SI 64: No. 4: West Virginia WR Kevin White
With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
The No. 4 player on our big board is a big talent with even bigger potential. In the right system, and given time to mature as a receiver, West Virginia's Kevin White may be the NFL's next truly great target.
Bio: Coming out of high school, White had to spend two years at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania due to academic issues before the big schools would come calling. In 2013, he chose West Virginia because he saw a fit with his skills and the team's wide-open passing offense. After an average 2013 in which he finished with 35 catches for 507 yards and five touchdowns, White came out of the gate hot last year, surpassing 100 receiving yards in each of his first seven games, a school record. The real showcase came in the season opener against Alabama, when White caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. After finishing 2014 with 109 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns, White blew everyone away at the scouting combine with a 4.35 40-yard dash, showcasing his compelling physical upside that will be highly coveted in the draft.
Strengths: Smooth, gliding receiver with an explosive top end for his size. Can flat-out win speed battles downfield against elite defenders by simply outrunning them, and his extra gear is truly impressive. Any defender who takes a misstep in coverage against him is asking to be taken to the house. Fits the prototype of the X-iso receiver who tilts coverage to his side. Understands how to win battles in close coverage by using his hands to quickly separate from the defender. Will win 50/50 balls with cornerbacks draped all over him by timing the jump and using his hands to out-reach. Has learned to time those jumps and track the ball more consistently on deeper throws. Jukes his way out of press coverage and establishes release from the snap. Not a yards-after-catch monster, but does a very nice job of flipping his body to get downfield right after the catch. Has proven that he's more than the product of his offense—his tools can change the offense of any team in the NFL.
Weaknesses: Not a sudden route-runner—tends to take a bit too much time to turn his body to the target. Very fast in short spaces downfield, but he doesn't show track speed off the snap and into the route. Has had issues with drops, but improved in 2014. Not always willing to dive into traffic and make the catch when he knows he's going to get hit. Relatively limited route tree in college will have him learning at the NFL level. Blocking will need some work.
Conclusion: Of course, White is but half of the most talked-about duo of receivers at the top of this draft class, and many believe that Alabama's Amari Cooper is the more pro-ready and practiced player. It's true that Cooper better understands the need to create openings for his quarterbacks, the skill of timing routes with the velocity of passes coming his way and general route concepts. However, it's also true that White has the ability to make catches and plays that no other receiver in this class can. He's clearly on the upswing, with a high ceiling and all kinds of tantalizing potential.
"My junior year I put bad film out there," White said at the scouting combine. "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 do what I had to do... Like I've been telling [NFL] teams, it finally clicked. I'm going to do what I have to do. I'm going to work hard and do anything and everything possible that I can."
It's clear that it all clicked in 2014 for Kevin White, and the team that selects him could well wind up with a rare, special pass-catcher.