Wisconsin running back James White never seems to get his due. He has gotten carries but waited his turn while Montee Ball ran to a Hall of Fame worthy career in Madison the past few years. This past season under new head coach Gary Andersen, White had to again take the back seat as Melvin Gordon became a star back in college football.
White has nevertheless been a productive back who has been effective as a runner, but this past year has also shown how much he can do as a receiving threat out of the backfield and the ability to block. In spite of the fact he was never truly the featured back for Wisconsin, he finished his career with over 4,000 yards rushing and 48 touchdowns in his career.
Projecting to the NFL, White certainly has the ability to be a contributor with his combination of skills. White has a nice combination of agility and speed that can make him a great change of pace, can be a nice option on screens and swing passes, and will block. The problem for White is while he makes opponents miss, he has trouble gaining yardage after contact and the result is he often gets about as much yardage as his offensive line creates for him. White projects as a day three pick and could be a valuable contributor in a running back rotation that could make the occasional big play.
Vitals & Build
White measured in at 5’9” 206lbs at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. He has a good build with speed, acceleration, and impressive agility. His vision and balance are solid but do not stand out with the ball in his hands. His strength appears to be better than his play might suggest and technical improvements could help. White still has the room to add strength and that will help him going forward but technical improvements more than anything will make his physical talent stand out more.
White has good vision and attacks the hole with speed. Once he picks the lane, he goes downhill full speed North and South. He will use jump cuts and work East and West to decide which hole and when his going to attack.
The biggest problem White runs into is he stops his feet too often on contact. This is especially the case when he is caught in be backfield working laterally. While going down the field, he tends to drop his shoulder and fall forward but he rarely breaks tackle falling forward. As a result, he tends to get as much yardage as his offensive line can create for him. When he has a lane, he has plenty of speed and is not someone who is going to get caught from behind or even when a defender has an angle.
The times he is able to break tackles, he is usually working laterally and able to shed tackles from the side. If he can do a better job of driving his les through contact with consistency, he can show more of his natural strength and work through tackles. The times he breaks tackles, he is a threat to accelerate and make a big play and that is the area holding him back from being a well-rounded threat as a running back.
Route Running & Technique
Most of what White does as a receiver are at or near the line of scrimmage on swing type pass routes. He has not been asked to do much going past the line of scrimmage but he appears to have the capability to do it.
This is an area where White excels as he has natural hands and catches the ball well on the move. He catches the ball as if he is catching an extended toss and makes the transition from catching the ball to running after the catch smoothly with the ability to see what is ahead of him and anticipate and react accordingly.
Run After Catch
The combination of how Wisconsin used White in their offense and his natural ability to catch the ball and transition to run after the catch makes him dangerous. The route tree is not overwhelming and many of his plays look like extended tosses so it is not surprising that he handles them well. Still, he is extremely comfortable with his hands and he is able to catch the ball while preparing on what he will do after the catch. When he gets the ball on swing passes, it is like an extremely wide toss where he has far fewer defenders in front of him and with his speed, he has the chance to make a huge play.
White does a pretty nice job when it comes to blocking and pass protection. He does a nice job of sliding into protection and has experience both chipping on the edge as he releases into a route and standard pass protection. White does a good job when it comes to chipping, but can run into problems as a blocker, occasionally being overwhelmed.
He does usually sit well when taking on blocks and absorbing contact, but he will be knocked off balance on occasion.
White could alleviate some of that issue if he steps up a little more and takes away some of the momentum for opposing pass rushers. Nevertheless, he is not afraid, gets in position and use his hands well when in position. He will not stone every pass rusher that comes at him, but he will get his hands on them and do his best to push them away from the quarterback if he cannot erase them from the play entirely.
White has experience as a kick returner and with his speed, he could be someone who stands back there to watch kickoffs sail out of the end zone, but he has not really stood out in this respect. His average on returns has been pretty average. From a physical standpoint, he looks good but it has not yet translated and is perhaps a further indictment of average vision.
White can play in basically any system a team could want but he does not have outstanding vision, so putting him in a system where the holes are designed to go a certain way as opposed to a zone blocking scheme with multiple creases that puts the onus on the back to decide is probably preferable. White, both in terms of his speed and ability to catch the football, appears best suited to start out as a rotational back. He has the potential to do more and will not kill a team in a spot start but his success will largely rest on the guys blocking up front. If put behind a talented offensive line, White can get a lot of yards and potentially break some big plays with his speed. If the offensive line struggles, he will struggle as he does not break many tackles at this point.
White is extremely similar to Florida running back, Mike Gillislee, who enters his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins. The comparison for Gillislee last year was former Cleveland Browns scat back Jamel White, so the natural extension is both of these guys compare to him as well as each other. All of these guys have the ability to be productive in a rotation as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, but they all tend to get what the offensive line gives them in terms of yardage and while they all have speed, they do not do much in terms of breaking tackles.
It is not terribly fair to say that James White is a typical Wisconsin running back, but so much of that school’s production in the running game is a credit to their offensive line rather than the running backs they have had. Ball looks like he has a chance to break an ugly trend in Madison as he was able to create yards on his own last year, but the issue for White, like with many Badger backs before him is creating yards after contact and leg drive upon contact.
He has the size, strength and speed to be an effective back both in college and going forward despite not having overwhelming traits in any area other than speed, but that issue has been the downfall of more than a few backs going into the NFL. White projects as a third day pick and a nice rotational back who clearly has viability at the next level, but if he can do more after contact, he could prove to be a steal and a terrific player in the NFL.