Another week, another reminder of just how great James White is. White’s coming off another magnificent game, hauling in eight receptions for 57 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 40 yards on 11 carries. With this strong performance, White is now up to a staggering 45 receptions on 380 yards and six touchdowns while adding a respectable 189 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Through seven games, White is quietly on pace to have one of the best seasons a running back has ever had, and that’s no hyperbole.
James White Quietly Having Season For the Ages
White has always been one of the best receiving backs in the league, but he’s brought his play to another level in 2018. Through seven games, White currently ranks seventh league-wide in receptions (45) and second in touchdown receptions (six).
To clarify, these rankings aren’t among running backs, they’re among the entire league. Only wide receiver Tyreek Hill has more touchdowns than White, while five receivers and one tight end have more receptions. Among running backs, White leads the league in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Saquon Barkley could overtake White in receptions and receiving yards with a strong performance on Monday Night Football, but the point remains that White is having a remarkable season.
(Update: Saquon Barkley overtook White in receptions after a nine-catch, 51-yard performance on Monday Night Football.)
While White’s numbers in comparison to the rest of the league are impressive, that’s not what makes his 2018 campaign so historic. White is currently on pace to finish his 2018 season with 103 receptions for 869 yards and 14 touchdowns. If he can keep this pace up, White’s 2018 season will go down as one of the greatest receiving seasons a running back ever had.
Why This Is Historic
Per Pro Football Focus, no running back in history has ever reached the 103-reception plateau. Matt Forte currently holds the running back record, finishing his 2014 season with 102 receptions on 130 targets. Right now, White is just on pace to take the all-time single-season reception record for a running back.
While White’s barely on pace to take the reception record, it would take an act of God to stop him from reaching the touchdown reception record for running backs. Terry Barr of the Detroit Lions technically owns the current record with 13 touchdown receptions. However, Barr recorded his 13 touchdowns back in 1963 when football was basically a different game. Comparing White to Barr is frankly unfair to both players.
Since the 1970 NFL merger, Marshall Faulk and Chuck Foreman hold the record with nine receiving touchdowns in a season. White needs just three touchdowns to tie that record, and he has nine games to do it. Barring injury, it’s hard to see White not getting this record. If he keeps his current pace, he’ll even be able to pass Terry Barr for the all-time lead.
Can White Keep It Up?
White is on a historic pace, but can he keep it up? No running back in history has done what he’s on pace to do, so it stands to reason that some regression may be expected. However, the underlying numbers suggest White’s production is mostly here to stay.
For one, White’s snap counts have remained constant from week-to-week. White has never played in fewer than 42.3% of snaps on the year. This high snap percentage shows that he’s receiving a high enough volume to continue to sustain his performance.
Additionally, fellow New England Patriots running back Sony Michel suffered a knee injury in Week Seven. While Michel will ultimately be fine, he’s currently listed as week-to-week and will probably miss the next two or so games. With Michel out of the way, White’s snap count (and production) should only increase. It’s ridiculous to think about, but White’s numbers are actually likely to increase over the next few weeks.
The most important step to producing in the Patriots offense is earning Tom Brady’s complete and undying trust. Based on recent interviews from Brady, it’s abundantly clear that Brady wants White to be as involved in the offense as humanly possible.
White was arguably the lone bright spot in the Patriots Week Three loss to the Detroit Lions. After the game, Brady said that “[White] has got to be more involved Guys who can make plays, they’re the ones who should be involved.”
On the Monday following the Patriots victory over the Bears, Brady went on WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan to discuss the game. During the interview, Brady once again gushed over White. “I know I talk about James [White] a lot, but you couldn’t ask for a better player and a better teammate.”
White has earned Brady’s utmost confidence, and that as much as anything is the key to success in this offense. Just ask Chad Johnson what happens if you can’t earn Brady’s trust.
Last Word on James White’s Historic Season
James White is in the midst of doing something the NFL has never seen from a running back before. White is currently on pace to have the most receptions in a single season by a running back and shattering the receiving touchdown record.
Additionally, there’s no reason to think White’s production will slow down any time soon. With Sony Michel sidelined, White will see an even higher percentage of snaps, at least until the rookie returns. Even when he does, White’s numbers should match up with what he’s done up to this point.
White has both the skills and, more importantly, the trust of quarterback Tom Brady. So long as Brady trusts White to keep making plays, White will continue to see the football. All the stars are aligning for White to put together arguably the greatest receiving season a running back has ever had.
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