While few running backs play the pass-catching role as well as White has throughout his eight-year career–exclusively with the Patriots (381 receptions for 3,278 yards and 25 TDs)–New England has to consider a present and future without one of their leaders on the field.
Rookie Pierre Strong Could Be James White’s Replacement
White is still recovering from a hip injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve in 2021, and he’s already 30 years old. Even if he didn’t have an injury, the Patriots would probably be positioning players to take over his responsibilities. The injury makes the situation more urgent.
While the Patriots still believed in White enough to re-sign him to a two-year, $5 million deal in March ($500,000 guaranteed), the injury dynamic makes the Patriots’ decision to draft running backs in the fourth (Pierre Strong Jr.) and sixth rounds (Kevin Harris). Speaking to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Strong’s college head coach, South Dakota State’s John Stiegelmeier says his former player is a “perfect fit” for what the Patriots like to do with their running backs.
Reiss suggests Stiegelmeier “described a player who appears to be an ideal fit” to replace White. Stiegelmeier called Strong a “phenomenal” pass-catcher and said his biggest strength is his ability to be a factor in the passing game. Stiegelmeier believes in Strong’s chances of winning whenever he’s matched up in a one-on-one situation with a linebacker, which is the core concept NFL teams will want when scouting a running back who is projected to cause havoc in the passing game.
Other Options to Replace James White
The Patriots are notorious for sitting their rookie running backs. Damien Harris got very few opportunities (2 games with 4 rushing attempts), and others before him have had similar redshirt-like experiences as rookies. Rhamondre Stevenson didn’t sit last year, so it is difficult to determine how much of an opportunity Strong will get to make an immediate impact. If White is unavailable throughout training camp, the preseason, and into the regular season, Strong’s chances of playing early will increase.
However, others could step in front of him in line. The Patriots signed veteran hybrid player Ty Montgomery. He has played as a RB and WR during his NFL career, and he is also a candidate to fill in for White. However, considering he signed a low-cost two-year deal (two years, $3.6 million), and he will be 30 in January, Montgomery could also be a candidate to be released.
Because of his age, he has far less upside than Strong. Stevenson is another option for the role, but it would be adding to his expected workload for the 2022 season. Stevenson is already considered the team’s No. 2 or even 1A option as a first and second-down back. Harris has been bitten by the injury bug every year of his career (he has missed 22 games in his first three seasons), so Stevenson could be required to take the bulk of the carries in a run-centric offense at any point.
While he may have the ability to become a pass-catching back, the Patriots may not want to add to his plate. Montgomery’s age and Stevenson’s other responsibilities make Strong’s chances of being White’s replacement look a bit better.
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