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Draft Darlings: Despite his age, Keion White is a good player

Sometimes older draft prospects are marked down because of their age — but White is worth a look.

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NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When evaluating NFL Draft prospects for the Kansas City Chiefs, age is one of the hardest factors to weigh. Generally, getting younger players with potential outweighs acquiring older players who might be closer to their ceiling.

This is because younger players might be more able to adapt their physical frame to the NFL — and also because players often need multiple professional seasons to develop to their potential; by the time an older prospect gets there, he can already be well into (or even beyond) his physical prime.

I generally share these concerns about older prospects. One of the reasons I’m high on Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah is that he’s only 21 years old — so there’s more potential for him to grow as a player.

But I am far less concerned about the age of Georgia Tech defensive end Keion White.

Here’s what you need to know about this player — who will be 25 when the season begins:

Background

White arguably has my favorite background for any prospect in this class. Coming out of Garner High School in North Carolina, he was a two-star tight end recruit who decided on Old Dominion, where he spent two seasons in that position. In 2019, however, he switched to defensive end, where he made second-team All-Conference USA.

After the conference canceled its 2020 schedule due to the COVID pandemic, White entered the transfer portal, ultimately landing at Georgia Tech. He didn’t play much in 2021 because of an injury — but in 2022, White collected 41 pressures, seven sacks and four quarterback hits, earning third-team All-ACC honors.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, White checked in at a staggering 6 feet 5 and 285 pounds — with 34-inch arms. In Indianapolis, he posted a 34-inch vertical jump (60th percentile) and a 9-foot-9 broad jump (57th). White ran at his pro pay, registering a 4.79-second 40-yard dash with a 1.69 10-yard split.

Film review

Throughout this draft cycle, I’ve been annoyed by how analysts have talked about White. Yes... he’s an older prospect — but he’s primarily been described as some big, slow and stiff athlete.

Frankly, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

White’s build is very impressive. He had to gain a lot of weight to play defensive end — and he carries it well. The foundation of his game comes from his long arms and great strength, which he can use to crush pockets with a long arm or a bull rush. White can also can use his length to access pull moves (like rip moves) to beat leaning tackles. For a guy with so little inexperience at the position, White knows how to utilize his physical tools.

Another area where White is underrated is his flexibility. While he’s not a traditional bender, he is a very flexible athlete for his size. At Georgia Tech, he was able to unlock the corner in a way that isn’t common for guys of his stature.

White has the upper-body mobility to dip his shoulder underneath a tackle and run around the corner. He can’t dip his hips quite as well as we’d like to see, but the pacing and balance of his steps are just incredible — allowing him to use longer strides to turn corners — while his long arms reduce the area he needs to make the turns.

That balance also shows when he plays inside. There are multiple reps where White gets completely underneath guards and rips through their shoulders. That’s something a player his size shouldn’t be able to do — but White apparently didn’t get that memo.

White is also able to spin very well — another upside from his good balance. While his frame might keep him from winning around a shorter corner, he has the balance and flexibility to unlock a longer corner — and the closing speed to finish a speed rush.

As a run defender, White is incredible for a guy his age. At Georgia Tech, he routinely took on double teams on the inside. His hand placement, extension and pad level are all terrific. On Day 1, he should be a positive run defender on any defense.

How he fits with the Chiefs

White’s tape is going to stand out to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. His length, run defense and inside-out versatility all fit what the Chiefs like — and he would be able to make an instant contribution to the Kansas City defense. He still needs seasoning with some of his pass-rushing moves, but defensive line coach Joe Cullen could unlock some inside counters that would fill his pass-rushing toolbox.

The bottom line

There’s been a lot of talk about White being a first-round option for the Chiefs. Even though I’m higher on him than most, I don’t see him as a first-round player; he still needs a lot of development.

But while White is an older player, he’s a much better prospect than Breeland Speaks, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Carlos Basham or Dayo Odeyingbo ever were. All those guys came to the league with similar builds — but White is a significantly better athlete; he has way more upside to unlock than any of them.

So if White is Kansas City’s first-round pick, I’d be underwhelmed. But if he’s the team’s second-round pick, I’m throwing a parade. I believe in White — and I would love for him to be one of the team’s Day 2 picks.

Grade: Round 3

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