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During the season here at Footballguys, I profiled receivers using my Reception Perception methodology. Now, that is officially draft season, we’ll turn our focus to the incoming rookies. In anticipation of the release of the 2015 Reception Perception Project, and the NFL Draft, I’ll be releasing prospect profiles using the Reception Perception methodology. In this edition, we’ll study a player who has climbed to the top of many wide receiver rankings, in Kevin White.
A new year can bring about wholesale change in an individual’s life, whether though refreshers or a reconstruction of personal outlooks. A change in the calendar provides us with a chance to take previously built work to new levels, or to wipe the slate clean if need be. Much in the same way, a new season’s worth of time can drastically alter the course of an NFL Draft prospect’s perception and value. One example of a player held in much higher regard, than he would have been a year ago, is Kevin White.
White came to West Virginia after starting his playing career at the JUCO level. He failed to impress during his first year at WVU, recording only 35 catches and just over 500 yards. There was not much to discuss in terms of Kevin White’s draft stock. That did not last long. White put on a show his senior season, amassing 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns on 109 receptions. By the conclusion of his final collegiate campaign, his name was mentioned as a surefire first rounder.
The buzz grew as the process played out, especially now with the draft less than a month away. Kevin White has risen to the very top of wide receiver ranks to compete with the ever-solid Amari Cooper for the highest honors in the class. The film told the story of a dynamic player, and White put an exclamation point on that with an explosive combine performance. Even his biggest supporters weren’t expecting him to run anything close to a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. It appears any concerns about a lack of athleticism were unfounded, as White fell into the 90th percentile of NFL receiver athletes (per Zach Whitman’s SPARQ scores).
Seemingly a “one year wonder”, Kevin White is battling with a much more established player, in Cooper, to be the first receiver selected. As such, it’s important to look back at how the rise all began for the former Mountaineers receiver. What did he show at the beginning of this season that led to a launch up the draft board? Think of this edition of Reception Perception as Kevin White’s origin story.
Disclaimer: usually a full season profile of Reception Perception works through eight games of a receiver. Unfortunately, with the scarcity of all-22 footage available on college prospects, that was not possible. For the purposes of this profile, we’ll be working strictly off Kevin White’s 2014 games against Alabama. I’ve been exposed to other games of White’s and all views in this article would extrapolate to those, as well. Additionally, if at any point during this profile you are not clear on a Reception Perception statistic, please refer to this page for clarity.
In more than one of his recent podcast appearances, NFL Films’ Greg Cosell stated that Kevin White had some flashes of Terrell Owens to his game. The future Hall of Famer, Owens, was the classic, carved from stone X-receiver. White does carry the same the same 6’3 and rocked up build as Owens, although he’s about ten pounds lighter. Physically, there are some similarities between these two, and Cosell did mention the comparison was as pure “power players”.
Although White profiles as the X, he actually played a fair bit of flanker at West Virginia. In the game sampled for this study, he lined up at the right outside position on 82.3% of his snaps. He was back off the line of scrimmage 66.1% of the time. The flanker is typically behind the line, and on the same side of the field as other pass catchers, so they can be used creatively to find mismatches.
While Kevin White did primarily line up as the flanker in this game, some of the 82.3% of snaps he took at RWR were at the X spot. He also spent some time in the slot, and sweeping into the backfield on trick plays. Given his size and athletic profile, there really should not be any limitations on what receiver position White plays in the NFL. He’s big enough to be an X, savvy enough for flanker, and presents the potential for a frightening matchup in the slot.
In the most recent Reception Perception prospect profile, Sammie Coates was charted with a 33.3% target per route rate. This was in line the theory laid out in Amari Cooper’s evaluation; these college receivers would regularly post higher rates than NFL players. Kevin White’s sample from his game against Alabama did nothing to dispute that notion:
Reports out of WVU leading up to the 2014 season were generally positive regarding White’s development. He was apparently putting in plenty of work to refine his craft, and studying film to further grasp how to improve against heightened competition. White demonstrated right away that was true, and the coaching staff displayed complete confidence in him. This was the first game of the season, and West Virginia tipped their hand in letting the world know the passing game would be built around Kevin White for the remainder.
White ran 33 qualifying routes for this one game Reception Perception sample, and he was targeted on 39.4% of them. All the work he put in during the offseason was rewarded right away, as he was crowned the number one receiver right away. He was lathered with targets in the first game of the season, and would go on to pace the team throughout the season.
Efficiency is also one of White’s strengths. Despite less desirable assistance from behind center, White maintained a catch rate of 69.2% in this game. There were a few instances where his quarterback just missed him, and placed the ball out of reach. On his end, White was nearly mistake-free in this game. He was consistently in the right place at the right time, and displayed excellent technique to haul in passes.
However, there was one target where Kevin White did let the ball slip, which comprised his 7.7% drop rate in this game. Worst of all, it came in the end zone. The quarterback laid a great pass right over his head on a fade, where White earned perfect separation. The ball fell right into his outstretched hands, but he failed to close the deal. White held his hands to his helmet in frustration, after the drop occurred.
As mentioned, White took pride in the work he put in after a slow season in 2013. One area where he reportedly really grinded to iron out issues was with focus drops. Seeing these demons reappear in his first game of a new season clearly bothered the senior wideout. The good news; White did not drop many more passes over the course of his final year in college. While this is still a small area of concern in his scouting report, it is an area that White has consistently worked to fix.
We looked at why Sammie Coates’ drop issues look to be tough maladies to fix in the NFL. Troubles in contested situations, and out of sync technique are old habit like stumbling blocks that do not fade away easily. White’s issues, if they are even still present, appeared to be derived from concentration. These brands of drops are easier to iron out of a player’s game than those connected with Coates. White displayed better than average technique for a college prospect, and times everything very well. There should be little, if any, concern with his hands.
Contested Catch Conversion Rate
As a whole, a fast start to the season—especially in this game—was a big part of what caused Kevin White to begin his rise in the minds of evaluators. The specific attribute that jumped off the tape, and the highlight reels, was White’s ability to dominate the catch point:
In this game, White had a chance to secure two contested catches, and he completed the job on both attempts. One stood out as particularly impressive. White caught a deep pass down the right sideline in Alabama territory, and displayed the bevvy of skills he possess for playing the ball in the air:
Everything about this play is one hundred percent flawless work by Kevin White. He tracks the ball well over his shoulder, and lets up on his route speed to be at the right spot to leap. He times both his jump, and when he puts his hands in the air perfectly. Neither is too early to tip the two Crimson Tide defenders as to when the ball will arrive. In the air, White controls and contorts his body with intents strictly on securing the pass. Some receivers become distracted when trying to control their body mid-air, or just do not have the wherewithal to do it. White lets his lower body hang effortlessly as he is suspended in the air. Lastly, you’ll notice the demonstration of A+ hand technique by White. He vaults his mitts together in a perfect triangle for the ball to fall into. You will not find any alligator arms or body catching with White; he’s the perfect example of a true maven at the catch point. And of course, he finishes the job here by showing the fortitude to hold onto the ball as a he returns to the ground, with multiple defenders in the vicinity.
Kevin White earned comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald due to the ease with which he plays the ball in the air in contested situations. He checks all the boxes when it comes to scouting a receiver you can “just throw the ball up to”. It’s fair to question some aspects of White’s game, and how the attributes will translate, as long as winning contested catches is not one of them.
Route Analysis and Success Rate Vs. Coverage Data
One of the popular concerns evaluators who are not confident in Kevin White’s projection have is his experience running multiple routes. The system at West Virginia does not call for receivers to run a high volume of varying patterns that some NFL offenses do. Recency bias certainly hurts White, as not many successful NFL players have come out of that passing program over the last few years. However, at least in this first game, that concern made itself readily apparent:
Looking over the chart, White did not run many routes in the intermediate segment of the field. Of his 33 qualifying routes, he was never assigned a post, curl, dig or out in this game. This sort of chart is certainly indicative of an inexperienced receiver playing in a stripped down passing offense.
The pattern White ran most often against Alabama was the nine-route, with a 30.3% frequency figure. His size, athleticism and demonstrated ability winning contested catches all make him a natural choice to lead a vertical passing attack. West Virginia certainly looked to exploit defenses by using White on these routes. The next highest represented route in the game was the slant. We’ve seen star NFL receivers, particularly those with high-end athleticism and strong frames, like Julio Jones and Josh Gordon frequently run slant routes with regularity.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah once compared Kevin White to Jones, based on their abilities on tape. While that is a high-end outcome for White, there is some basis for thinking they can be used in similar ways. In fact, I believe most observers would be surprised by how unbalanced the route trees are for some of these big time wide receivers. Obviously Jones and Gordon have played very well with that being their reality, so whether that is a positive or negative is in the eye of the beholder.
White did not run many routes in college, as illustrated by the sampling from this game. However, its important to note he showed more route diversity as the year went on, and displayed the technical prowess he’ll need to add more to his game. I believe he can develop as a balanced route runner, but for now it is a question mark. What should not be shrouded in doubt is White’s ability to separate from coverage:
(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)
It’s strange that some still question Kevin White’s ability to separate in the deep game. He not only answered questions about his speed at the scouting combine, but now Reception Perception illuminates that perhaps those worries never should have existed. Against one of the best defenses he faced all season, White posted an 80% SRVC score on nine-routes. Considering that he ran a nine on 30.3% of his charted routes, that is no small feat.
White’s ability to run fast in a straight line is apparent, but he does carry the necessary twitches to earn separation. While he doesn’t possess the freakish fluidity of a Dorial Green-Beckham, White’s movement skills are impressive for his size. He was much more of a stressful cover for cornerbacks this year, because he learned how to sell his routes without tipping them off to defenders. White fooled the Alabama corners in this game on more than one occasion. With a fake, or quick double move, he was able to go over top of them when they expected him to stay shallow. He displays excellent foot frequency to stop and start these tactics before defenders can process what they’re seeing. Nothing on film leads you to believe White will not continue to terrorize defenses in the deep portions of the field in the NFL.
Kevin White is no slouch in the underneath game, either. All of his SRVC scores on short routes were positive, and most were 100%. He’s a nightmare on slant and flat routes. His combination of fluid athleticism and pure size made him nearly un-coverable short. When he gets off the line, it’s impossible for cornerbacks to regain positioning on him because he’s so much bigger and stronger than they are. White’s NFL team will love feeding him targets in the short area, because he’ll offer an easy and reliable target for his quarterback.
The only score that was suboptimal was White’s 50% SRVC on comebacks. While he’s very good at opening up back to the quarterback, there are occasional moments when his timing is a little off with his steps on the stem. Sometimes he takes on strong move back, other times he shuffles. He can do both, but he sometimes looked a little indecisive on which one he’ll execute on a given attempt, especially early in the season, such as during this game. While diversity can throw off defenders, perhaps White would benefit from settling on one set of steps as his go-to, particularly if he can master the single hard step.
When breaking down Kevin White’s SRVC scores sorted by coverage, you see just how complete of a player he is:
In this game against Alabama, White had an answer for everything thrown at him. Even before his excellent combine workout, he displayed the quick twitch athleticism to get free from man coverage. He does not just out athlete defensive backs. While he uses his size and speed well, White shows the ability to develop into an excellent technician, and craftsman brand of wide receiver. His ability to read a defender, and take the angle they will not be able to cover is very advanced for an inexperienced player. The same can be said on his proficiency in beating zone. Even at this early stage of the season, White showed he had indeed put in the film work necessary to master feeling his way through zone coverage. On the vast majority of his attempts, White worked the perfect amount of depth on crossing routes versus zone, and found soft spots to sit on stationary routes.
Some analyst criticize Kevin White’s release techniques; I’m not sure why. Against SEC defenders against Alabama, White posted a 100% SRVC when pressed at the line. Not only is he proficient in earning a release, he can do it in more than one-way. There are times when he uses a violent rip move to cast aside a would-be presser. On other attempts, White will display his strong foot fire to throw a defender of balance before he darts into his routes. Still yet, White can take a well-timed three-step release like a veteran. Nothing on his college tape indicates White will struggle with physical coverage in the NFL. In fact, it should be a strength of his, and will help him fill multiple roles over a long career.
Tackle Breaking Data
In the last bit of Reception Perception data recorded from Kevin White’s opening week game, he truly shines. If you come to White’s film for the contested catch highlights, you’ll stay for his ability after the catch:
West Virginia is known for getting their receivers out in space. It’s how the St. Louis Rams were duped into taking Tavon Austin within the top-10 picks of the 2013 draft. While there could not be a more different player than Austin, the Mountaineers used Kevin White in a similar fashion, at times. The coaching staff got White “in space” on 15.2% of his routes against Alabama. While we typically thing of small, jitterbug receivers as those who thrive in the open field, players with size and attitude can often be superior in this regard.
Kevin White certainly qualifies as the latter. He is an extremely aggressive player after the catch. Certainly in this class, there may not be another player who is as fierce after the catch. While is able to sink his hips to elude oncoming tacklers, but really makes his scratch as a true power player. He runs through contact with a furious nature. In this game, he broke one tackle on 60% of his in space attempts, and broke multiple tackles on the other 40%. White was never taken down with first contact on an in space attempt in this game.
White will be a dangerous player in the open field very early in his NFL career. He’s a proficient tackle breaker, with an attitude. He’ll turn short receptions into long gains, and will wear down a defense with his need to be brought down by multiple defenders on a regular basis.
Translation and the Bottom Line
It appears the battle for the first receiver off the board will go down to the wire, and may come down to team preference. Reception Perception already concluded that Amari Cooper is a strong prospect, despite small flaws. All the data from the game profiled for Reception Perception gives credence to the hype around Kevin White’s game. Everything you could want in a wide receiver, White brings to the table.
White scored will in every aspect of SRVC data. He beat man and zone coverage with regularity against Alabama. White also helped dispel any notion that he struggles getting a release off the line of scrimmage. His 100% SRVC against press helped illustrate how he owns multiple techniques to free himself from jams. White also scored an 80% SRVC on nine-routes, which aligns with the straight-line speed he showed at the scouting combine. He’s a high-end athlete and threat in the deep game. The evidence is on film, just as it was in shorts at Indianapolis.
Reception Perception also put hard, quantifiable illustrations to White’s elite play at the catch point, and his work as power player with the ball in his hands. In the NFL, White will be a player who is “open even when he’s not” due to his ability to win the ball in the air. He should be a regular in the end zone, and the highlight reel with his play on contested catches. White will do the same deadly work mixing it up with would be tacklers in the open field.
This edition of Reception Perception was a bit different than the four previous prospect profiles. We only had one game to study on Kevin White. While all his scores were strong, such a miniscule sample size must always come with a caveat. Now that that’s out of the way, I’d challenge anyone to contest White’s excellent ability demonstrated by these numbers. Additionally, as I work through more samples, it becomes clear that Reception Perception data does not change much even when more games are added to a sample. Of course, it’s natural to except White’s outrageous numbers in the 100% success range to come down. However, given how this methodology works, it’s extremely unlikely that a larger sample size would cause White’s data to all of the sudden fall so far as to change the evaluation. Players are who they, and Kevin White is a very good one.
This prospect profile illustrated how Kevin White began his ascension to the top of many wide receiver rankings by tearing through Alabama. It was the hard evidence that showed the results of all the work White reportedly put in to improve his game after a lackluster first year at WVU. While the all22 was not available to study further games, White only continued to enhance his craft from this opening contest. Amari Cooper brings an excellent amount of refinement to the table, and Dorial Green-Beckham may be the better pure talent. Yet, Kevin White’s complete and excellent skill-set that is laden with upside should be enough to earn him the rights as the first wide receiver off the board.
If you enjoyed this prospect profile, become familiar with Reception Perception and learn about the release of the first annual Reception Perception Project publication. Make sure to follow the series, using the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter, and bookmark it to prepare for the release of the inaugural edition of the publication this summer.