I know, I know…it’s only practice.
There have been countless players through the years who have shined during OTA’s, only to never be heard from again. But if you’re a San Francisco 49ers fan, and have seen how difficult it’s been for the team to develop wide receivers over the years, don’t you get at least a little bit excited when you hear a rookie is doing so well?
That brings me to undrafted free agent WR DeAndrew White. The University of Alabama product has been impressive thus far during the offseason, earning constant praise for his performance.
White was reportedly targeted often during the practice sessions, making catches worthy of an established veteran. He made short grabs, long grabs, and was able to corral balls that were slightly off the mark.
So far so good, but if White was such a gem, why did he go undrafted?
The main reason why teams may have shied away from White, may have had something to do with his injury history. He missed most of 2012 with a knee injury, and has also had to deal with a separated shoulder, fractured toe and pulled hamstring. Some scouting reports said that he may have lost a step since he hurt his knee, but you’d never know it from his pro day showing.
White wowed his teammates by running a 4.34 40-yard dash during the pro day, and may have been the most impressive player then as well. His ex-head coach Nick Saban raved about White, saying that he could end up being a special player at the next level.
“He has a lot more ability than maybe what his production maybe has been here,” said Saban. “Whether it’s because of injuries or whatever that he’s battled through. He’s got great speed. He’s got great size. He’s been a great special teams player for us, and if you’re not a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on a team, you’re going to have to play special teams.
“I think he’s going to be a real value for somebody. They’re going to get a guy who has great ability that probably could really develop into something special.”
Saban’s right when he says the production may have not been on par with his ability, as White’s numbers don’t really jump out at you. In 42 collegiate games, White had 94 receptions for 1,294 yards and 12 touchdowns. He never had more than 40 catches in a season, and never scored more than four times. Obviously, he was also overshadowed by his then teammate, WR Amari Cooper who went number four overall to the Oakland Raiders in this year’s draft.
For a player whose ceiling is much higher than what he’s shown so far between the lines, White finds himself in a perfect spot in San Francisco. Other than WR Torrey Smith, the 49ers don’t have anyone locked into the receiver position past 2015. WR Anquan Boldin will obviously be the team’s number one option this year, but his age and contract status leave his future in doubt.
Beyond, Smith and Boldin, there aren’t any player who have shown enough to be considered major threats. WR Bruce Ellington has promise, but is on the smaller side (5-9) and more suited as a slot option and someone the team can move around. WR Quinton Patton only has six career catches in two seasons, and WR Jerome Simpson is on a one-year deal.
If White continues to impress throughout camp and in preseason action, he could find himself making the team. If he continues to develop, he may have just as much of a chance to compete for a large role in 2016 as someone like Patton does.
But…this is all jumping the gun a little. After all, like I said, it’s just practice and a lot of players can look good in shorts. Still, it’s okay to be excited…right?