Whether or not the Patriots advance to Super Bowl 50, they put together another solid season in 2015. They did so without, for the most part, any consistent rushing game, something many consider a cornerstone needed for postseason success. New England averaged less than 88 rushing yards per game this year, third-worst in the NFL.
It’s obviously fine, because Tom Brady eclipsed 4,000 yards passing for the fifth consecutive season. But it means people might not know about James White, the team’s dynamic tailback. The Wisconsin product has seen increased playing time after LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis had their seasons ended by injuries. He isn’t doesn’t have the power of Blount or jukes like Lewis, but he brings a well-rounded skillset and sure hands to Brady’s quick-strike offense.
Here’s the background on White:
1. White Went to the Top High School for NFL Prospects
A relative of former NFL talent Santana and Sinorice Moss, White grew up in South Florida. He attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where he earned letters in football as well as baseball. As a senior in 2009, White was one of the top running backs in the nation.
If the school name sounds familiar, it’s because Aquinas is fast developing a reputation as a pipeline for NFL talent. When final roster cuts were made this season, there were 17 players on NFL rosters from the Fort Lauderdale private school. Other recognizable names include Jaguars speedster Rashad Greene, and Bengals Gio Bernard and Geno Atkins.
2. He is Part of a Successful Line of Runners From Wisconsin
White had four strong years as a Badger, finishing with the highest average yards per rush (6.24) in school history. He ended with over 4,000 yards and 48 touchdowns, good for fourth and third-best in Badger history, respectively. In 2013, he and Melvin Gordon combined for 3,053 rushing yards, the FBS single-season record for teammates.
From 2010 to 2014, Wisconsin’s seasons were built on the legs of NFL-caliber running backs. Montee Ball, White, and Gordon all carried the load for the Badgers, and they were drafted in successive years from 2013-15.
3. He Was the 12th RB Selected in the 2014 Draft
Despite a productive college career, draft scouts weren’t too high on White. His NFL.com draft profile cited his “exceptionally short arms and small hands”. White is only five-foot-nine, but sharing time with two studs and playing in a run-first scheme hurt his pro potential.
The Patriots selected White in the fourth round, their first back selected since 2011. He was the 12th rusher taken that year, in what was a weak draft class for running backs. No backs were taken in the first round, and Bishop Sankey was first off the board at 54th overall. He was also the fifth back taken in that round, after Devonta Freeman, Andre Williams, Ka’Deem Carey and DeAnthony Thomas.
4. White’s Hands Set Him Apart From Other Patriots Backs
Bill Belichick is known to go against the grain, and praised White early this season for the very thing scouts said he couldn’t do.
“I think James has had a real good training camp. He’s a versatile player that has shown the ability to play on all four downs, does a good job in the passing game,” Belichick said in August.
White has become dangerous for the Patriots for two reasons. One, he has reliable hands. Brady has trusted White this season, and he has performed well when split out as a receiver. But where White has really shined is in pass protection. And even in interviews, White has acknowledged it’s his most important role in the offense.
“First, be effective in protection. I have to pick up blitzes,” White told the Boston Herald. “If I happen to get out, just win my matchups and find the right spots in zones. I need to do whatever I can to help the team.”
5. White Has Been Dating His Girlfriend Since College
White has been dating his girlfriend Diana since college, and the two have been enjoying life in the Boston area since White was drafted. The pair have been together for over two years, and while Diana might not be in Denver for the AFC Championship, she’ll surely make the trek to Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50.
The pair don’t have any kids in their plans, although Diana’s dog Ace might make an appearance on her Instagram feed. Until then, here’s the couple and Melvin Gordon dressed as Power Rangers for Halloween.