James White's been underappreciated throughout his career. Of course, when you're tag-teaming with Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon, you're not going to be considered as charming as you could be. Even though it was White who took over the productivity load bearing for the second half of his senior season, he's still seen as something of the Marty Jannetty to the starter's Shawn Michaels. He's talented, but he's not the man.
The interesting thing is that White brings a lot to the table. He might be the most versatile back in the draft class. He runs with a surprising amount of power for his size (listed at 5'9, 204 pounds at the NFL Combine) because he will not be stonewalled after someone makes contact with him, and despite that style, he's only fumbled twice in 754 career touches. He also has the quickness that belies his 4.57-second 40-yard dash time as he gets to the second level quickly. He also has the vision that shows in his ability to find the cutback lane. In fact, nearly one of five of White's rushing attempts went for a first down, as he had 123 rushes of 10 or more yards in 643 attempts.
If you want a fun fact for comparison's sake, Washington's Bishop Sankey looks like he's a Day 2 draft prospect. He has a similar build to White at 5'9, 209 pounds, and he rushed for 644 career attempts. Only 14.7 percent of those carries went for a first down. White also had more rushes of 20 yards or more, 46 to 32. Of course, Wisconsin's offensive line helped, but White showed himself to be statistically more explosive than a top prospect or two. Auburn's Tre Mason, for example, only had 16.4 percent of his carries go for first downs.
White also helped hold up Wisconsin's passing game in the early part of the season when there was literally no third option for the Badgers to throw to. White has the ability to reel in some errant throws with a strong catch radius; after all, Joel Stave had problems with touch last year. White was a high-percentage option, and he's also a strong blocker in the passing game and has kick returner experience.
So if find yourself drafting James White, you've got someone who looks like he can be a jack of all trades. He's explosive, he runs hard, he can catch, block, return kicks and take care of the ball. But there's a reason why he's grading out in the fifth round or later, yeah?
There are a couple of reasons. One, he lacks the pure speed of a Giovani Bernard or an Andre Ellington. It's not a precursor for his success, but it does make certain that he will be slightly downgraded because his 40-time is slow and the combine process is stupid. Of course, a part of the reason why White was so explosive is because playing with the Badgers' offensive line seems like a ticket to being drafted. He also is going to find NFL defenses can tackle much better than in college.
Then there's the narrative. No one had to game plan for James White. He was generally great during his time in Madison, but no one had to game plan for him. Truth be told, the way the NFL is setting up in the running game, this is a fact that doesn't matter as much. Carries get split. If you're reading this, you've probably played fantasy football. The era of the 25-carries-a-game workhorse is ending. White may have never truly been the man in Madison, but you're not going to draft him to be the man.
Right now, he's reminiscent of a back like Chester Taylor. A great back-up, someone with the hands and determination to make himself useful and carve out a long career in the NFL. If you draft James White, it's going to take a disastrous training camp for him not to make your team.