This is the second in a series on 10 key questions facing the Buffalo Bills entering training camp. Read the rest of the questions here.
Sean McDermott has seen it before.
A rookie comes into the NFL and finds immediate success. And then …
“The relaxation syndrome hits them a little bit in the offseason in particular between their freshman and sophomore years,” the Buffalo Bills’ coach said.
In the case of Tre’Davious White – the Bills’ first-round pick in 2017 – it’s been “just the opposite,” according to McDermott.
“To his credit, he’s prepared himself,” McDermott said. “The way he came back – he was in shape when he came back to camp this spring. He’s just picked up, really, where he left off in January. Not only what he’s done on the field, but what he’s done off the field. So I’ve been very pleased with the work he’s put in to this point. Still a lot of work to do, but he’s moving in the right direction.”
If White needed any more motivation to go from being good as a rookie to great as a second-year pro, he got it this offseason – straight from the league. Back in May, the NFL’s official Twitter account posted a countdown of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league. White’s name was nowhere to be found.
“Story of my life,” he responded on Twitter, complete with the shrug emoji.
The very next day, the league posted a top 10 list of second-year players. Again, White’s name was noticeably absent.
“Wait Huh? I’m So Confused,” White wrote in response, complete with puzzled emoji.
“This is the thing about that – it’s been like that my whole life,” White told The Buffalo News last month in response to the snubs. “I was underrated as a high school prospect. I was underrated as an NFL Draft prospect. I don’t want it any other way. It just motivates me so much more.”
It’s perhaps forgivable that White didn’t make the list of top 10 cornerbacks, since a case can be made that he needs to string a few more seasons together like he had in 2017 to qualify. But it’s much harder to buy that he’s not one of the 10 best second-year players in the NFL. White’s numbers – 16 starts, 69 tackles, 18 passes defensed, four interceptions and one forced fumble – nearly equaled or exceeded the two cornerbacks who did make the list, New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore and Tennessee’s Adoree’ Jackson.
Maybe there’s a small-market bias in play. People in Buffalo know how good White was as a rookie, but the Bills rarely move the needle nationally. The most attention White got last year came from being on the receiving end of a vicious late hit by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“I just have to be patient. Great things come to those who wait,” White said of taking his place among the top cornerbacks in the NFL. “I had the potential to make a lot of money after my junior year at LSU, but I wanted to stay back and work on myself, so I could mature as a player and as a person.”
That decision worked out perfectly – for the Bills and White. He finished as the runner-up to Lattimore for the Associated Press’ Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and looks like he’ll be a cornerstone in the secondary for years to come.
The Bills’ last Pro Bowler at cornerback was Nate Clements in 2004 (Terrence McGee also made it that year as a kick returner). It’s a good bet that White will one day soon end that drought, but he’s got his sights set much higher. During an April interview in his hometown of Shreveport, La., White said his goal now is to one day earn the gold jacket that comes with being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“My individual goals will come with the team's success,” he said. “I love being a Buffalo Bill. The way that coach McDermott came in and demanded excellence and brought in guys who are going to fit his scheme and fit the way he wants to do things. Now that we've laid that foundation of going to the playoffs, we're not going to catch anybody by surprise this year. We're going to have to work that much harder to be a better team.
“I feel like we have a great core of guys that believe in the scheme and believe in the way we do things. This year is going to be a special season for us as a whole.”