Let’s get to know the New York Jets’ new starting quarterback. What is Mike White good at? What does he struggle with?
The keys to the Ferrari now lie in the hands of Mike White.
White will take over a 6-4 New York Jets team that is attempting to garner the franchise’s first playoff berth in 12 years. With only three career starts under his belt, the 27-year-old Western Kentucky product will do his best to maximize a roster that has looked tremendous outside of the quarterback position.
Despite being a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys all the way back in 2018, White’s only regular season action came with the Jets in 2021, when he played in four games and started three. White dropped back to throw on 149 plays across those four games.
While that is a fairly small sample to evaluate a quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s all we’ve got right now, so we will do our best to learn what we can about White from his short stint as the Jets’ signal caller in 2021.
Here is everything you need to know about what White showcased last year. What kind of quarterback is he? Where can he provide an upgrade over Zach Wilson? Where does he struggle?
Quick release time
One area where White will definitely provide an upgrade over Zach Wilson is his release time. White is effective at making quick decisions and getting the ball out in a hurry. This will be a welcomed change of pace for New York in comparison to Wilson, who has a damaging tendency to hold the ball too long.
White averaged 2.52 seconds from snap to throw last season. That ranked fifth-fastest out of 44 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson, on the other hand, is averaging 3.09 seconds this season, ranking as the fourth-highest time out of 38 qualifiers.
The king of checkdowns
Going hand-in-hand with White’s quick-passing mentality is his love for throwing the ball short. Do not expect White to challenge teams down the field. His goal is to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and let them go to work.
White had an aDOT (average depth of target) of 6.4 yards in 2021, ranking second-lowest out of 44 qualifiers. This means his average pass attempt traveled approximately six yards past the line of scrimmage.
Colt McCoy was the only qualified QB with a lower aDOT than White last year.
The following table showcases the distribution of White’s passes in 2021. As you can see, his favorite targets were players who live in the underneath range. Running back Michael Carter had the most targets and receptions from White by a wide margin. Fellow running back Ty Johnson followed Carter in second place in targets and receptions while slot receiver Jamison Crowder tied Johnson in both categories.
White threw 36% of his passes to running backs, which is a startling percentage. Wilson has only thrown 19% of his passes to running backs this season.
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Despite not having nearly the same level of athleticism that Wilson has, White is actually much better than Wilson at avoiding sacks. Sure, White will not be able to dodge some of the near-sacks that Wilson can miraculously avoid, but White’s strength is preventing those near-sacks from even happening in the first place.
It’s all a product of his quick passing. Thanks to his ability to get the ball out quickly, White is excellent at keeping the sacks to a minimum.
White only got sacked four times last year, a minuscule amount in comparison to his 132 pass attempts. His 2.9% sack rate was the lowest among qualified quarterbacks.
Wilson absorbs sacks more than three times as frequently, owning a 9.5% sack rate in his career. He’s been sacked 60 times against 572 pass attempts. Wilson has pulled his sack rate down to 7.8% in 2022 after posting a 10.3% rate as a rookie, but that’s still not very good. His 7.8% sack rate is tied for the 13th-highest out of 35 qualified quarterbacks this season.
White is much better than Wilson at disallowing pressure from being converted into sacks. White was sacked on only 8.6% of his pressured dropbacks last season, which was the best rate of any qualified quarterback.
This isn’t necessarily because of his wizardlike movement skills. It’s because he has a good feel for the pressure and doesn’t panic. He knows what his best option is to get rid of the ball – whether it’s a checkdown, quick throw, hot read, or throwaway – and he accesses it immediately rather than trying to make defenders miss.
Despite all of the impressive sack-dodging moves we have seen from him, Wilson actually isn’t great at preventing his pressured dropbacks from becoming sacks. Wilson has been sacked on 19.8% of his pressured dropbacks this year. That ranks 19th-lowest out of 35 qualifiers, placing him in the middle of the pack. This is due to the mental side of his game. Physically, he is as good as anyone at making people miss, but mentally, his hesitancy and slow decision-making lead to a lot of sacks that wouldn’t happen for other quarterbacks.
Look for the Jets’ sack numbers to dwindle over the next few weeks. It won’t be because the offensive line is magically playing better. It will be because of the quarterback play.
Hitting the freebies
Another area where White will provide a much-needed upgrade is the easy-throw department. White botches the freebies less often than the average quarterback and thus can be trusted to execute the simple stuff on a consistent basis. As Jets fans are well aware, that cannot be said about Wilson.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, White had a completion percentage of 84.3% when targeting a player that had 3+ yards of separation from the nearest defender. That ranked 18th-best out of 44 qualified quarterbacks and was above the league average of 83.2% on such throws.
These throws were White’s bread-and-butter. White went 59-of-70 for 684 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception when targeting a player with 3+ yards of separation. On these passes, White ranked fifth in yards per attempt (9.8), ninth in passer rating (115.7), and 19th in Expected Points Added per dropback (0.35).
Wilson has been the NFL’s least accurate passer in this category in back-to-back seasons. He placed last with a 71.2% mark as a rookie, and though he’s pushed that number up to 73.9% in 2022, it is still the worst mark among 34 qualifiers.
Look for White to ensure that the Jets’ screens and checkdowns can operate as intended without being hindered by missed layups. White had an adjusted completion percentage of 100% on passes behind the line of scrimmage, going 18-for-20 with two drops.
Wilson misses far too many throws behind the LOS. As a rookie, he placed 41st out of 42 qualifiers with an 86.0% adjusted completion percentage behind the LOS, going 45-of-57 with four drops. This year, he is last out of 40 qualifiers at 86.2%, going 25-of-29 with no drops.
Not capable of making tight-window throws on a frequent basis
White’s film does include a handful of dimes, including an incredible dart to Braxton Berrios for a touchdown against Cincinnati. Those throws are outliers, though. Overall, White is very limited when it comes to making tight-window throws.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, when throwing to a target with less than one yard of separation from the nearest defender, White went 4-of-16 for 30 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. White ranked last out of 44 qualifiers with -1.50 EPA per dropback on these throws, while he ranked fifth-worst in passer rating (20.8) and fifth-worst in completion percentage (25.0%).
Wilson is better in this department, although he still isn’t as excellent as his talent suggests he should be. This season, Wilson is 8-of-26 (30.8%) on such throws for 102 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. Out of 38 qualifiers, he ranks 26th in completion percentage, 19th in passer rating (56.9), and 23rd in EPA per dropback (-0.35).
White’s appeal as a thrower is that he can deliver the easy throws at a high level of consistency, which helps keep the offense on schedule and operate its concepts as intended. Do not expect him to make many “special” throws that exceed the expectations of the situation. His arm talent isn’t anything to write home about.
With this in mind, you have to think that White will only go as far as the supporting cast takes him. If he is presented with favorable opportunities, he will not waste them. But if the Jets need him to step up and make big-time plays to overcome the struggles of his supporting cast, it’s probably not going to happen.
Based on the quality we’ve seen from the Jets’ supporting cast this season, you have to think that White will be presented with favorable opportunities more often than not. There have not been many games where the Jets failed to adequately support their quarterback and needed him to carry the team with big-time plays for them to win.
For the most part, the Jets have been getting receivers open on a frequent basis for Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco all season. The offensive line has held up decently enough in pass protection for most of those open receivers to be hit. The defense is playing so well that the offense only has to be competent for the Jets to win handily.
Wilson and Flacco just weren’t good enough at capitalizing on those easy opportunities. The Jets hope that White will convert on a much higher percentage of the easy plays.
Better without play action than with it
White had a strangely large disparity in his passing numbers based on whether he used play action or not. When he did not use a play fake, White was great. When he did, White struggled.
When using play action, White went 11-of-19 for 108 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Out of 44 qualifiers, White ranked last in passer rating (34.3) and second-worst in EPA per dropback (-0.89) when using play action.
But when not using play action, White produced good results (outside of the INTs still being a little too frequent). White went 77-of-113 for 845 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He ranked 7th in yards per attempt (7.5) and 13th in EPA per dropback (0.04).
Very little deep passing ability
White does not have a great arm and he seems to know it. He rarely bothers to challenge teams deep.
White only threw 9 passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. That made up 6.8% of his pass attempts, which tied Andy Dalton for the second-lowest rate out of 44 qualified quarterbacks. Only Daniel Jones (6.6%) went deep less frequently.
On the positive side, White actually completed 4-of-9 deep passes, giving him an adjusted completion percentage of 44.4% that ranked 15th-best. It’s too small of a sample size to glean anything from, though. And we have to note that one of those completions was a touchdown pass to an uncovered Elijah Moore in Indianapolis.
White also threw 2 interceptions on those 9 deep passes, which is alarming. That brings us to our next point: the number one concern with White’s game.
Way too many interceptions for a game manager
The primary area where White must improve is the interception department. White threw 8 interceptions on just 132 passes last season. That gave him an interception rate of 6.1%, the worst among 44 qualifiers.
For a game-manging quarterback with an extremely short aDOT, an interception rate of that magnitude is completely unacceptable. Protecting the football is supposed to be one of the main perks of White’s play style. If you’re not taking risks down the field and you’re still throwing a ton of picks, it will be hard to lead a productive offense.
White specifically needs to be better at protecting the ball from a clean pocket. He threw 5 of his 8 interceptions on plays where he was not pressured. His 5.5% interception rate from a clean pocket was the league’s worst mark.
If White keeps throwing interceptions at the frequency he threw them last year, his stint in the starting lineup is going to be a short one. White must get his interception rate down to around 2.0% for the Jets to truly benefit from the way he plays the game.
The absolute maximum the Jets can handle from White is probably around 3.0%, and he’d have to be really good outside of the picks to overcome a rate that high. For perspective, Wilson is at 2.6% this season and was at 2.9% as a rookie. The NFL average this year is 2.2%.
Zero running ability
White brings absolutely nothing as a runner until proven otherwise. He finished 2021 with 5 rushes for -1 yards. His resume as a runner includes two successful QB sneaks and a trio of QB kneels. Out of the 44 quarterbacks to drop back at least 100 times, White was the only one who never scrambled even once. Everyone else scrambled at least three times.
Despite the lack of rushing ability, White isn’t a complete statue. He showed last season that he has some pocket maneuverability, and he looked smooth when asked to run bootlegs or rollouts.
Still, let’s just call it like it is. The Jets are going to experience a downgrade in athleticism at quarterback. Physical traits are not the calling card of White’s game. All of his best traits lie between the ears – and you know what? That’s exactly what the Jets need right now.