Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 13th best player in wide receiver Roddy White.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 62/100
Last year’s rank: 3rd
Player Grade: 61/100
Teams he is starter: 17 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 6 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3
How the mighty have fallen. No Falcons player saw as much of a precipitous drop off in these yearly rankings than White. His high ranking last year was one of the main reasons why he was chosen to be the team’s most disappointing player in 2014.
White’s decline a year ago caught everyone by surprise. Although his battle with a knee injury was documented before last season, few foresaw how limiting it would be for him throughout the first two months of the season. White struggled to separate from backup-level cornerbacks throughout the first half of the season and for the first time since his rookie season was often a non-factor in the Falcons offense.
Given the presence of Julio Jones across from him, White almost exclusively sees one-on-one matchups often against lesser corners since some Falcons opponents chose to shadow Jones with their top corner in 2014. White also gets a lot of chances to work against zone coverage.
A younger White would have absolutely obliterated such easy pickings, but the older 2014 version of the player rarely made impact plays.
Yet White still managed to prove productive a year ago, catching 80 passes for 921 yards and seven touchdowns thanks due to the large volume of throws in his direction. That is unlikely to change again in 2015 given quarterback Matt Ryan’s level of trust in White, evidenced by his performance last season against the Minnesota Vikings.
Despite White having zero burst, Ryan still managed to target him a team-high 14 times in that contest. White’s inability to get in and out of his breaks and create separation led directly to three of Ryan’s throws to him being broken up by corners as well as two interceptions.
Games like that certainly solidify the belief that Ryan shows a lot of faith in White even in games where he doesn’t quite deserve it. Although it does raise questions over whether Ryan’s
overreliance on White at times last year was a result of not having enough faith in other receivers. Harry Douglas missed that Vikings game and Ryan’s rapport with Devin Hester was still a work in progress at that point.
This is a notion worth exploring given the belief that the Falcons have potentially upgraded the supporting cast and options in the passing game beyond Jones and White this offseason. Additions like Justin Hardy, Leonard Hankerson and Jacob Tamme potentially give Ryan more worthwhile targets if White shows no improvement this year. Therefore perhaps there will be a significant drop-off in the number of passes that head White’s way?
But if such a drop in production is headed White’s way, it’s likely to occur in the second half of 2015 rather than early on in the season. After all, even if Ryan and the other receivers are successful in building a strong rapport, it’s going to take some time. In the meantime, White should fully be considered the Falcons quarterback’s preferred target behind Jones.
The onus will be on White to prove that last season was an aberration and that he can take advantage of those early-season opportunities. There’s reason for optimism since the knee that bothered White throughout last season may not be completely recovered, but at least appears significantly better this summer.
With a new coaching staff and offense, White should also have a bit more pep in his step given the expectation that playing for the Falcons in 2015 will be a lot more fun than it has been in recent seasons.
Approaching his 34th birthday, White isn’t suddenly going to find a fountain of youth and be the near-elite receiver he was a few years ago. But if he can do a better job exploiting the frequent, favorable matchups he sees opposite Jones this year, then it will go a long way to returning the rest of the Falcons’ offense to a level of dominance that it once knew.