A couple times a month during the glacial off-season, The Falcoholic will take a look at draft picks who either boomed or busted in Atlanta. Today, it's a boom!
Sharod White was not the first choice of Falcons fans in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, not with scouting reports out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham that indicated that he was a project. After the Peerless Price fiasco, you could forgive fans for wanting a polished product.
Now it's difficult to imagine the Falcons without Roddy White. In many ways, he's become the face of this franchise, a guy who rose out of initial mediocrity to become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL today. His transformation into an elite option has been nothing short of remarkable, but with the advantage of hindsight, we can see signs that White was about to bust out even during his mostly dismal 2005 and 2006 campaigns.
Retrospective time, after the jump.
It's funny to look at some of those scouting reports now, especially the eerily prescient one from Football Futures:
White has an impressive package of skills, but he has work to do. Whoever drafts him will need to show some patience and allow him to fully develop before expecting big things out of him. If given proper coaching and time, White has a lot of upside at the next level.
At the time of his drafting, White was viewed as a mild reach, a guy who might slip into the bottom of the first round but was a better fit as a project in the second round. The Falcons saw something special in him, something that scouts saw but thought would have to be extracted over time.
It didn't take White long to make an impact at the next level, and he started eight games in 2005. He showed promise as a deep threat, flashing above average wheels on his way to 29 receptions, 446 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also displayed troubling bouts of inconsistency, dropping passes and running lackadaisical routes in between some fantastic games, mostly against the Buccaneers.
In 2006, White has his deepiest (?) deep threat year, averaging 16.9 yards per catch while reeling in 30 passes for 506 yards. He once again struggled with drops and didn't catch a single touchdown, however, making it arguably his worst year in the NFL. After showing some promise in his rookie season, many league observers were not impressed by Roddy in 2006. It was at this time that I, fledgling blogger that I was, nicknamed White "Dropsy" for his seeming inability to reel in easy passes.
Everything changed in 2007. With Mike Vick gone and under a new coach, Roddy has said he found a new well of motivation inside himself and under the tutelage of Joe Horn, and he blew up. Reeling in 86 catches for 1,202 yards and 6 touchdowns, White made himself into the top option in the passing game for Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman, becoming a bright spot in an otherwise truly terrible year for the Falcons.
He hasn't let up since, averaging almost 90 catches from 2008-2010 to go with about 1,250 yards and 9 touchdowns. He's been to the Pro Bowl all three seasons and was selected to be an All-Pro in 2010, along with the best wide receiver in the league according to NFL Alumni. It's a remarkable stretch, and if White can keep it up for a while longer, he'll be within striking distance of the Hall of Fame.
Did the Falcons expect this when they drafted him? There's little doubt they thought they were getting a terrific young wide receiver with the potential to be a #1 option someday, and there's little doubt that they need they had a project on their hands. With the advantage of time and the wisdom that a few years out of college brings, I might have seen White as the kind of project worth investing in, but I was too mired in the Falcons' perpetual mediocrity to be anything but exasperated with the drops and lack of consistency.
The talent was there from the start. It's evidence that any player with a reputation for not fully capitalizing on the gifts the Football Gods gave them can do so if the light bulb comes on, so it's fair for we as fans to bear that in mind. Meanwhile, Roddy White will continue to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
We're lucky the 2005 brain trust had the foresight to roll the dice on him.