A few years back, I unknowingly spawned the birth of a legend when I selected LenDale White in the second round of the Pearce Fantasy League keeper draft. Between the 36 players who were kept by the 12 teams in our league, as well as the 12 players who had been taken in the first round, I was left with few options besides the Tennessee Titans’ starting running back.
Little did I know that White wasn’t exactly in the best shape of his life and was about to have his job stolen by the evil Chris Johnson. It didn’t help any that Johnson wasn’t taken until the final few rounds of the draft, after every starter and most backups were already off the board.
And so it was that I was left with LenDale.
Tennessee’s featured back initially, the erratic White kicked off the ’08 campaign by rushing for five touchdowns in the season’s first four games. To say I was pleased would be an understatement. In a typical fantasy season, my best players are usually obtained via free agency or trade. I’m more or less the George Steinbrenner of fake sports.
White kept his tremendous season going with five touchdowns in weeks seven and eight, alone. That put him at 10 scores already for the year. No easy feat through just seven contests (the Titans had a bye in week six).
But then it happened. The inevitable fall.
Between weeks eight and twelve, White disappeared from the face of the earth. In five contests, the USC product recorded just three TDs on 155 rushing yards. It didn’t help that two of those touchdowns came in a game in which White managed just 14 total yards from scrimmage (13 rushing). It was becoming painfully clear to me that White was a goal-line back and little else. A touchdown vulture at best. A short-yardage specialist at worst. And that’s when the name-calling started.
When the numbers quickly started to slide, and the exalted one (Johnson) began to emerge, I had this hunch that White would never be the same guy again. That he was on his way down, already, at the ripe old age of 23. In my mind, he was a touchdown vulture at best, and a lightly-used short-yardage specialist at worst. On any given day, you never knew what you might get with the guy. And so I tried to trade him.
My worst fears were quickly realized when it became clear that everyone else the league shared my hunch on White. Somehow, we all knew that this guy was headed downhill fast. His recent poor performances even earned him a nickname from a cruel participant in our league: Plumpy. Because he was fat, soft, and out of shape. Lendale Plumpy White.
The unflattering alias seriously mitigated White’s value, and in the end I ultimately included the bruising back as a throw-in to a separate deal. Instead of being the focal point of a trade, White became the deal-sweetener. If you can even call it that.
A strong candidate for League Pariah of the Year, White finished the 2008 season on a sour note. He averaged 33 yards per game and managed just one touchdown over the year’s final three contests. He exited his up-and-down season looking like the clear-cut backup to Johnson.
When 2009 kicked off, White was more a punch line than part of a one-two punch. The fourth-year pro had dropped nearly forty pounds in the offseason, reportedly by quitting tequila. It might have been the most unusual diet in the history of mankind. And yet for all the weight he had lost, White appeared soft, undefined, and lacking the muscle it took to absorb hits in the NFL. The stats reflected what White had become. He would muster just 222 yards rushing on the entire ’09 season, managing just two touchdowns along the way. In four seasons, White had peaked and looked to be on his way down. He would soon be out of sight, out of mind. Or so I thought.
Two days ago, on the third day of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Seahawks pulled the trigger on a trade that I never could have envisioned. They acquired White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson from the Titans for little more than an exchange of position in the draft. Swapping selection spots with Tennessee in the fourth and sixth rounds, the Hawks gave up hardly anything for the rights to a no-name DT and the enigmatic White. Even in spite of that, I was skeptical.
I feared that Pete Carroll was destined to make White the featured back in the team’s offense, a role that the 25-year-old simply did not appear to be cut out for. I feared that he would give him endless chances, perhaps stunting the growth of a guy like Justin Forsett at the same time. It just didn’t seem like a smart move.
Minutes later my fears were erased when the organization made yet another trade, this time for the Jets’ Leon Washington. Blessed with the skill set to be the lightning to White’s thunder, Washington immediately made the Seahawks’ backfield complete and formidable. In a heartbeat, we went from pretender to contender.
The reality is, in the right situation, White can be an effective playmaker. He can’t be expected to shoulder the load. He can’t be counted on as an every-down back. But he can provide a spark on the goal-line and in short-yardage. And that’s where it appears the team will use him, often in tandem with the speedback Washington.
On top of that, he needs to work on his conditioning and show the world that he can do more than just drop excess flab by dropping hard liquor. But if there’s anyone who can maximize what White is capable of in the weight room, it has to be his college coach, the guy who essentially made White’s career.
Now that he’s on our side, I’ve started to take a new approach with White. Instead of focusing on the negatives — the can’ts, the won’ts, the never-will-bes — I’ve tried to look at the positives. He could be useful. He could be special. He could be great.
But above all else, he could be more than just Plumpy. And that would be a huge step forward. For me, at least.