Blair White is a prime example of a player who spent considerable time on the field but, in many ways, “flew under the radar.” Including the Wild Card playoff loss to the New York Jets, Blair White was on the field with the Colts offense for 539 out of 1138 snaps.
While he is more of a typical wideout, White found himself replacing Austin Collie in the slot — in a year where Collie was having one of the most impressive partial seasons in recent memory. While Collie may deserve numerous stories this off-season lauding his greatness, the undrafted rookie behind him should not be overlooked.
Add to Collie’s rather large shadow that White was the team’s fifth string receiver, did not put up gaudy yardage totals, and made a couple of glaring mistakes, and it is easy to end up with the perception that White is a lackluster receiver.
What makes White good enough to be on this list?
While White is viewed mostly as a wide receiver, he was a dual threat in 2010. His contributions as a punt returner need to be considered when one evaluates White’s impact on the team.
Take a look at how White performed as compared to Austin Collie, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Dallas Clark.
(RoDrops = Rate of Drops: Snaps/Drops; YPT = Yards per Target; YPC = Yards per Completion, DVOA = Defense-adjusted Value Over Average from Football Outsiders)
Even though Dallas Clark is technically a tight end, he ran routes out of the slot numerous times, and has often functioned as something very similar to a slot receiver for much of his career.
Some numbers stick out at a glance. While Collie is viewed as one of the most consistent receivers on the team, White had a lower rate of drops. Admittedly, some of White’s biggest mistakes happened during his drops, but while Garcon struggled to hold onto passes, and Wayne had uncharacteristic difficulty in that area, his consistency catching the football was beneficial.
Comparing the statistics to game film, White’s lower completion percentage can be explained in part by Manning being unfamiliar with White’s speed for much of the year. In fact, in games where Manning targeted White at least 6 times (7 games), White actually had a 68.8% completion percentage. The 5% difference is rather small, but it is significant enough to imply that when Manning readily utilized White, he felt more comfortable doing so. White had only 1 game with 6 targets or more in the first 10 weeks, but then had 6 in the final 8 — this coincides with the absence of Collie and Clark. White had receptions in 12 of 17 games.
Another notable performance-based positive attribute is White’s use as a possession receiver. He had one of the best rates of first downs for all Colts receivers, as well as one of the highest rates of touchdowns — filling in for Collie’s production in those areas. Even according to more advanced statistics like DVOA, White was one of the Colts’ more valuable receivers.
White was able to get first downs and touchdowns at a consistent pace while also having reliable enough hands to make him a viable target. Had Austin Collie not been such an exemplary receiver this year, White may very well have gotten a more considerable amount of praise by anyone that looks beyond the raw yardage totals. Considering that White was also a rookie, it is reasonable to project that White will have even better numbers in the future.
As mentioned earlier, receiving totals were not the only way White brought value to Indianapolis. As a punt returner, White had the highest return average of any Colts player since T.J. Rushing in 2007 and Terrence Wilkins in 2005. White also stood out from a lot of others who filled the role in previous seasons — he reliably fielded and controlled the ball. With the blocking schemes severely depleted due to roster attrition, his performance is even more worthy of praise.
In total, an undrafted rookie fifth string receiver who was a reliable returner and who yielded positive production as a slot receiver is an asset to hang on to. The value White offers from keeping guys like Anthony Gonzalez and Jerraud Powers out of harms way on punt returns is by itself enough of a reason to see what White can offer as he develops for the 2011 season. The fact that White has done one of the best jobs in years as a Colts punt returner is an added bonus.
If Manning can continue to work with White and improve their rapport, White should continue to be a valuable backup receiver behind Collie, Wayne, Gonzalez, and Garcon. In fact, a move to wideout may help his production.
White has shown a significant amount of potential. While it will not be a good idea to draft him for your fantasy team, or expect him to have the mind blowing success Collie did in his second year, it is worth tracking his development. Giving Manning even more veteran depth at wide receiver will only help Indianapolis in the long run and will give the team the flexibility to mix and match skill-sets for different situations. If one does not pay close attention to all he has accomplished, it will be easy for Blair White to continue “flying under the radar.”