsin product entered the league in 2014 having handled 643 carries in contrast with 73 catches during his Big Ten career. Not so much now.
“I’ve always felt confident in my pass-catching abilities even though I didn’t do it as much in college,” White told reporters during his Tuesday press conference. “I did it in high school and even during the offseason and stuff, I would run routes with the receivers and just try to learn what they can do because I always felt confident in my ability to do that. We ran a lot of screens in college, though, so I always felt comfortable and confident with that.”
White has reeled in 40, 60 and 56 catches, respectively, in his seasons dating back to the 2015. The Super Bowl LI record-setter now has as many catches this season as the Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen.
New York Giants No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley, meanwhile, is one flat route out of the backfield away from them.
“Obviously, I didn’t think I would be catching as many passes as I do,” added White, “but I mean, things change and I’ve accepted my role and just go out there and execute to the best of my abilities.”
If White is able to continue at that torrid clip of more than six receptions per game, the Patriots captain would finish the regular season with 102. But anywhere near the century mark would shatter the franchise record for catches by a running back, 77, which Tony Collins established in 1986.
The triple-digit catches milestone would go beyond White’s position title, where a select few rushers in LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Centers and Matt Forte have gone before; it’d make him just the third player in Patriots history to do accomplish the feat.
Wes Welker slotted himself into 100-reception territory five times, and both Julian Edelman and Troy Brown did so once.
It’s been as prolific as it’s been efficient.
White’s work in quarterback Tom Brady’s passing game has netted him 270 yards and a team-high four touchdowns thus far into 2018. It’s seen him move ahead of Kevin Faulk for the second-most all-time TD grabs by a New England ball-carrier.
And yet, White has been seen in the ground game, as well. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder has rushed for 110 yards with another trip to the end zone on 23 carries already – 20 shy of his career-high.
With rookie Sony Michel and the off-and-on Kenjon Barner the only other running backs residing on New England’s active roster, that level of involvement has filled the gaps.
“I mean, for me, I always feel like I’m involved whether I touch the ball or not,” White said. “Like I said, one week it may be catching, one week it may be running, one week it may just be blocking. I think everybody across the board in our offense does a great job of accepting their role no matter how many touches they get.”
And while getting to 102 receptions for 864 yards and 13 touchdowns sits a ways out, White’s role hasn’t provided reason to rule it out.