Hannable: James White beginning to enter same category as Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski with Patriots offense

Ryan Hannable
October 05, 2018 - 3:16 am

Stew Milne//USA Today Sports

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FOXBORO — On a night where Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman played in the same game for the first time since November of 2016, the leading receiver for the Patriots was James White.

And no, it’s not a coincidence. 

White is becoming just as important to Tom Brady as Gronkowski and Edelman, two of the NFL’s biggest superstars. 

“We have a lot of talented guys, a good offensive line and a great quarterback,” White said. “We have a lot of pieces that can help us get wins as long as everybody goes out and does their job on each and every play.”

In the 38-24 win over the Colts, the Patriots running back tied a regular season career-high with 10 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown on 14 targets, which set a career-high in the regular season. 

Through five games, White has 32 catches on 44 targets for 270 yards and four touchdowns. The four touchdowns lead the team, while the 270 yards are second behind Gronkowski. While the numbers are impressive enough, it’s how much Brady trusts him which make his play even more impressive. 

On third-down this season, Brady is 7-for-10 with 70 yards and a touchdown when targeting White.

“[Julian Edelman] is in that James White mode where he is just so dependable and consistent and tough,” Brady said this week on Kirk & Callahan, which shows how high he values the Wisconsin product.

Over the years whenever Brady has needed a big play he’s looked to Edelman and Gronkowski, but now White is included in that mix because of how dependable he’s been. Last year, the running back had a 78 percent catch percentage, which is almost unheard of.

This season, White is on an impressive, and record-setting pace.

His 32 receptions are the most ever by a Patriots running back through the first five games and he’s on pace to finish the season with 102 receptions. This would tie the NFL mark for a running back in a season, as Matt Forte of the Bears had 102 in 2014. In terms of the Patriots record, Tony Collins had 77 in 1986.

The 26-year-old has also been a touchdown machine. 

Dating back to last year, including the playoffs, White has at least one touchdown in seven of his last eight games -- Gronkowski and Edelman can’t come close to saying that. He is also the first running back to catch a touchdown in four of his team’s first five games since Detroit’s Mel Farr in 1968. 

Lastly, his 16 touchdown receptions since 2015 are by far the most in the league by a running back in that timeframe as Theo Riddick is second with only 10.

For a player who mostly just catches screens and short passes, it’s hard to put him in the same category as players like Gronkowski and Edelman, but he’s just as vital to the offense. Also, it isn’t like it’s just four or five yards at a time because White has the ability to make almost any defender in the league miss to pick up some yards after the catch, which he’s shown over the last couple of weeks. 

In addition, he’s also improved his play from a rushing perspective by totaling 193 yards through five games of the year when his previous high for an entire season was 551 in 2016.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” he said.

Clearly, Brady, who is very hard to please, and the Patriots have recognized his abilities, so what is the rest of the league waiting for?

Related: Tom Brady already looking forward to Kansas City game

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