With Rex Burkhead Out, James White is a Decent Waiver Pickup (2020 Fantasy Football)
After finishing as an RB1 in 2018 and an RB2 in 2019, James White got off to a very slow 2020. He is just the RB53 thus far, which earns him a low-end WR4 ranking, and he’s unlikely to finish as high as he’s done in the past.
That said, White should be in for a solid few weeks. The injury to Rex Burkhead means that he’ll have less competition for passing-down work, as no other New England running back contributes in the passing game. White is an acceptable floor-based pickup in PPR formats as an RB3/FLEX option.
White is a receiving back, and he has led New England’s backfield in receptions every year since 2015. His role expanded considerably after Dion Lewis left at the end of 2017, making him one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets and a weekly starter in fantasy.
From 2018 to 2019, White averaged 7.0 targets, 5.1 receptions, 45 receiving yards, and 0.4 receiving touchdowns per game. He wasn’t often used as a runner, but he still averaged 5.2 attempts, 22.2 rushing yards, and 0.2 rushing touchdowns per game over that same period.
But White has fallen off the fantasy radar once Newton came to town. In his eight games with Newton, White has averaged 5.1 targets, 4.1 receptions, and 33.4 passing yards per game. He hasn’t yet scored a touchdown, and he’s attempted just 21 total rushes for 70 yards.
At five-foot-ten and 204 pounds, White lacks the size necessary to be a power rusher. He also doesn’t have the speed or quickness necessary to be an elusive back, but his reliable hands and gritty approach have kept him on the field, and that’s why I’m confident about suggesting him as a waiver pickup.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 16, 2020
State of the Offense
Rex Burkhead is to blame for some of White’s struggles this season. Burkhead averaged 3.3 targets and 2.5 catches per game this year, a decent-sized jump from the 2.9 targets and 2.0 receptions per game he got last year.
Since Burkhead is now out for the year, White won’t have to compete for targets anymore. White won’t have to compete with anyone else in this backfield, either — Sony Michel averages one target per game, while Damien Harris averages one every other game.
To be fair, the Patriots don’t pass very often. They have attempted the fourth-fewest passes and the second-most runs thus far. But of New England’s 285 total targets, 83 (29.1%) went to running backs, and White will now have a monopoly on that part of the offense. For context, that’s right around Keenan Allen‘s target share for the Chargers (30.3%).
White should draw a lot more attention from Newton moving forward. He caught six of nine targets for 64 yards last week alone, and that combination of usage and efficiency was enough for a rock-solid RB2/FLEX finish in PPR formats.
While I don’t intend to rank White as an RB2, as he won’t always be as efficient as he was last week, the volume is there for him to produce fantasy-relevant numbers. If you’re in desperate need of help at running back, you could do considerably worse than White.
The Patriots will play the Cardinals (Week 12), Chargers (Week 13), Rams (Week 14), Dolphins (Week 15), and Bills (Week 16) before the conclusion of the fantasy season (if your league plays in Week 17, he’ll have the Jets then). All of those teams except the Rams have mid-pack defenses against the run, and the Chargers even give up the ninth-most catches per game to the position.
It’s not a schedule to target, but it’s not one to avoid, either, and you should feel comfortable about nabbing White off waivers.
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