Over the past few months, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. We continue today with linebacker Brendon White.
The 22-year old White is listed at 6’2” and 220 pounds and was an all-Big Ten honorable mention in 2020 after transferring from Ohio State to Rutgers. The Jets are converting him from safety to linebacker after a college career that saw him register 105 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
White, whose father William had an 11-year NFL career, was a four-star high school recruit and eventually decided to attend Ohio State.
In his first season, White played in four games and saw brief action at safety and wide receiver, as well as on special teams. He ended up with one tackle and no receptions.
White played a more significant role off the bench in 2018 and then got a chance to start five games down the stretch. He saw his first significant action when his teammate was ejected for targeting against Nebraska and produced well in that game so he ended up starting the rest of the way. He ended up with a career-high 46 tackles, four tackles for loss, an interception and two pass breakups and was the defensive MVP in the Rose Bowl.
In 2019, Ryan Day took over as head coach and White moved into a slightly different role which saw his playing time reduced. He ended up with just one start and 19 tackles.
Ahead of the 2020 season, White opted to transfer to Rutgers where he was reunited with his former defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano. Injuries limited him to just five starts but he was productive with 38 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
White was not widely expected to be drafted, but the Jets were able to pick him up as an undrafted free agent.
Now let’s take a look at what White brings to the table, divided into categories.
White posted mixed results at this pro day workout. He ran one of his 40-yard dashes in 4.62 and his vertical jump was also solid. His three-cone drill was an outstanding 6.82, which would have been the sixth fastest at any position at the 2020 scouting combine and faster than any linebacker. However, his broad jump, short shuttle and bench press were below average.
He was big for a safety in college, but the Jets will be converting him into an undersized linebacker.
While he was still in high school, White was apparently clocked at an impressive 4.54 in the 40-yard dash.
As noted, White was a safety for Ohio State and Rutgers, but the Jets are converting him into a linebacker, much as they are with draft picks Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen.
White has played in a variety of roles with plenty of reps in the box, matching up in the slot or ranging deep. In 2020, he was primarily aligned as a deep safety, but in 2019, Day used him in the “Bullet” role, which is a hybrid linebacker role.
Ironically, he transferred away from Ohio State so he could go back to being a safety only to now be in the mix for a similar role to the one he had under Day.
In high school - and even during his freshman year at Ohio State - White also saw time as a wide receiver. He also played quarterback as a high school senior.
It will obviously be a challenge for White to make the transition to linebacker, despite the fact he’s had plenty of chances to line up in the box as part of his safety role.
Nevertheless, he displays the ability to read and react to close decisively on the ball and make plays.
There was one game where the other team shifted into an unbalanced line and he adjusted his pre-snap position which meant he was too far inside to prevent a running back from breaking an outside run for a long touchdown. However, if he was to see playing time with the Jets, the hope would be that CJ Mosley - or whoever had the headset - would ensure he lined up correctly.
His instincts were sometimes lacking in downfield coverage, including on one play where his blown coverage led to an easy 46-yard touchdown. However, this is the part of his college role he won’t be required to handle any longer.
White had some good production as a run defender whether or not he was lined up in the box as his primary role. He showed a willingness to come downhill and get involved in run support even when lined up deep.
Closer to the line of scrimmage, he has displayed a good ability to navigate traffic so he can get to the football to make plays.
However, when White is confronted with a blocker he will show good physicality to try to fight them off.
White’s coverage numbers weren’t bad at Ohio State and you might have expected him to post good coverage numbers again as he moved back into a full-time safety role in Schiano’s system at Rutgers. However, it didn’t work out like that, as he got beaten for seven touchdowns, including two in each of his first three starts of the season.
On this play, he doesn’t look entirely comfortable with his backpedal and reacts late to the break so he can’t get his head turned in time.
By contrast, on this play he tries to look back at the quarterback, but loses contact with his man as a result.
He only broke up four passes but had two interceptions in his career, including this juggling effort to ice a win in his first start with Rutgers.
There was another play where he jumped a route for a potential interception but dropped it, although it rebounded right to his teammate for the interception. You’d expect him to have reliable hands and be competitive at going after the ball with his previous experience as a wideout.
As a deep safety, he keeps everything in front of him well but perhaps lacks the range to be effective in trap coverage assignments.
With the move to linebacker, he will hopefully be exposed to fewer tough matchups and his secondary experience will hopefully benefit him.
White has been a productive tackler during his college career with three games where he had at least 10 tackles. He wraps up well and brings good effort. His range and closing speed in pursuit are pretty good, but he can sometimes be inconsistent in terms of the angles he takes.
He didn’t miss many tackles at Ohio State but had seven in five games last year. Here’s a costly missed tackle that led to a touchdown.
White forced a fumble on this play last season, although it was actually the only one of his career.
White hasn’t blitzed much during his college career and only had a few pressures. He did record a sack at Ohio State but that actually came on a play where he didn’t blitz and stepped up to make the tackle when the quarterback looked to run.
White is a physical player, whose style should lend itself well to the move to linebacker. He displays this when fighting off blocks, making tackles or competing for the ball in coverage.
He had three defensive penalties in his career, including two (for defensive holding and pass interference) in Ohio State’s 2018 bowl game. His only penalty last season was for grabbing the runner’s facemask on a tackle.
Based on his film, White is a pretty good hitter, as he closes well and packing a punch on plays like this one.
White has played a variety of roles on special teams, covering kicks, blocking on return units and rushing punts.
He wasn’t exactly prolific on special teams but did have five tackles in his career. He makes a nice play here to blow up a return, though.
White was said to have been frustrated by his change in role in 2019, but never complained and brought a team-first attitude to approaching that change.
He developed into a good leader and has a solid work ethic and determination to be as good as he can.
Early on in his career, he apparently got plenty of “tough love” from Schiano, who eventually would become a father figure for him and was delighted to get to work with him again at Rutgers.
White’s 2020 season was disrupted by injuries as he missed the start of the year with an elbow injury and then aggravated it later on in the season to miss further time. Other than this, he has had pretty good luck with injuries so far in his career.
White is an interesting case. After moving into a hybrid linebacker role and seeing his playing time cut, he moved to Rutgers so he could play safety again, suggesting he perhaps didn’t enjoy being a linebacker which wouldn’t bode well for his position change with the Jets.
However, following his move to Rutgers, he really struggled - especially in coverage - although perhaps this was partly influenced by his injury.
Additionally, if you review the film from earlier in his career, it’s those plays close to the line of scrimmage where he looks good and the downfield plays where he’s often out of his depth. So, he’s always been good at linebackery-type stuff. If anything, it’s arguably a surprise he didn’t really flourish in that role with Day.
White was a teammate of fellow Jets undrafted free agent Michael Dwumfour while at Rutgers.
There probably isn’t much of an opportunity for White to earn any playing time in 2021 unless there’s a series of injuries but the team could be looking to develop someone like him for a role down the road.
The fact that two of the players ahead of him are draft picks who are also making that safety-to-linebacker transition probably doesn’t help his chances much because Sherwood and Nasirildeen are going to be fed as many reps as they can handle.
However, his film shows a player who can be a physical presence and make plays in the box, so the Jets will hope they can groom him to be a contributor too.