The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ core offensive skill position players.
Name: James White
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 28
Opening day age: 26
Size: 5’10, 205 lbs.
2017 review: Coming off a historic performance in Super Bowl 51 and a new three-year, $12 million contract extension that will keep him in New England through 2020, James White again played a big role on the Patriots’ offense in 2017: As the team’s number one receiving and third down back, the former fourth-round draft selection saw considerable action in 14 regular season games and three playoff contests.
Being part of one of the NFL’s deepest running back groups, White’s snap count – in part because of an ankle injury that cost him weeks 16 and 17 – decreased a bit when compared to 2016. He still played 33.6% of New England’s offensive snaps (383 of 1,139), though, and finished the regular season as the Patriots’ second most productive running back with a combined 600 yards from scrimmage.
Playing his usual role on late downs and in hurry-up situations, White registered 43 rushing attempts during the regular season and gained 171 yards on the ground. He also caught 56 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns as one of the most productive receiving backs in the NFL – one who heard his name called more often during the postseason: All in all, White was on the field for 49.8% of the Patriots’ offensive playoff snaps (110 of 221).
While he did not replicate his record-breaking 2016 postseason run, White still had a productive three-game stretch: He carried the football 14 times for 60 yards and his first three rushing touchdowns of the year, and also registered nine pass receptions for 72 yards and a score. And even though the season ended in negative fashion, the running back still had a productive season – showing why the Patriots opted to invest in him.
2018 preview: Even though he is one of the best role-specific backs in the NFL, White will only hit New England’s books with a salary cap hit of $2.44 million in 2018. This, combined with his role and experience in the team’s system as well as the free agency departure of fellow running back Dion Lewis, makes him a lock to be on the Patriots’ roster come the start of the regular season. And once more, White is projected to see plenty of action.
The 26-year old will be used on all three downs but mostly play a pre-defined role: White will serve primarily in the passing game, on third downs, and in up-tempo situations like two-minute drills. As such, he will be on the field for roughly one third of the Patriots’ offensive snaps and register regular carries and receptions. Furthermore, White will serve as a pass protector every now and then – an important part of his role.
The Wisconsin product will get his fair share of action as New England’s most experienced and most proven backfield player, despite the Patriots re-signing Rex Burkhead and drafting Sony Michel in the first round. Together with the two fellow backs, White will form one of the NFL’s deepest running back depth charts. His role on it seems clear and it will once again turn him into one of the team leaders in offensive touches.
And while it would be a surprise to see White earn any individual accolades because of his performance, he will be a key cog in New England’s offensive machinery – and as such potentially help the team win another Super Bowl.