Per CSN New England, rookie running back James White took first team reps in Patriots’ practice Thursday, while presumed starter Stevan Ridley took the majority of his snaps with the second-team offense. It’s certainly still early in the preseason, but news like that sends shockwaves throughout the fantasy community as everyone is jockeying for the next sleeper who will bring their team to fantasy glory. Before we get too carried away, let’s step back and take a look at who James White is, and what (or if) he can contribute to fantasy football teams in 2014.
Who is he?
White played for four years at Wisconsin, succeeding one of the Badgers’ greatest running backs in Montee Ball. In his freshman year, he had an impressive 1,000+ yard campaign, and closed out his college career with another 1,000+ yard effort. While he’s rather small for a running back (5’9″), he’s extremely built, weighing in at 204 pounds at the NFL Combine. The stat that stands out the most for White is that he had just two fumbles in 754 touches while at Wisconsin
To put that in perspective, Ridley, whose ball security issues have been well-documented, has nine career fumbles on just 574 touches.
Mockdraftable, a site that specializes in using Combine data to display similarities between different draft classes, had the following on White:
An argument for White
The most compelling argument for White is that he’s very good at protecting the football, something that head coach Bill Belichick demands out his players, particularly his running backs. There’s no doubt in my mind that LeGarrette Blount‘s return to fantasy relevance would not have happened had Ridley been able to protect the ball. Heck, even Brandon Bolden had useful fantasy weeks when Ridley got benched. The odds are that Ridley is going to fumble the ball at some point this year, and when that happens, someone’s going to have to step up. I don’t think Shane Vereen, who is pencilled in as the No. 2 running back on the current depth chart, can handle that full workload. On top of that, Vereen is a lot more useful when he’s used like a chess piece, lined up in the backfield or out wide. That would leave White with a juicy fantasy opportunity.
An argument against White
Bill Belichick doesn’t have a great track record with rookie running backs. A rookie running back has never led the team in rushing during his 19-year tenure as a head coach. The Patriots run such a complex offense that it often takes time for rookies to grasp the system and to learn to pass protect well. With Tom Brady just turning 37 at the start of August and an uninspiring quarterback in Ryan Mallett waiting in the wings, I don’t see Belichick taking a risk by running White out there before he understands the offense. The last rookie running back to even come close to being the top rusher for Belichick was when Laurence Maroney rushed for 745 yards on 175 carries back in 2006.
I don’t think James White will make an impact in 2014. Both Vereen and Ridley are free agents at the end of the year, and it’s likely that at least one of them will not be back with the team next season. If that’s the case, a year of experience will be of great value to White, and he can potentially make an impact in 2015. There’s no way I’m drafting him in redraft leagues, as I feel there are other guys who have just as much upside with a better chance of actually seeing the field.
I’m going to take all the news that I get out of Patriots’ camp with a grain of salt. After all, is there anyone in the NFL who is better at misdirection than the Hooded One himself?