Jordan White doesn’t like the term “swagger.” It’s an overused word in sports today, he says.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have swagger. He just likes to call it confidence.
The NFL Draft begins a week from tonight, and White is sure he’ll hear his name called over the three days. He’s also certain he belongs with Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Stephen Hill — the top wide receivers expected to be drafted several rounds earlier.
“I’m one of the best route runners out there, one of the quickest guys for my size,” said White, a North Ridgeville graduate. “I run just as fast as I run the 40 in and out of my route. I do think I’m one of the best out there.”
The numbers support him.
White led the nation with 140 catches and 1,911 receiving yards in 2011 while scoring 17 touchdowns.
He set Mid-American Conference records for receiving yards in a career (4,187) and season (1,911) and tied with 306 catches.
He broke Western Michigan records with 265 yards on 13 catches in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Purdue, including a spectacular one-hander, and is the school’s career and season leader in receptions, receiving yards and 100-yard games.
“It’s not like he’s catching these balls against teams that aren’t very good. Look at the catches against BCS schools. Michigan couldn’t cover him,” Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said, referring to 12 catches for 119 yards against the Wolverines. “Illinois was the same way, UConn, Purdue.
“This kid produced since he’s been here. Somebody’s going to get real lucky with the kid. The other teams didn’t figure it out.”
But statistics can get overshadowed when college players turn professional. The talent evaluators of the NFL focus on other numbers: height, weight, speed, surgeries.
That’s where the draft prognosis gets cloudy for White. He’s 5-11¾, 208 pounds and ran a 4.69-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. The height is average, while the 40 time is slow for an NFL receiver.
White did better at his pro day in March, clocking 4.57 and 4.60, but was still disappointed because he had been in the high-4.4s before the season.
“I play faster than my 40 shows,” he said. “I think scouts and coaches will see that.”
Cubit dismissed the combine time.
“Guys are faster but they can’t run routes. Guys are faster but can’t catch. What good does that do?” he said. “To me it’s just about productivity. If a guy is not productive in college, how do you expect him to produce in the NFL?”
Other than the 40, White was encouraged by his experience at the combine. He looked smooth running routes and catching passes.
“Receiving is how fast you get side to side and how you run your routes. It’s a combination of everything,” White said. “I’m better than anybody in the country at that. Getting in and out of breaks, catching the ball, I excel at that. That should be looked into more than straight-line time.”
There’s that confidence — not swagger. He learned from going against Western Michigan defensive back Louis Delmas, now with the Lions, and talking to him about developing an inner trust.
“At wide receiver you have to have the attitude you’re going to win every time,” White said. “It’s something I created for myself.”
He was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to Oklahoma State’s Blackmon as the nation’s top wideout. White was also named an All-American by several services.
But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be drafted. Pro Football Weekly refers to him as a late draftable pick, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. guessed he’d go undrafted.
The knocks are short arms (31½ inches), small hands (9 1/4) and a lack of explosion, but the biggest factor against him could be the pair of torn anterior cruciate ligaments that cost him two seasons early in his career at Western. He was prodded at the combine and asked about the knees by teams, but said he passed the physical and the MRIs looked fine.
“I don’t know if it’s an issue, maybe a question,” White said. “I talked to some receivers coaches, and they don’t have a problem with it.
“I played three healthy years on them. If I did not have another problem, then they’re fine. Obviously I am healthy if I was able to put up the numbers I did last year.”
Longtime coach Jeff Riesen believes White would be the first North Ridgeville graduate to play in the NFL. White appreciates the historical significance but isn’t surprised by how close he is to realizing a dream. He began to believe he had a future in the NFL when he arrived on campus and could hold his own.
“When I got hurt, the belief kinda went away a little bit,” he said. “When I got hurt again, it kinda went away a little bit again.”
It quickly returned after he returned to the field and got over a momentary hesitation. It was spring practice 2009 and he was favoring his knee.
“I lined up for a reverse and said, ‘Lord, if you want to hurt the knee again, hurt it on this play. If not, let me keep playing,’” White said. “I was cutting on both legs and both knees. I got up after the play when I was tackled and I was fine. I haven’t thought about it again.”
And his confidence hasn’t wavered. He thinks he can play outside or in the slot and excel in any offensive system in the NFL. He visited the Chiefs and they flew to campus to work him out.
“Route running, great hands, strong hands and the guy’s a competitor,” Cubit said. “All the tape I’ve watched, he’s the best kid I’ve seen. He’s just got to overcome the perception that all of a sudden all the great players go to BCS (schools).”
White is trying to stay nonchalant when it comes to when he might be drafted and by whom. He plans to be in North Ridgeville over draft weekend with his mother, Sharon Gall, and brother and sister, and said he might not even watch the draft.
“I’m blessed to be in a situation to keep playing beyond college,” he said. “Not many people are able to say that. I’ll be OK any round a team takes me in.”
What if he doesn’t get drafted and has to make it as a free agent?
“I think it would shock me, with the production I’ve had,” he said. “Side-by-side with these big-school guys, I look just as good if not better.”
Just call it confidence.