Positioned for success: Multi-use White draft's most intriguing player
NFL teams see many possibilities for West Virginia's Pat White
With rising popularity of Wildcat, White's timing couldn't be better
White could have more impact in '09 than Stafford, Sanchez or Freeman
If the NFL handed out superlatives for the draft class of 2009, the most intriguing prospect, the one that 31 teams are some day likely to wish they had spent a little more time getting to know, would be West Virginia's Pat White.
Notice I didn't say West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who was a four-year standout at the position for the Mountaineers. And notice I didn't say most likely to succeed. Therein lies the rub when it comes to White, who is this draft's Rorschach test -- football scouts see a variety of different things when they critique him. Some see a developmental-type quarterback in the NFL. Some see a receiver who can also help you on punt and kickoff returns. And some see the quintessential Wildcat formation X factor, a player capable of giving defenses fits with his ability to line up almost anywhere and either run, throw or catch the ball on almost any snap.
If ever there was a melding of just the right player at just the right time in the NFL draft, it would seem to be exactly now for the multi-faceted White, thanks to the high-profile success the Miami Dolphins had last season running the Wildcat. To hear league personnel scouts tell it, White could wind up being the NFL's wildest cat of all, out-doing even Ronnie Brown, the Wildcat's current poster-child and, somewhat by default, it's modern-day historical measuring stick.
Mike Mayock, the NFL Network draft analyst who for my money does the best job of all the draft-season talking heads, gushed over White on a conference call last week. And best I can tell, he's merely echoing the sentiments of several NFL teams when he calls White "one of the very special players'' in this year's draft.
"Pat White is not a gimmick,'' Mayock said. "He's the type of kid who you want the ball in his hands. I don't care if he's running it, throwing it, or catching it. I want the ball in his hands. Some teams like him as a quarterback. I'd take him in the second round with no hesitation, use him as a Wildcat this season, and try to develop him as a full-time quarterback, because I think he's got that kind of ability.''
Watching where White lands this weekend is going to provide some of the most interesting TV of the draft's long and often tedious unfurling. I want to know which team will have the vision to look at White and see what he is and what he can be, instead of what he is not. Will it be the willing-to-think-out-of-the-box Patriots, who have hardly tried to conceal their interest in White this spring? Will it be the Jets, who already have an earlier version of Pat White in Brad Smith, but still, inevitably, try to mimic whatever New England does?
Will it be the Browns or Eagles, who have both kicked White's tires, or the Steelers (White's life-long favorite team), whose Kordell Stewart "Slash'' role in the mid-'90s is kind of a blueprint for what White's NFL career might become? Maybe it'll be the offensively-challenged Vikings who step forward, because as Mayock himself points out, lining White up in the Wildcat with Adrian Peterson in the same backfield would give defensive coordinators "nightmares.''
Trying to use conventional wisdom to predict where White is going to be selected is silly, since the whole point of White's story is he doesn't fit into any conventional wisdom-type category in the draft. He's 6-foot-1, 202 pounds in a league that prizes Ryan Leaf-type size at quarterback (How'd that one work out?).
He's left-handed, and not blessed with the strongest arm, a combination that strangely enough leads scouts to think of Matt Leinart, Cade McNown and Chris Simms more than the highly successful Steve Young or Mark Brunell. And he's got a history running the spread offense in college, which isn't exactly the thing you should put atop your résumé when trying to impress the NFL.
White has clearly become a point of fascination for some teams. If I had to put a buck down, I'd say one of them will take him somewhere in the second round, using him early in a myriad of Wildcat-ing ways while buying itself more time to evaluate whether he can evolve into a successful quarterback, despite playing an unconventional style of game.
"I'm still working to be a quarterback, and until somebody tells me no, I'm going to continue to,'' said White at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, striking what I thought was the pitch-perfect tone for his particular situation. "I also want to keep my options open and [have] the best opportunity to play football. If that's the case, I do whatever's best for me.''
White, the MVP of January's Senior Bowl as a quarterback for the South, is going to have options all right. He might be running the option somewhere in the NFL this fall for all we know. Someone is going to decide they absolutely have to have a guy who became the NCAA's all-time leading rusher at quarterback (4,480), threw for more than 6,000 yards with 56 touchdown passes, and is the only starting QB to ever win four bowl games.
Somebody will put the ball in his hands, and it's going to be fun watching how it unfolds. Can you envision White taking center stage in his team's offense by mid-October, while Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman -- the likely top three quarterbacks selected -- melt into the obscurity of the bench on game day, waiting their turns to start? I can.
"Pat White, he's an intriguing guy,'' said Colts president Bill Polian, whose opinions on personnel, based on track record, should count twice as much as almost anyone one else's in the NFL. "Here's a guy who can clearly throw the ball very well, and obviously is a great runner. Is there a role for him? We've already seen it with Slash [Stewart]. We've seen it with Antwaan Randle El to a lesser degree than Slash. The game has always evolved, so I would think it would continue to evolve.''
My guess is how the NFL sees Pat White will also continue to evolve. Don't forget, on "money day'' at this year's combine, when the quarterbacks worked out, White was the most impressive passer on the field. True, Stafford skipped the workout, but Sanchez and Freeman didn't. White forced teams to see him as a quarterback that afternoon, not just a receiver-return man who could also add some razzle-dazzle to their attack.
What we all think of White today might continue to change just as rapidly as it did in January and February. He might have started off as a gimmick in the eyes of the NFL, but who knows where he'll end up. At the moment, he doesn't fit into any particular nice and neat category. But then again, players who break the mold in the NFL seldom do.
NFL Truth & Rumors