The Patriots offense doesn’t have too many people excited heading into 2020. The team ranked just 15th in total yards in 2019 – and that’s before they lost Tom Brady in free agency. The remains of the New England offense don’t look too pretty on paper, but could there be some hidden value here? Jarrett Stidham is set to take over for Brady this season, and after attempting just four passes in his rookie season, he’s a complete question mark heading into this season. James White is still likely to have a substantial role as the lead pass-catching running back on the roster, but how much will the quarterback change impact his fantasy production?
James White is the fantasy sleeper of the century pic.twitter.com/AhCaZg3uLA
— Boston Diehards (@WTP_BDiehards) November 5, 2018
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James White seems to be consistently under-appreciated in fantasy drafts – he was drafted as the RB25 in PPR leagues last season and finished as the RB18. The year prior, he was drafted as the RB42 and finished as the RB7. White’s pass-catching ability makes him very productive for PPR leagues as one of the best receiving running backs in football. He ranked 6th among all running backs last season in receptions. Bill Belichick is always prone to using multiple running backs, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners, but White has carved out a consistent role with his receiving work. Even with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden seeing significant time, White still played on 42.6% of snaps last year.
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With Jarrett Stidham having essentially no experience at the NFL level, James White is going to be an integral part of the offense as the young quarterback’s safety blanket receiver. White was the second-leading receiver on the roster last season in yards, targets, and receptions – I expect him to be very involved again this season in the passing game as the Patriots haven’t done enough to address the receiving corps alongside Julian Edelman. White will be good for a handful of touchdowns and should be in the neighborhood of 1,000 combined rushing and receiving yards.
Don’t look now but James White is RB 7 (PPR) in Fantasy Land. pic.twitter.com/2EQJq9UxT0
— Justin Lonero (@JustinLonero) October 8, 2018
ADP: 82.9, RB29
Auction Value: $10
If James White falls to the 8th or 9th round, I’ll be thrilled to take him at that value. Sure, Tom Brady’s departure will hurt the offense’s overall productivity, but there’s no reason why White won’t be one of the leading receivers at running back yet again. James White his currently being drafted after guys like Kerryon Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Kareem Hunt, Derrius Guice, and Tevin Coleman, as well as his teammate Sony Michel. I would almost certainly take White ahead of all of those players.
James White’s pass-catching gives him a solid weekly baseline, and as long as he stays healthy, I have a hard time seeing how he finishes outside of the top-30 at his position. Week-to-week things could get frustrating with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris, all likely involved in the backfield, but none of those players have the skillset that White offers his offense. Over the past four seasons, White has averaged just under 70 receptions per year – that’s likely his baseline heading into that season. With his career yards-per-reception at 8.8, he’ll probably be good for around 600 receiving yards as a minimum. He’ll also almost certainly add 150+ yards on the ground. Throw a few touchdowns in with those numbers, and he’d be good for at least 170 points, which would have made him a low-end RB2 last year.
In 2018, James White hit his career-high in targets with 123. The pass-catching weapons around him haven’t improved heading into 2020, so that number of targets could be in the cards once again. The Patriots didn’t add to their running back room this offseason, and with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead having significant injury histories, there’s a chance White is in for much more of a workload this year than previously expected. The veteran running back has never topped 500 rushing yards in a season, but his value always comes from his role in the passing game. With a weak receiving corps on the roster, he could be in for an enormous number of targets this season. In 2018, White finished as the RB7 in PPR leagues, and a return to top-ten value isn’t entirely out of the question even without Brady.
— Take Your Base Sports (@takeyourbasepod) December 23, 2018
New England Patriots’ Offense
The entire Patriots’ offense is likely to take a step back this season in terms of efficiency. Still, the defense could also take a step back after not doing enough to replace Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy in the linebacker corps. If that means more shootout-type game scripts for the team, James White would likely be the one to benefit. Checkdowns could reign supreme in New England this season with White as the safety blanket for inexperienced quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Outside of Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ receiving corps doesn’t feature much in the way of proven talent. Mohamed Sanu has never surpassed 70 receptions in a season. N’Keal Harry only produced 12 receptions for 105 yards in his rookie season. Damiere Byrd has under 500 total yards in 3 career seasons. Marqise Lee had some ups and downs in Jacksonville, but he’s not a target monster on the outside. Matt LaCosee only has 40 career receptions at tight end, although the team did draft two players in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene to compete with him this season. Outside of Julian Edelman, James White has had more career success than any other receiver on the player.
Strength of Schedule
The Patriots play in the AFC East, a division that might present some challenging matchups for James White this season. The Jets (8th) and Bills (13th) ranked in the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season. While the Dolphins ranked 26th in that category last year, they should be much improved defensively after several offseason acquisitions. The Patriots also play the AFC West this season, a division that features a handful of weak running back defenses last season in the Chiefs (29th), Chargers (24th), and Raiders (18th), but the Broncos (10th) fared much better. The NFC West possesses three defenses which ranked outside the top 12 in fantasy points allowed to running backs – the Cardinals (21st), Seahawks (19th), and Rams (15th). The 49ers and Ravens ranked 3rd and 4th in the league last year, respectively, in fantasy points allowed to RBs, however, presenting much tougher matchups for New England. Rounding out the Patriots’ schedule are the Texans, a much easier matchup as the 28th defense in points allowed to running backs last season.
The typical line of thinking in fantasy football would be that a running back in a committee in what might be one of the worst offenses in football is not someone you want on your team. However, James White is an incredibly unique player with his consistently excellent pass-catching. He’ll be an essential player to ease the learning curve for Jarrett Stidham and will likely be first or second on the team in targets. His ADP will be depressed as public sentiment is mostly out on the Patriots roster, but I believe White could be a great value in 2020.
Will James White or Sony Michel be the better fantasy play this @SuperBowl Sunday? @MarcasG @Michael_Fabiano @GrahamBarfield debate it & much more in our latest NFL Fantasy Live Podcast! pic.twitter.com/NueMZnTy6R
— NFL Podcasts (@NFL_Podcasts) January 30, 2019