Buccaneers' GM Jason Licht says Rachaad White 'close to being an elite running back'

Entering his third season in the NFL, White is set to enjoy a career-year and may join the ranks as an elite dual-threat running back under new offensive coordinator Liam Coen

Nic Antaya/GettyImages

Highlighted by winning their third straight NFC South division title and advancing to the NFC Divisional round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the most improved teams in the league.

Led by Baker Mayfield and the dynamic wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the Bucs' offense took a healthy step forward, averaging 20.5 points and 313 yards per game. For his part, Mayfield ranked in the top ten for passing touchdowns (7th), passing yards (9th), and completions (10th), while Evans and Godwin amassed 1,200 and 1,000 yards for the year.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense continued to be an anchor and key point when Mayfield and the offense weren't playing well. Collectively, the Buccaneers' defense allowed just 19.1 points and 344.2 yards per contest, with the former ranking seventh in the NFL. Ranging from the all-around play of 2024 All-Pro First Team selection Antoine Winfield to the rookie breakout of outside linebacker Yaya Diaby, Tampa Bay's defense was filled with stars that impacted the game in a variety of ways.

It's worth noting, however, that the Buccaneers' rushing attack was excluded, and for good reason. Tampa Bay averaged a league-worst 88.8 rushing yards per game on 422 attempts, equating to a putrid 3.8 yards per carry mark, also the worst in the NFL.

Even so, the Buccaneers still utilized the dual-threat ability and skillset of running back Rachaad White this year. In his first season as the Buccaneers' RB1, White recorded 272 carries for 990 rushing yards, six touchdowns, and 3.6 yards per attempt, all career-highs.

In addition, White was Mayfield's top-receiving option out of the backfield and played a major role in Tampa Bay's passing attack. This season, White caught 64 of his 70 targets for 549 receiving yards, three touchdowns and 8.6 yards per catch, all ranking as top-four marks on the team. From scrimmage, White totaled 336 touches for 1,539 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns.

Jason Licht has high praise for Rachaad White after breakout season

Under offensive coordinator Dave Canales, White was utilized heavily in duo and mid-zone principles for running the ball. as a pass catcher, Canales used White on screens, sweeps and out-of-empty packages to complement the play-action game. In every role White was used in, the former third-round pick thrived in this season.

Needless to say, the man who brought White to Tampa Bay is pleased with what he's seeing.

"I think he's pretty close to being an elite receiving back and he's made a lot of improvements in running the ball, too, towards the end of the year," said Jason Licht, Tampa Bay's general manager. "You have to keep in mind [that] he's still young, second year. He's doing a lot of great things. He's one of our better players and we are excited about him."

The prototype of a dual-threat running back has grown exponentially in recent years, with White being the latest example. Ranging from Los Angeles' Austin Ekeler, Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor and Cleveland's Nick Chubb, the top running backs in the NFL are able to thrive on the ground and through the air.

The best example of a dual-threat running back is San Fransisco's Christain McCaffery, who was named the NFL's AP Offensive Player of the Year after a phenomenal 2023 season. Starting in 16 games, McCaffery finished the season with 272 carries for 1,459 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 5.4 yards per carry, while catching 67 passes for 564 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

While White may never reach the level of excellence McCaffery has sustained in the NFL, a third-year breakout for White may be in the cards with the departure of Canales and the hiring of Liam Coen as the Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator.

"The marriage of the run and the pass is what we're striving for," Coen said in his introductory press conference. "We're striving for balance, but to be explosive in both the run and the pass. That's something that I honestly take a lot of pride in. I learned a lot from Sean [McVay] in terms of the run game when I first got to L.A. We understood and tried to study defense more than we tried to study ourselves – how to understand gap integrity, fits, fallbacks and things of that nature to try to be able to dissect the defense."

Although it remains to be seen whether or not White remains the Buccaneers' RB1 for the upcoming season, White is a great fit for Coen's new offensive system. The new system will need to begin with fixing Tampa Bay's rushing attack.

More Tampa Bay Buccaneers news and rumors