What can be Expected from Colts Rookie Wide Receiver Blair White?

Blair White during the final preseason game vs. the Bengals | Al Macht | Colts.com

With the news breaking yesterday that Blair White was signed from the practice squad to fill the void left by injuries to Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Garçon, many preseason roster predictions were justified.  Now, as the Broncos game looms, many are wondering, “What can we expect from Blair White?”

Colts’ backup quarterback Curtis Painter only targeted White in the final game of the preseason after Taj Smith was sidelined with the injury which cost Smith a shot at the regular season roster — and that was essentially against scrubs.  It is therefore perfectly acceptable to give your head a scratch and wonder what kind of impact and what type of play can be reasonably expected from White this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.  While it is always nearly impossible to predict what may or may not happen in a game, we can compare the two receivers, and make some basic deductions.

Blair White @ NFL Scouting Combine | NFL.com

Pierre Garçon after the AFCCG '09-'10 | Lyons/Getty

Blair White Pierre Garcon
Height 6’2 6’0
Weight 205 lbs 210 lbs
40-Yard Dash 4.50 sec. 4.48 sec.
20-Yard Shuttle 4.03 sec. 4.19 sec.
3-Cone Drill 6.69 sec 6.90 sec.
Bench Press 18 reps 20 reps
Vertical Jump 35.5 inches 36.5 inches

Speed and Acceleration: In terms of top speed, both White and Garçon have essentially the same ceiling, roughly a 4.5 second 40-yard dash.  This equality is deceptive though.  Garçon has been heralded for his “blazing speed,” a figure of speech which has not been applied to other receivers with similar or better 40 times than Garçon.  There is a reason this misnomer has been perpetuated and is in some ways valid despite the statistical evidence to the contrary, and it has little to do with speed.

The reason Garçon is lauded for his speed is due to his acceleration.  Garçon bursts off the line and rapidly reaches his top speed, which allows him to close the distance quickly with faster guys over a short distance.  Because Garçon has considerably better acceleration, his 40-yard dash time indicates he actually has a lower top speed than White.  That is why Garçon was able to quickly chase down Baltimore Ravens’ safety Ed Reed in last year’s match-up and knock the ball loose.  Reed is fast, but has a slower acceleration, and in a race that lasted all of two seconds, Garçon was able to close the distance because neither was yet at their top speed. But Garçon was accelerating faster, allowing him to overtake Reed.

For White to run roughly the same time as Garçon, but have a slower acceleration, White has to finish the run moving at a faster velocity.  It can be expected that since White has a slower acceleration, that he’ll need more open field to achieve top speed.  On deep routes, though, White may have an edge as the deeper he runs, the faster he’ll get — allowing him to put even more distance between himself and the defender.

Agility: Where the speed comparison is close, the agility statistics show glaring disparities between Garçon and White.  While Anthony Gonzalez is technically the most agile receiver on the Colts 53-man roster, White is close and should be elusive.  White has a 0.21 second advantage on Garçon in the 3-cone drill, which is a major indicator of a player’s overall agility — by focusing on a player’s ability to cutback, corner, and close.  This means that White reacts more quickly when suddenly changing directions than Garçon does, which should make his comeback, post, flag, and stop-and-go routes that much more effective.

White also has the fastest 20-yard short shuttle time of all Colts wide receivers, which measures the ability of the player to make sudden reversals in direction.  This means White is the receiver most capable of making quick cutbacks to avoid tackles.  This will probably be the biggest difference we see between Garçon and White, as Garçon mainly uses his physicality, not his quickness, to break tackles and move the ball forward.  What it also means is that White, unlike Garçon, will probably run a wider variety of routes than we have seen from Garçon — who has almost exclusively blocked or run go routes in both games this year.

Here is an example of what the 20-yard Short Shuttle is.

And here is an example of the 3-Cone Drill.

Physicality: In terms of physical gifts, Garçon and White stack up fairly well.  Garçon has more upper-body strength, which allows him to use stiff-arms more often and break tackles, but White is not weak by any measure.  White was one of the top performers in the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine in the bench press, and so it is safe to assume that while he managed a couple fewer reps than Garçon, he is still a strong and physical receiver.

White also stands two inches taller than any other Colts receiver, and with his 35.5-inch vertical jump, he is able to go up and get the ball when he needs to as well.  White is also five pounds lighter than Garçon, which means he is thinner, but he still has enough bulk to assert himself when going after the ball.

Receiving Skills: Like agility, this is one of the biggest areas of difference between Garçon and White.  White is known for his consistency and his ability to catch.  Garçon had a sub-50-percent catch-rate during the regular season last year, and dropped seven passes against Houston this year.

There are numerous variables that go into whether a receiver can make a catch or not, such as: experience, separation, skill of the defenders, etc.  Still, it is a safe assumption that White should be a more consistent pass-catcher overall.  That does not mean White will not have difficulty, or have games where he struggles, but White should statistically average out after awhile.  The only question is, will he have the chance to “even out,” if he has a bad opening game?

Experience: Garçon has two years of experience in the Colts system, including more than a year as the starter.  White only had real work in one preseason game, and has spent the rest of the time on the practice squad.  How much he participated in practices leading up to the game against the Broncos is uncertain.

White will definitely be at a disadvantage on knowing and understanding the ins-and-outs of the Colts system, and is likely to make a few mistakes — unless his assignments are kept as basic as possible for the time being.  That said, if anyone is able to get the most from young receivers, it’s Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  White may simply ride the bench today while tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Austin Collie take most of the wide receiver reps.  If White does get significant time, his role may very well be limited by how much he has been able to soak up the Colts playbook thus far.

Expectations: Much of what can be expected from White will depend upon how much time he gets on the field, and the confidence Manning has in him.  White has better hands, is taller, just as fast, and more agile than Garçon, so while it could be easy to expect White to have a break-out game, the lack of time working with Manning, the lack of time and experience in the system, and the uncertainty as to his role in the game today (and his role in the future) make it difficult to put a peg on what to expect from the rookie.

It really comes down to three options.  Possibility one is that White will not get much time on the field and mostly act as a backup to Collie.  Possibility two is that White gets a fair amount of time on the field, but due to inexperience, or a lack of faith by Manning, he does not get much work.  Possibility three is that White benefits from having Manning throwing to him, and also benefits from playing against backup corners, while larger receiving threats like Reggie Wayne take attention away from him — opening him up for big plays as the game goes on.