Keion White Brings All-Business Attitude and Play to the Patriots' Defensive Front
Someone that I had half-jokingly stated to a few Packer fan friends would 100% percent be going to Green Bay is one Keion White. Not without merit either, off the charts RAS score, versatility upfront, and just raw athleticism, that fits their M.O. to a T. Green Bay opted to go elsewhere with their opening two picks of this NFL Draft, and the Patriots didn’t let up the chance to draft him at the tail end of the top 50 picks, despite never meeting with him in the pre-draft process once. Although the Patriots' social media department may have given us a hint just hours before his selection.
That second-to-last note above would lead me to believe either one of two things or potentially a mix of both. The first option is the Patriots had a round-one grade on White and weren't expecting him to fall outside the top 45 and felt like going elsewhere on day one. Or secondly, someone they liked simply didn't slip to 46, and New England felt White was the best player available. Based on post-draft comments by Matt Groh effectively confirming rumors that the Patriots were trying to get back into the first round again, I would lean toward that first option.
Depending on what channel you were watching the draft on, your first impression of White may have been just a stoic reaction to being selected by the Patriots, which was minutes before he got the call in reality. The big man chalked that up to him being a "chill guy", and business oriented. According to some scouts that Mike Reiss got ahold of, that was a reason he wasn't a first-round guy, despite being flown out to Kansas City for the opening night of the draft, which would only happen if the NFL knew that teams viewed him as a round one caliber talent.
I believed there was an outside shot they would have gone EDGE in the first round had the board shaken out in their favor, so assumingly that would have meant Tyree Wilson or Lukas Van Ness. In any case, White is already 24 years old, and is relatively new to the defensive side of the ball, but is also a freak athlete with a high ceiling, and had a more than respectable college career. Does that end up warranting him being a top-50 pick? Here’s what I have.
Keion White Bio School: Georgia Tech by way of Old Dominion Number: 6 (Formerly 41 in his freshman season at ODU) Height-Weight: 6’4 7/8ths and 285 lbs Age: 24 (Birthday is January 20)
RAS Score (as an IDL and EDGE/DE separately):
The most notable athletic note about White is that he was recruited to Old Dominion as a tight end and spent his freshman year there. Sadly I couldn't find any high school footage of his, but he had 11 grabs for 124 yards in a six-game sample size in 2018 as a college freshman. Then White made the switch to defense, and the rest as they say is history. Keion White Prospect Big Board Rankings (Selected 46th overall) Daniel Jeremiah (NFL Network): 28th Dan Brugler (The Athletic): 47th JP Acosta (SB Nation): 42nd
Charles McDonald (Yahoo Sports): 84th Draft Network: 54th Pro Football Focus: 60th
My Knee Jerk Pick Grade on the Day of the Selection: C+
Keion White Film Review
Old Dominion Games Watched (all 2019): vs. Virginia, vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Norfolk State
Just like with Christian Gonzalez, I had an awesome first impression of White when he went up against Virginia. But in this Virginia game, White was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half. Had him down for a sack, four tackles for loss, at least a half dozen pressures, and a blocked field goal. Now White also whiffed on another sack on the opening play of the third quarter here because he couldn’t bend enough after a late push from the Virginia late tackle. That ended up leading to a 30-yard gain on what was a 2nd&10 as well. Additionally, he got swallowed up a bit on a few occasions when he tried to cut inside from the edge. Save for those two negatives, I was very impressed with this performance from White.
The biggest issue that I ran into with White in these Old Dominion tilts was that he struggled to work his way inside/to his man’s inside shoulder, and had a good deal of trouble in that regard when he attempted to do so. Against Norfolk State, White also had a bad roughing the passer penalty from the standpoint that it was a very late hit on the QB. He was also hit with a taunting call about a minute into the third quarter, neither of which I’ll say were great. One great play he did make however got an arm on the QB on a draw play, forcing him to spin, slow down, and get hit for a forced fumble. Nothing that goes in that stat sheet, but something I imagine his coaches noticed right away. And on a final note for White’s 2019 tape, I thought he felt much more consistent when he was lined up against right tackles.
Georgia Tech Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2021) (2022 partial), vs. Clemson, vs. North Carolina, vs. Florida State (all 2022)
As a quick note, before we get into White’s film from the last two seasons, he first opted out of the 2020 season at ODU due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, after transferring to Georgia Tech, suffered a preseason injury playing basketball which held him to four games in 2021. Now White wasn’t perfect in limited snaps against Georgia the first go around, now Pittsburgh Steeler Broderick Jones gave him a bit of trouble, but not without some good reps even if the production wasn’t there. I also felt he was a bit better working inside given his situation and matchup. Additionally, this was the first opportunity I got to see White show off some of his athletic upside outside of rushing the passer, working laterally to stop a designed Stetson Bennett outside run dead in its tracks at the line of scrimmage. White also went up against Jones a year later and I liked what I saw in those handful of reps.
A year later with a clean bill of health coming into the year, White put up some monster numbers in the ACC, including 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, while averaging a fifth-best in class 3.4 pressures per tilt. Some of his problems still appear, but I’ll say they weren’t as bad in some cases, a good sign of progression. That, and he continued to look better as 2022 went along. North Carolina specifically went out of their way to try and do anything to slow him down. Double teams, sending guys in motion to his side of the line to disrupt his arc to the passer, you name it, they probably did it, and it genuinely didn't matter. A ton of production and high-motor plays here, including one where he dismantled a double team for a sack. The full game is linked here, definitely, his best work out of these games, going up against a likely top-five pick next year in UNC QB Drake Maye. White looked good against Clemson in Georgia Tech's season opener as well.
There’s also a play White had against Virginia in 2022 which simply doesn’t feel real. At 6’5 and 285 lbs, White is tasked with defending running back on a wheel route and does so to absolute perfection. If there’s one play that shows how much of a freak White is, this is it. He simply should not be able to move like this with the mass he carries.
Positive Takeaways: - NASCAR Motor. Never takes a play off, always keeps his legs churning in the trenches, and is in it until the whistle blows. Every coach's dream in that regard. - Great blend of power, speed, and intelligence for an edge rusher. Uses his hands well in all facets.
- Play/Production didn’t dip off after moving to a Power Five school and ended up getting better. Was frequently drawing double teams against ACC competition in 2022. Looked like the best player on the field at times.
- Top of the line freak athlete for a defensive lineman. Moves incredible for someone who is 285 lbs. Scheme/front versatile, can play standup or with a hand in the ground, and had good results when tasked with covering running backs in the passing game on a handful of snaps. Showcased good bend.
- Punishing tackler with great wrap-up form.
Negative Takeaways: - Still relatively new to the position, rawness in the finer intricacies of his technique show. Could be a year or two away from realizing his full potential and will be 25 after his rookie season. - Despite improvement by the end of ’22, he struggled at times generating pressure working to his inside and was an inconsistent run defender on occasion. - Lacks a true, diverse, pass-rush move repertoire. Incorporates a spin move off a bull rush on occasion but not much else.
So as far as other places the Patriots could have gone at 46 in hindsight, they actually made out very well. Three of the five players I had anticipated New England being in on here, Darnell Washington, Trenton Simpson, and Dawand Jones, all made it past the top 63 picks. While two others, Matthew Bergeron and Brian Branch the Patriots opted not to move up for, with Branch specifically coming off the board one pick prior. With that said, they could have done much far worse than a 6'5 pass rusher who's an athletic freak.
However, White is on what I’ll call the Travon Walker trajectory, but to make a Patriots-centric comp, let's go with the Deatrich Wise trajectory. What I mean by that is his best football is still probably a ways out, but you’re banking on the athletic upside and traits as is, along with your coaching staff to get him to the developmental finish line. To me, that's worth taking him at 46th overall. Even then, White is someone that can be a plug-and-play guy right away in multiple spots and give you some quality reps. And most importantly, effort levels are always running at 100% with White, he’s never going to cheat the Patriots there. I am also very much here for a third down front that looks like Matt Judon and Josh Uche out on the edge, with Wise and White on the interior, adding in Christian Barmore as well if they want to roll out a five-man front.
Keion White Draft Pick Grade: B
Keion White Year One Projection: Rotational EDGE. Third down interior pass rusher.
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