Summer Sleeper: New England Patriots

Jeff Miller


With training camps open around the NFL, we’re continuing our annual series focusing on a few sleepers from all 32 teams in the NFL. You can find all of the Summer Sleeper articles here.

These sleepers all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but all merit a little more talking about here in the Premium Content section. Some of these players are deep dynasty sleepers who could merit a spot on your bench in a deep league, while others are players who may contribute a little faster than the deep prospects, but deserve more attention than they may be getting. By definition, a sleeper could mean something a little different to everyone, but we’re simply doing the best job we can to unearth one player from each team who fits the category in some way, shape or form.

We’ll never insult you with a comprehensive list of “sleepers” which include such such dynasty mainstay names as Toby Gerhart, Christine Michael or Cordarrelle Patterson. You’re all too good for that.

While many of these players will undoubtedly fizzle, there’s more value in looking more closely at these deeper prospects and players. We invite you to keep an open mind and either or re-assess your value on those who may be rostered in your league or consider adding a few of these deeper prospects we focus on this Summer who are free agents in your league – after all, some are destined to pan out, too.

Feel free to add your own comments about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own!

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James White, RB NE

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve covered this topic already, albeit much more briefly, in my Post Draft Landing Spots article for DLF. Because I like the sound of my own voice (I read all my articles aloud to my family at dinner) and because White’s tremendous value is a topic worth exploring more, here we are, spelunking in the cave of football knowledge.

Before we get to the crux of my argument, let’s do a quick meet-and-greet with the former Wisconsin Badger. White is a bit small at 205 pounds, has short arms and a cute, but tiny, set of hands. He isn’t fast (4.57 40), was never the featured back for his alma mater, doesn’t run with overwhelming power or quickness and was projected to be a late round pick by most pundits. All this sounds awful, but in reality it is great news! It all serves to drive his price down to C.J. Anderson territory.

So, what does he do well?

Aside from ball security, as his two fumbles in over 750 career touches show, I don’t think I am talking out of school when I say White doesn’t do anything spectacularly well. An accurate description of his skillset would go something like this: James White does pretty much everything at least adequately. He is a C+. If I were a local sports talk personality, I’d call him Above Average James White (not to his face, mind you).

More specifically, he shows good shiftiness, especially in tight spaces, has good vision, blocks well, has a high football IQ, is probably fast enough, finishes strong, and can catch the ball out of the backfield (he is the Badgers all-time leader in receiving yards for a running back).

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t anoint so-so talents as sleepers, even if they are well rounded. But because of a certain Head Coach/curmudgeon who dresses like a random jamoke in section 339 of Gillette Stadium, White may end up the cheapest top-15 running back we’ve had in quite some time. To coin a phrase (which is a phrase I wish I had coined), people who pass on White based on his talent are begging to get “Belichicked.”

White intrigues me for a number of reasons. As I said above, he holds on to the ball like Linus does his blanket. After the Ridley debacle of 2013, I can’t imagine this is any less important to Mr. Hoodie. His pass blocking is sound enough to allow him to play on passing downs, he will always get what’s blocked and his on-field intelligence is of the highest order. These are all the types of things we see in Belichick Guys. That sort of fundamental goodness is a hallmark of Patriot players and is exactly the reason a back like White has a great chance of seeing immediate playing time.

It is no secret Uncle Bill has a penchant for reliable players. If you look through his 14-year tenure with the Patriots, he has had but a single uber-talented all-around running back: Corey Dillon. Stevan Ridley is probably the next best pure runner. The rest of the names are a veritable who’s who of serviceable four yards per carry types (LeGarrette Blount, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Antowain Smith), dynamic pass game specialists (Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen), and players who may have never seen the field on non-Belichick led teams (Brandon Bolden, Sammy Morris, J.R. Redmond). When looking at that list from a talent perspective, James White legitimately belongs. Sure Ridley, Faulk and Vereen are all more dynamic players. I don’t believe White suffers from any deficit of ability compared to the others.

As important as all this is, there is one more significant factor that makes White the sleeper he is – Ridley and Vereen are free agents after the 2014 season. Unless he has a monster year, I can’t see Ridley coming back. Almost no matter what happens, I have a hard time envisioning both players returning as the notoriously frugal Patriots won’t fork over big money to two players coming off big seasons. With Vereen unable to stay on the field and Ridley struggling with ball control, a poor year from either likely means they won’t be invited back. The odds of there being a significant amount of touches available in 2015 is incredibly high.

Of course none of this is to mention White’s price. According to Ryan McDowell’s rather handy ADP data, White is the 12th rookie running back off the board and is routinely going in the fourth round of rookie drafts. With the price of admission so low, you have almost nothing to lose and plenty to gain.


jeff miller