INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin White's game is all about creating separation and he's done a pretty good job of that at the 2015 scouting combine. The speedy West Virginia wideout came into this week tied with Alabama's Amari Cooper in the eyes of many at the top of the receiver class, but during Saturday's drills, he really set himself apart.
White ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at 6'3" and 215 pounds, tracked the ball very well during a throwing session in which he did his level best to steal the spotlight away from Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, and had a lot of people, at least in the media, scrambling to head back to his tape and take another look. NFL teams were already in the know, but after this combine, it's safe to say that White, who caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Mountaineers in 2014, put himself firmly at the head of this group.
While Cooper is still a great player—he's a smooth route-runner whose game may be more complete at this point—White's ceiling will be extremely tantalizing to the NFL, especially since he's only had one dominant season at the Division I level. A transfer player from Lackawanna Junior College before the 2013 season, White underwhelmed by his own admission during that first season and turned it on just in time for the NFL to come calling.
"My junior year, I put bad film out there," White said this week. "That's not the kind of receiver, the kind of player I am. Going into my senior year, I just put everything on the line and did what I had to do. Like I've been telling teams, it finally clicked. I'm going to work hard and do anything and everything possible that I can."
Perhaps the first moment that opened everyone's eyes to his true potential came against Alabama in the 2014 season opener, when he caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. White made several impressive contested catches, proving that he has a rare combination of straight-line speed and vertical aggressiveness. It's a skill set that has people comparing him to everyone from Julio Jones to Larry Fitzgerald to Randy Moss.
"It was huge," White said. "Probably the most important game of our season. Showed so well what we can do, and what I can do as a receiver. It worked out well."
West Virginia lost that game, 33-23, but White was well on his way. There was his 216-yard performance against Maryland in Week 3, a 173-yard show against Oklahoma the next week and a seven-game stretch to start the 2014 campaign in which he totaled at least 100 yards every time. White only missed scoring in four games, a pretty impressive total when you consider that he had three-catch games against Oklahoma and TCU, and a four-catch game against Iowa State. His last college game, a Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M, saw White catch seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Still, White came to Indianapolis with some pundits questioning his field speed and true explosiveness. It's said by some that he gets his way in the passing game by high-pointing the ball as opposed to outrunning cornerbacks on vertical routes. The tape tells a different story, and repeatedly so, but pre-draft perception can be a funny thing. If White's 40 time didn't convince the doubters, a combine session in which he ran with speed, smoothness and purpose just might.
"I think I put a lot of fear in defensive backs just because I block so well and when I come off the line I'm quicker than they expect," he said earlier this week. "By the time they realize it, it's already a done deal. A lot of teams, a lot of people don't think I have top end speed. I don't know why they think that, but it's important to run fast just to show that I do have that type of speed."
Mission accomplished there, and when you add in his obvious ability to physically overwhelm defenders with his size and catch radius, you're talking about a player who could be truly special in the right offense.
To be sure, White's game isn't perfect. He's not always as physical or aggressive as one might like against tight coverage, but he has shown improvement in this area. And he didn't run a complete route tree in college, which is a common issue among modern college receivers. White talked extensively this week about improving his technique and rounding out his game, and as long as that's the focus, he should be fine.
One thing he doesn't lack is confidence. When asked which NCAA cornerbacks gave him the most trouble, and after mentioning that his trash-talking game has improved exponentially on the field, he shut down the notion that anyone could stop him at that level.
"I couldn't tell you," he said. "Weren't that many guys that I was too impressed with. Not being cocky or arrogant, being honest. My junior year, there were a lot of DBs that were really good."
It's also possible that White was the one who improved, while his competition struggled to catch up.
"I don't feel that any receiver can do what I can do," he concluded. "Whether it's blocking, creating space, taking a tunnel screen to the house, I do it all. I don't feel like guys can do what I can do. Not saying that to be cocky, just confident. I feel like I'm one of a kind."
He may very well be, and the combine was a crucial step in proving that point over time.