Analysts and fans doling out harsh rankings of the 2020 New England Patriots pass-catchers need to stop forgetting about James White.
Over the past five years, only one player on the New England Patriots roster has finished top-five on the team in receiving yards each and every season:
In fairness, Julian Edelman would probably share that honor with White if he hadn’t torn his ACL during the preseason in 2017 and missed that whole year. Edelman was No. 2 on the team in receiving yards in 2015, No. 1 in 2016, on IR in 2017, and then No. 1 again in both 2018 and 2019.
White was No. 5 in 2015, No. 4 in 2016, No. 5 in 2017, and then No. 2 in both 2018 and 2019 behind Edelman.
So why aren’t we including White when we think about New England pass-catchers entering the 2020 season?
Unlike the other names who have finished in the top-five for the Patriots these past five years — Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, Martellus Bennett, Brandon LaFell, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett — White is still on the current roster.
The only other player to ever finish in the top-five in receiving yards for the Pats over the past five years that’s still on the team … other than James White and Julian Edelman? Surprisingly, it’s Jakobi Meyers — who was No. 4 last season with 359 receiving yards.
Because White is a running back though — as opposed to a wide receiver or a tight end — he’s not given his due when it comes to catching passes and being a threat through the air.
Frankly, it’s unfair.
New England’s pass-catchers aren’t getting much love in 2020
So many websites are knocking the Patriots’ pass-catching department heading into the new season and calling it one of the worst in the league.
True, there’s a noted lack of talent and experience at WR and TE — only Edelman is a true sure thing at either position heading into 2020.
But White should also be considered a sure thing. He’s been in the league for five years now, and over that period of time, most people only know him as the guy who got it done for the Patriots in their thrilling comeback victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Despite never starting more than four games in a season for New England, White has played in at least 14 regular season games for four straight years now. Only as a rookie in 2014 did he see limited action (just three regular season appearances that year).
It’s easy to overlook White at first glance because of his modest rushing totals. He had 263 rush yards last season and 425 rush yards in 2018, but before those years, he never had more than 171 rushing yards total in a season.
Thus, you’re never going to find his name on the list of the NFL’s top running backs any given year when you look at the numbers.
But when you look at receiving yards — and especially at receiving yards among running backs — it becomes readily apparent just how valuable White is as a receiver for the Patriots.
He had 410 yards through the air in 2015 and set a career high for himself by averaging 10.3 yards per reception.
White was even better during the Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning campaign in 2016, totaling 551 receiving yards — more than Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Malcolm Mitchell that year.
In 2017, White’s 429 receiving yards were just 10 yards shy of the season total that Chris Hogan posted that year.
And during New England’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2018, White not only finished No. 2 on the team in receiving yards with 751 (a career high), he also tallied more receiving yards than Gronkowski, Hogan, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson that year.
His 645 receiving yards last season easily outdistanced Dorsett, Gordon, Jakobi Meyers, Mohamed Sanu, and everyone else on the team not named Julian Edelman.
In fact, if you combined White’s 645 receiving yards with Edelman’s 1,117 yards last year, their combined production of 1,762 receiving yards represented over 40% of New England’s total receiving yards for the entire season.
I’m not arguing that the Patriots have one of the best receiving groups in the league this season. I’m not even suggesting that their group ranks middle-of-the-pack.
There’s no denying that unless N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Mohamed Sanu, and the rookie tight ends drastically outperform expectations — not to mention Jarrett Stidham/Brian Hoyer/whoever plays QB — there’s just too little talent at WR and TE to fear this team through the air in 2020.
All I’m saying is that White deserves to be included in estimations of New England’s pass-catching prowess this upcoming season — and when he’s added to the mix, it should tug the Patriots’ overall ranking in this area up just a bit.