To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 90/100
Last year’s rank: 4
Player Grade: 83/100
Teams he is starter: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 25 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3
The ink is barely dry on White’s new deal that has been promised since last fall. If the market value I dictated earlier this week is accurate, then it means technically the Falcons overpaid for White. But that may be a small burden to bear to make sure the best wide receiver in Falcons history never suits up for another NFL team.
White’s protege in Julio Jones is considered an elite receiver because he dictates opposing coverage on a consistent basis, something that no longer is the case with White. But that doesn’t mean that White still doesn’t have a ton of value for the Falcons.
Over the last few years, White has morphed into the classic definition of a possession receiver. His primary duty is to keep the offense on schedule and keep the chains rolling. It’s why he has the fifth-most receptions of 10 yards or less over the past six seasons in the NFL. White is still one of the best in the league at this due to his sharp route-running and physical playing style that helps him win at the line of scrimmage.
Those traits may become more important in 2014 due to the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a huge asset for the Falcons on third downs and in the red zone over the past five seasons. White was also a huge piece of that puzzle, and alongside Jones will have to take on the bulk of the offensive burden in Gonzalez’s wake.
White still manages to stretch the field from time to time, but he no longer displays the track speed that led to his selection in the first round of the 2005 draft. Most of his big plays over the past few seasons have come against nickel corners, safeties or linebackers. Ryan has done a good job of finding those mismatches and exploiting them. He may have a tougher time doing that this season since Gonzalez’s departure likely will force defense to pay more attention to White.
But nonetheless, White should endure in 2014 as he works to rebound from an injury-riddled 2013 campaign. Hindsight offers us that perhaps the Falcons would have been better able to salvage their season had they rested White’s high ankle sprain at the outset of 2013. White did not appear to be playing at his normal level until a 10-catch, 143-yard effort against the Buffalo Bills in Week 13. But White showed his trademark toughness in trying his best to gut through the injury through the first five weeks, but he was largely a decoy and the Falcons offense could not quite capture their 2012 magic without him at full strength.
While a healthy start to 2014 for White may not get the Falcons offense to their 2012 level, it certainly will bring them a few steps closer as the Falcons strive to quiet naysayers with a playoff-run this season.