You Should Be Targeting James White in Your Fantasy Football Drafts

Dion Lewis will be out for an extended period of time as he gets his knee fixed up. And that presents a great opportunity for James White.

If you used a high-value fantasy draft selection on Dion Lewis prior to last weekend, chances are you're not a happy camper today.

Lewis will more than likely still play at some point this season, but that won't come for a while. According to the Boston Herald, he'll have a follow-up procedure done to his knee that will sideline him for 8 to 10 weeks.

It's fine. I needed someone to hug me, too.

The absence of Lewis does bring the emergence of another runner -- or, I guess we should say receiver -- in the Patriots' backfield. And, no, it's not LeGarrette Blount.

It's James White.

Last Year's Sample

If there's anything positive to take away from this situation, it's that we've actually seen this Patriots team without Dion Lewis. Because this whole knee situation occurred last year when Lewis was balling out with the Pats.

Just as a reminder, Lewis had a very, very real role in the New England offense last season.

Week Attempts Rush Yards Targets Receiving Yards Fantasy Points (PPR) Snap %
1 15 69 5 51 16.0 75%
2 7 40 9 98 23.8 85%
3 8 37 5 30 17.7 43%
5 6 34 11 59 23.3 71%
6 4 21 6 18 6.9 57%
8 5 19 9 93 23.2 54%
9 4 14 5 39 9.3 30%

Lewis averaged 17.17 PPR points per game a year ago, which was a higher per-game rate than fantasy football's second-ranked running back, Adrian Peterson. And he did so while playing 50% or more of the team's snaps (courtesy of in 5 of the 7 games he was active for.

While Lewis was healthy and playing, James White saw very little action. The highest snap percentage seen by White with an active Lewis came in Week 3 against Jacksonville, where White saw 21% of the team's snaps. But aside from that game, every other snap rate was below 10%.

When Lewis went down, though, things changed.

Week Attempts Rush Yards Targets Receiving Yards Fantasy Points (PPR) Snap %
10 1 5 1 6 2.1 38%
11 2 14 3 32 18.6 27%
12 3 1 5 5 2.6 47%
13 2 4 13 115 27.9 57%
14 1 2 6 38 14 37%
15 1 6 8 71 20.7 33%
16 2 4 5 28 14.2 39%

White certainly didn't have the same workload as Lewis did in the Patriots offense, but he certainly wasn't a scrub. He actually finished as a weekly top-24 (RB2 or better) PPR running back in five of his seven relevant fantasy games.

Here's a peep at the two players side by side, looking at the median totals (per game) from the numbers above:

PlayerAttemptsRush YardsTargetsReceiving YardsFantasy Points (PPR)Snap %

The main difference is very clearly the work in the ground game, as Lewis has more upside given his utilization as a runner. But White's median target total was nearly identical -- much of the snap percentage differential more than likely has to do with early-down work, not passing-down action.

That's really the big discrepancy here: without Lewis, the Patriots used more Brandon Bolden and a little more LeGarrette Blount. But it's very clear that White saw decent work in the receiving game. And that's a big deal in PPR formats, as a running back target was nearly three times as valuable as a running back attempt in 2015.

Volume aside, James White was also pretty ridiculous in the receiving game last year. Of all 50-plus target running back seasons we've seen since 2000, White's 2015 season ranked as the third-most efficient according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Meaning, it's not as if any old running back is utilizing this receiving role. It's a back who's actually pretty damn good at catching the football.

Approaching Your Draft

Now, there are plenty of things that weren't talked through above, like how the Patriots added weapons to the offense this offseason, how game script may have favored White last year, or how Julian Edelman's injury last year coincides directly with Dion Lewis', giving White even more opportunity. In other words, the stars may have aligned last season in order for White to seize a fairly significant role in a Tom Brady-led offense.

But that's not the mindset we should be using when we're using late-round picks on players. The thought, instead, should be about upside -- it should be about targeting players who potentially have significant roles in what should be high-powered offenses. It's about targeting a player like James White because, well, last season showed us that the now-dubbed "Shane Vereen role" in New England's offense is a real thing. And it produced a solid floor at the running back position from a running back who was written off at the beginning of the season.

It'd be shocking if White produced to the levels fantasy owners were hoping Dion Lewis would be performing at this season, especially considering White more than likely won't see much run in the ground game. But in PPR leagues, White presents nice flex upside for a player who will be drafted in the double-digit rounds.

And who knows? Maybe White outperforms that expectation.