Sunday, August 21, 2016

Patriots' White Has Proven His Worth

Patriots' Nations was collectively stunned on Sunday, when news broke that electrifying passing back Dion Lewis was scheduled for minor surgery on the same knee that he tore his ACL, setting him back until November before he was expected to return to the Patriots' roster.

All over social media, fans were decrying the loss of Lewis and his video game elusiveness and wondered openly how New England head ball coach Bill Belichick would ever be able to replace the production of the player the national media had labeled a human joystick and Patriots' receiver Julian Edelman had nicknamed "Little Dirty".

Many names were mentioned, from Ray Rice to Karlos Williams to any number of running backs rumored to be on their individual teams' roster bubble, most either forgetting about third-year Wisconsin product James White who was not only already on their roster, but had already proven himself up to the task of carrying on the passing back role, or completely discounting his production when he filled in for Lewis down the stretch.

When Lewis went down with an ACL in early November against the Washington Redskins, he had amassed 388 yards on 36 receptions, averaging five catches and 55 yards per game in seven contests - but once White took over the primary passing back duties, he actually surpassed most of those those totals, gaining 410 yards on 40 receptions in eight games, averaging 5 catches and 52 yards per game, while also outscoring Lewis four touchdowns to two.

This is not to discount the style that Lewis brings to the field, nor his production - rather, this merely shows that White accomplished the same type of production, but even that doesn't tell the full story.  Once Lewis was out, it took quarterback Tom Brady a couple of games to warm up to White being in the lineup, then the two caught fire...

...hooking up 28 times in the final five games down the stretch for 315 yards and three of his touchdowns, then adding seven catches for 84 yards in two playoff games. All told, White ended up with 47 catches for 494 yards in 10 games including the playoffs, rivaling anything that even Shane Vereen accomplished in his tenure with New England.

In all fairness, White has never proven to be an effective between-the-tackles ball carrier and is much more effective on the jailbreak screen and on the wheel routes in the flat, which the Patriots use as an extension of their running game, but he appears to have upped his production in the running game this preseason, averaging four yards per carry.

He is capable of more, as his college numbers border on elite, his senior season at Wisconsin gaining 1,444 yards for an average of 6.5 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns behind the Badgers' massive offensive line - this despite splitting carries with future San Diego Charger Melvin Gordon.

So while not having Lewis available for the first couple of months of the season, it is entirely possible that the team keeps him on the active PUP list and activates him after week six - whether he is ready or not - or they could place him on the injured reserve with a return designation and bring him back a few weeks later, which puts him in line for action down the stretch in the regular season...

...but until then, and probably continuing on past that point, the onus will be on James White to shoulder the load as the Patriots' passing back - and as we've seen, he has already proven his worth in that capacity.

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