It’s always dangerous for fantasy football players to start a New England Patriots running back on any given week. The Patriots rotate their backs more than possibly any other team in the league and predicting which back will see the lion’s share of the carries on a weekly basis is a dangerous game to play. Additionally, the Patriots are going up against one of the best defenses in the league in the Jacksonville Jaguars. On paper, this is a terrible matchup for any Patriots running back. However, the stars are aligning for James White to have a big game against the Jacksonville Jaguars
A Different Type of Running Back
While White is listed as a running back, most of his work comes in the passing game. Over the past two seasons, White has recorded 116 receptions for 980 yards and eight touchdowns. By comparison, White recorded just 337 rushing yards on 82 carries over the same timeframe. The Jaguars have a fantastic rushing defense, but that shouldn’t affect White, as he produces most of his numbers in the passing game.
While the Jaguars also have a great pass defense, they are susceptible to running backs out of the backfield. Jacksonville doesn’t have a single linebacker or safety capable of matching up and erasing a player of White’s caliber. Unless they assign a cornerback to cover White out of the backfield, the fifth-year pro should be able to separate from Jacksonville’s coverage.
Even if they assign a cornerback to cover White, that still might not be enough. White is capable of running routes both out of the backfield and as a traditional receiver. His route tree, while not perfect by any means, is leaps and bounds above the average running back. White’s good enough to beat every Jaguars linebacker and safety and can probably beat cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and D.J. Hayden.
No Better Receivers
With the current state of the Patriots receivers, one could easily make an argument that James White is the second-best threat in the passing game. While he’s not nearly as good as Rob Gronkowski, he could be a better option than both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett.
Hogan is a serviceable role player, but he’s shown time and time again that he cannot beat man coverage. The Jaguars employ two of the best cornerbacks in the game in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, so Hogan won’t produce in Week Two. Dorsett, meanwhile, is coming off his best game in a Patriots uniform, but asking him to repeat that performance against this group of cornerbacks is probably asking too much.
Any offense led by Tom Brady will still find away to move the ball. However, it looks like most of those yards won’t come from the wide receiver position. Brady can’t possibly target Rob Gronkowski on every single snap, so White’s bound to see some targets.
No Better Running Backs
Additionally, White shouldn’t struggle to find playing time against the Jaguars. The Patriots running back depth, once seen as a team strength, has been decimated by injuries over the past few weeks. Jeremy Hill tore his ACL in Week One and is out for the season. Rex Burkhead is in concussion protocol, and nobody knows if he’ll be able to play. First-round rookie Sony Michel is listed as questionable with a knee injury which has sidelined him since early in training camp.
Essentially, White is the only healthy running back on the roster. While Burkhead or Michel may be active, they’ll probably take a back seat behind White. Obviously, with more snaps comes more yardage, especially at the running back position. White will never be an elite runner by any means, but he can run the ball just well enough to force defenses to respect the run. Over the past two seasons, White averages a respectable 4.1 yards per carry.
What to Expect From White
At the end of the day, James White is looking at a surprisingly good situation. With a skill set that matches up well against Jacksonville, White would probably have seen a good amount of action to begin with.
However, with the Patriots uncertainties at wide receiver combined with the running back injury woes, White now becomes a vital part of the Patriots offense. Chances are, White will lead the team in rushing attempts and finish second in receptions and yards (behind only Rob Gronkowski). A final stat line of 10 rushes for 35 yards and five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown seems like a reasonable expectation for White heading into Week Two.
If you’re lucky enough to have an entire team capable of surpassing that production, then keep White on the bench. However, the majority of James White fantasy owners should make sure they put the Patriots running back in their starting lineup.
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