“Whatever happens is Western Michigan, stays in Western Michigan.”
That may not be exactly how you heard it, but that old Vegas adage rings true when it comes to Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, where Western Michigan University wide receiver Jordan White may be college football’s best kept secret. Word is slowly getting out about White, whose 2011 totals of 140 catches, 1911 yards, and 17 touchdowns earned him recognition as only the sixth player in MAC Conference history to be named a Consensus All American.
White’s work from the slot was machine-like, cranking out 100+ yard receiving totals in 10 of 13 games, including 265 yards versus Purdue in the Little Caesars Bowl. And this two time All MAC performer holds the conference record not only for yards per season, but also career yardage, at 4187, despite missing the 2006 and 2008 seasons with injuries to different knees. With the injury history and the small conference label, you might think that White is a long shot gamble, but frustrated defensive backs keep pulling the handle, trying to beat this slot machine.
At 6’0” 215 pounds, White is a solidly built athlete, who plays bigger than his size would suggest, using his body to shield defenders or to make catches far outside his frame. Not blessed with elite speed or burst (he’ll probably run in the high 4.5s), White compensates with quickness, agility, and body control, routinely outmaneuvering defensive backs possessing more impressive physical skills. Displaying no wasted motion off the line and good short area quickness, he gets on top of cornerbacks faster than they expect, then sinks his hips, maintaining speed when coming out of breaks; however, he’s not a homerun threat who will run away from defenders.
As a route runner, he’s savvy, using subtle head and shoulder fakes to get defenders to open their hips early or relinquish inside position. His routes are generally well defined, but, at times, are not precise; he has a tendency to round-off breaks, especially on out routes, and occasionally will not work back to the quarterback when the situation demands. White doesn’t struggle to beat tight press coverage, but a receiver of his size should disengage more easily on a consistent basis. Generally, he tries to stay clean off the line by using quickness to elude the jam. Though often this is effective, he should be able to use his strong hands more to neutralize defenders and manhandle smaller corners. When White was in the slot, obviously, this was less of an issue, and similar positioning at the next level, combined with improved hand technique and the use of motion, should enable him to stay clean off the line of scrimmage.
Once free from the line, he’s not easily rerouted, and he has no difficulty being physical through contact down the field. When cutting, he doesn’t gear down into breaks, or chop his feet coming out of them; still, because of a lack of burst, he doesn’t gain much separation out of breaks, and defenders are often able to recover and close the gap. In such instances, White is excellent at positioning his body to keep the defensive player away from the path of the ball, usually hauling in the shielded catch, though, because of close player to player proximity, run after the catch yards are minimized.
As a catcher of the ball, White is solid and looks natural, consistently keeping the ball away from his body, with only rare lack of focus drops. He doesn’t possess a huge wingspan, but his catching radius is enhanced by better than average leaping ability and a knack for attacking the ball at its apex, often outdueling taller defenders. He tracks the ball well in the air, and uses plus body control to adjust to poorly thrown passes, often making a circus catch, like the one-handed, spinning stab he made between two defenders versus Purdue.
Though productive on the edges, White really impresses inside, as a willing and effective go-to guy over the middle. Here, he rubs off defensive backs, uses his body for shielding, and generally outmuscles opponents. He exhibits no fear running between or through levels, and will dependably hang onto the ball after absorbing a big hit. And, in a refreshing nod to days of football yore, after getting pancaked, he’ll just pop up and run back to the huddle, without the woofing at opponents and whining to officials that now seem to accompany every pass completion.
At Western Michigan, White flourished in a pass first system, featuring multiple sets. As such, he’s experienced with a fairly advanced route tree, though his strength is working the shallow and intermediate patterns, especially against zone coverage schemes. He keenly understands coverages, and displays an instinctive zone awareness, knowing when to slow down a route, or settle in a soft pocket. Repeatedly, in what appears to be blanket coverage, White will just slide a little left or right, opening a small throwing lane, allowing the quarterback to fit the ball in. And, as the Broncos number one target for the last two seasons, defenses have habitually rolled coverages his way; yet, White continues to produce, racking up 234 receptions, 3289 yards, and 27 touchdowns over those two years. He just knows how to get open. It’s as simple as that.
After the reception, White is solid but unspectacular. He displays the ability to gear up as the catch is made, then plant his foot and accelerate upfield, but he doesn’t explode from one level to the next, and he lacks that elite finishing speed. He’s not “shimmy shake” elusive in the open field; rather, he’s a north/south runner, strong enough to run through arm tackles, who sees the field well, and takes advantage of available cutback opportunities. White has been a successful punt returner, but he’s not a dynamic enough athlete to make a big splash in that capacity in the NFL. In the run game, he’s an inexperienced, but willing, blocker, showing a solid penchant for stalk blocking, who has the size, strength, and demeanor to excel here. Refinement and repetition are needed, but he has the potential to develop into an excellent blocker.
Ultimately, though the odds may be stacked against him, I’m betting that Jordan White will be a highly productive slot receiver at the NFL level. Initially, he’ll play on all special teams units, while serving as a fourth or fifth receiver. In two to three years, look for him to push his way into heavy use, showcasing good hands, agility, intelligence, and the innate ability to break down a defense. He’s gone through a lot of adversity during his time at Western Michigan, both on and off the field. As a result, White is a physically tough, mentally tough, mature player, who plays the game the right way, and knows how to deliver in the clutch. At the end of the day, he produces like a machine.
Because of the knee injuries, and the lack of top flight speed, he’ll probably have to wait till day three of the draft to hear his name called. But he knows that on draft day “whatever happens in New York, stays in New York,” because, come training camp, his new coaches won’t care where he was drafted; they’ll only be concerned with how productive he’s going to be. And, who knows, Jordan White just might steal his way into the fourth round. If not, then he’ll be the steal, and the team that cashes in will find that this two armed bandit is a slot machine.