2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – James White, RB Wisconsin


Oct 27, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back James White (20) catches a pass during pre-game warm-ups before the game with the Michigan State Spartans at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

While Montee Ball has put together a Hall of Fame career at running back for Wisconsin the last three years, James White has been the second head to that two-headed monster.  White has not had as many opportunities to produce as Ball has, but he makes the most of the touches he does get.  In his first three seasons in Madison, White has had 458 touches for 2,941 yards at an average of 6.42 yards per touch and 33 total touchdowns.

Entering his senior year, with Ball competing for a starting spot in Denver and new head coach, Gary Andersen, White gets his opportunity to be the lead back for the Badgers.  Athletically, White is impressive and has a lot of tools that a coach can work with but he needs to do a better job of driving his legs through contact and getting more yards after contact.  Two issues that go hand and hand, White currently looks like a third day pick and a rotational running back going to the NFL, but if he can improve on those issues, he can potentially push into the top 100 picks.

Vitals & Build

White is listed at 5’10” 197lbs and he looks the part of a running back.  He has a good build with speed and acceleration.  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.

Running Style

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. Between the fact that Ball is in the NFL and a new head coach, White could end up having an expanded route tree.  It is also somewhat disappointing that he is not utilized more as a receiving threat.


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.

Special Teams

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.

System Fit

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.


Sat, Aug. 31vs. Massachusetts
Sat, Sept. 7vs. Tennessee Tech
Sat, Sept. 14at Arizona State
Sat, Sept. 21vs. Purdue
Sat, Sept. 28at Ohio State
Sat, Oct. 12vs. Northwestern
Sat, Oct. 19at Illinois
Sat, Nov. 2at Iowa
Sat, Nov. 9vs. BYU
Sat, Nov. 16vs. Indiana
Sat, Nov. 23at Minnesota
Sat, Nov. 30vs. Penn State

Notable Games

Arizona State in the desert is an intriguing matchup because the Sun Devils have talent in the front seven which most notably includes Will Sutton that has a knack for making plays in the backfield.  If White has not improved his ability to break tackles, he could struggle in this game.  Two weeks later in Columbus is the biggest game of the season for Wisconsin as they take on Ohio State.  With players like Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, the Buckeye defense is extremely fast and physical and White will have to put together a huge day if the Badgers are going to pull off the huge upset.  Lastly, a sneaky matchup for White is Iowa.  The Hawkeyes have a good group of linebackers headed by James Morris which might just have a surprise in store for Wisconsin in early November if the Badgers are not careful as they appear to match up well in that game.

NFL Comparison

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.

Draft Projection

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 looks like a later day three pick unless that area improves, but he could find himself climbing up boards if he can make more use of his power with technique and perhaps on the cusp of the top 100 picks.