Could Javin White be setup any better as a player of interest to Raiders fans and any local media in 2020? He’s managed to lock in two cities as his “hometown” affiliation after all: Oakland and Las Vegas. And now he’s in Raiders training camp, working with the belief that whenever the next real football game is, he’ll be wearing silver and black and putting his “against all odds” journey into the next phase.
But a week into camp head coach Jon Gruden sounds more than just impressed with White as a Hard Knocks-style longshot to monitor.
“We are really happy with (Nick) Kwiatkoski and (Cory) Littleton, and there’s a young kid out of Las Vegas, Nevada, a young undrafted free agent, Javin White, who is doing some good things as well,” Gruden said Thursday.
Perhaps the most important mission to Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock was to re-do the linebacking corps and to return next season with new starters at those positions who’d give optimism where there was once none. Cory Littleton was the most expensive signing of the offseason for Las Vegas and Nick Kwiatkoski is expected to be the vocal leader on defense, but White has now emerged as a player who could challenge an NFL veteran for one of the few roster spots on the depth chart behind those two.
Who is he?
Even undrafted free agents often have extensive histories known about them, but White managed to practically obliterate the radar as a high school football prospect. As a junior, White, then a wide receiver, transferred from Fairfield to McClymonds High in Oakland so that he could get a better shot at playing in college. McClymonds’ High football coach Michael Peters had mentored one player who’d made it to the league before, his son Marcus.
Similar to Marcus Peters, coach Michael had viewed White’s best shot to get to the NFL as a defensive back.
“We’re a small school here in Oakland, so most of our kids play both ways, so we turned him into a free safety,” Peters said. “At first he was like, ‘Coach, I’m a wide receiver,’ but then he started playing the game and he was aggressive. We had a great season with him.”
More than anything, White wanted to compete, and he brought energy every practice and during every game. It’s rare to see a teenager harp on their friends for not taking things seriously, but when White’s teammates would slack off, he took it upon himself to be vocal.
“He came in being a leader, and he’d get on the guys when they’d loaf in, and he’s real talkative on the field,” Peters recalled. “He’s a great leader, so like I said, he’s competitive and didn’t want anyone to outshine him. He’s going to put in the extra work. He’d always stay late after practice, all that kind of stuff; whether it was running routes, or backpedaling when we changed his position.”
Peters expanded on how impressed he was with White to The Mercury News:
“He pushed everybody. He pushed his teammates, he pushed the coaches, and every time he’d come off the field he’d come back and say, ‘Coach, I saw this, I saw that.’”
So what kind of a prospect do you have when a kid transfers to a small school in Oakland, moves positions, and doesn’t have a strong track record anywhere to pitch to colleges? Maybe in the case of White you just had a guy whose been great at selling himself but he wasn’t showing up on any “top-XXX” lists for 2015 recruits.
White has no stars at 247 Sports. He is listed as a three-star receiver at Rivals, with offers from UNLV, New Mexico and New Mexico State. In one video posted at Rivals, you can watch White at something called “RCS NorCal” in 2014 and he’s basically running routes against corner after corner — and often winning. (Some in-game high school clips can be found at MaxPreps.) That wasn’t enough to carry him into being a college receiver, but in January of 2015 he committed to play for new head coach Tony Sanchez at UNLV.
And soon enough he’d start his career as a defensive do-anything.
White redshirted in 2015 and basically only helped on special teams in year two, but finally got onto the field as a defensive back in 2017.
As a linebacker and defensive back, White had 42 tackles, three for a loss, and two interceptions that season. In his first action against a major college program, White intercepted Ohio State quarterback and future first round pick Dwayne Haskins, returning it 65 yards. He later forced Buckeyes receiver Rashod Berry to fumble at the one-yard line. UNLV may have lost 54-21 because they were outmatched at virtually every position, but white was playing against future pros and had a future pro kind of day.
(If only he had a kind pro day in his future.)
White started the final five games that season, recording 26 tackles, one for a loss, and adding one more interception.
Entering 2018 as a starting SAM linebacker, he had four tackles and a pass defensed in a Week 1 loss to USC. He added his third career interception in Week 2 against UTEP, then started adding tackles and forced fumbles to his resume. Entering the season finale against Nevada, he had four forced fumbles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and four passes defensed.
Trailing 23-0 early in the second quarter, White was one of the main catalysts towards a 34-29 comeback win for the Wolfpack as he intercepted quarterback Ty Gangi twice that day. White was all setup for a banner senior season in 2019, should all go right.
He entered last season on the Butkus Award Preseason Watch List and was seen as one of the best defensive players in his conference. And he’s doing it at a program that has failed to produce an NFL draftee since center Joe Hawley in 2010 and that has never produced a first round pick.
Playing for one of the least-winning college football programs in the country, White made the most out of his four years as a contributor there. Consider that even though the Rebels’ win totals were 4, 5, 4, and 4, UNLV had only won more than two games three times between 2004 and 2014.
As a senior, White had career-highs in tackles (79), tackles for a loss (8.5) and passes defensed (10), while intercepting three more passes to bring his career total to nine in three years. He also added his sixth career forced fumble. The Rebels got their first ever road win over an SEC team, but it was Vanderbilt. And it is hard to convince NFL teams to draft you if your most recent game against a major college was over three years ago and then you don’t get an invite to the combine in a year with virtually no pro days.
But some virtual pro days.
White was named to UNLV’s All-Decade Team as a linebacker, but also played safety and cornerback. Former UNLV defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tim Skipper doesn’t doubt his ability to cover any skill player.
“He’s a long body guy that will be really, really good covering receivers, running backs and tight ends,” Skipper said. “He can handle all three levels of that. He was listed as a linebacker at UNLV, but we actually lined him up at corner sometimes.
“He’s very intelligent, so I’m sure he stuck out that way as far as knowledge and knowing the defense. Coach Gruden is probably surprised by that.”
White was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but not the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine. When coronavirus began to cancel most of everything in March, so too did pro days became a temporary thing of the past. White adapted — naturally — to what he could do rather than waste time worrying about what he couldn’t and posted a video of his measurements and workouts.
According to White, he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at 6’2, 218 pounds, with a 40-inch vertical.
His most similar comps at the combine then would be Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn (6’3, 221 pounds, 4.45), who went in the second round to the Panthers, or Tanner Muse (6’2, 227 pounds, 4.41), who the Raiders drafted in round three. Another second round pick, Kyle Duggar, was listed at 6’1, 217 pounds, and ran a 4.49, enough to convince Bill Belichick to draft him for the Patriots.
White was confident he’d be drafted, even if it was on day three.
“I know I’m going to get drafted,” White said. “It doesn’t matter if I go from the fourth round to the seventh round. I know after a while certain teams are going to be interested to see what I can do. They’re not going to want another team to have me, so they’re not going to take that risk of trying to get me in free agency.”
But his virtual pro day wasn’t enough to get his name called during the virtual draft and White was faced with the virtual reality of maybe not signing anywhere. But Las Vegas was apparently “blowing him up” throughout the draft and he chose them over the also-interested Dallas Cowboys. And his confidence hasn’t waned.
“I still have to make the team officially, and I know for a fact that I’m going to make the team off my ability and my confidence in myself, and I’m just glad to be a Raider,” White expressed with confidence.
One person who wouldn’t have let White get to choose any team he wanted would’ve been NFL Draft Bible’s Ric Serritella, who had him as a top-100 player.
The most disrespected #NFLDraft prospect. UNLV DB Javin White is a strong candidate. Spoke to several scouts at NFLPA Bowl, some liked him as safety, some at linebacker, one at cornerback. Possesses impressive combination of size/speed/strength/versatility. Top 100 player for me. pic.twitter.com/Ag2hJOKXJb— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) April 16, 2020
“White is one of the most capable prospects at playing multiple positions on defense. He was one of the most popular requests amongst NFL team interviews and played much of the week at safety, despite starting at SAM back the past two seasons ... natural in zone coverage,” says Serritella.
Officially getting the call that Las Vegas wanted him to play linebacker, not safety, White told media he’d need to add weight. But hopefully not too much that it slows him down, as his ability to keep up with tight ends, running backs and receivers could be vital in regards to the length of his career. Undrafted free agents make up a large chunk of this league but they’re also just a large chunk of this world.
There’s a better than 99-percent chance that everyone reading this is a former or future undrafted free agent. You just didn’t sign with anybody.
White did but his latest adaptation challenge goes well beyond doing his own pro day. He now must beat out 27-some-odd players to make the Raiders final 53-man roster for the 2020 season. Is that likely?
Last season, Jon Gruden only kept four linebackers headed into Week 1: Tahir Whitehead, Vontaze Burfict, Nicholas Morrow, and Marquel Lee. The good news for White is that Whitehead, Burfict, and Lee are all out of the picture. Morrow, a 2017 undrafted free agent who made 73 tackles for the Raiders last season, doesn’t appear to be a roadblock to what White was likely brought in to do.
Those come in the form of Littleton, Kwiatkoski, and the aforementioned Muse, who is many of the things that White is, but with a day two draft pick attached to his name that all but guarantees his presence in Las Vegas in September. Those three linebackers are likely in, but there’s also eight-year veteran Kyle Wilber, former LA Rams linebacker Bryce Hager, plus Justin Phillips, Nick Usher, and Morrow.
Even at safety there is considerable veteran depth past starters Johnathan Abram and Damarious Randall, including Jeff Heath, Erik Harris, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner should he move back to that position; Gruden did keep six safeties at the start of last season.
As either linebacker or safety, White needs to convince coaches to put him on the field for the same reasons that UNLV gave him game action during his redshirt freshman season: on special teams. His versatility to backup both Kwiatkowski and Randall could be enough for Gruden’s staff to like him as one of the last pieces on the roster. Or maybe only enough to make the practice squad this time.
But White doesn’t come off as at all phased by the challenge.
“I look forward to being a guy that proves people wrong,” White said in a phone interview. “Coach Gruden likes people that like nightmares. I embrace being a nightmare. I feel like I’m a nightmare myself.”
Asked to elaborate, White shifted in to high gear.
“I think I’m a nightmare for offensive coordinators, to be honest with you,” White said. “I’m a run-stuffer. I can cover tight ends, I can cover running backs. I can do anything. You can’t pick a matchup you really want to see when I’m in the box.”
Should he do that, Raiders fans in any city would be willing to say he’s definitely at home.