The San Francisco 49ers have had great success with undrafted free-agent signings in recent years, striking gold with the likes of Alex Boone, Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Tramaine Brock. And, if the early indications from minicamp are anything to go by, they could be set to do so again with wide receiver DeAndrew White.
San Francisco signed White after the draft following his four-year college career with Alabama, and he is already causing a stir with his performances in practices for the Niners. Indeed, Taylor Price of the 49ers' official website named him as one of the five standouts from minicamp after not dropping a single pass and delivering two standout plays on the final day of camp.
In a hurry-up, red-zone period, White ran down the left side of the field to haul in a touchdown pass from Gabbert. The rookie had no time to celebrate though. Once he landed in the end zone with the Ball, White had to get back on the ball to run another play. Making matters even more challenging was that White had to motion across to the right side of the formation and line up wide on the boundary. Once he was ready for the snap, White ran a skinny post and was targeted again in the back of the end zone. Spoiler alert: White caught the ball with ease and tapped both feet inbounds to complete the back-to-back touchdown sequence.
Of course, it has long been accepted that you do not learn whether a player can make the step up to the NFL until he puts the pads on in training camp and the preseason, meaning the 49ers will not start to get a full impression of White until late July or early August. But what can we gauge from his stellar performances in the early part of San Francisco's offseason program?
Wide receivers coach Ronald Curry has been quick to temper expectations surrounding White, insisting, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation, that he still has a long way to go. Yet San Francisco fans can have reason to be excited about a player with an all-round skill set and well-suited to making the jump to the next level.
Amari Cooper overshadowed White in his time with the Crimson Tide, but as NFL.com's Lance Zierlein pointed out, White possesses a number of qualities needed for a receiver to be a success in pros. He is an excellent mover in space who accelerates off the line of scrimmage and into his routes and has displayed the athletic ability to make yards after the catch.
The main knock on White is his injury history. A knee injury ended his 2012 season prematurely, and he also suffered a fractured toe, separated shoulder and pulled hamstring during his time with Alabama. White's injuries, coupled with the presence of Cooper, limited his production, with his best year coming in 2013 as he put up 534 yards on 32 catches with four touchdowns.
Despite his fitness problems, White has a predictable but big-name supporter in Nick Saban, who was effusive in his praise of White prior to the draft, per AL.com's Matt Zenitz.
I think DeAndrew White is probably a guy that I would, if you said, 'Who would be most underappreciated by the NFL?' because he has a lot more ability than what his production maybe has been here, whether it's because of injuries or whatever that he's battled through. He's got great speed. He's got great size. He's a great special teams player. He's been a great special teams player for us.
If you're not a No. 1 or 2 receiver on a team, you're going to have to play special teams. I think he's going to be a real value for somebody, who's going to get a guy who has great ability but probably could develop into something special.
With a plethora of wide receivers competing for limited spots on the roster, special teams could be White's best hope of making the team. He has experience as a kick returner and a special teams gunner, and the speed to fulfill both roles, which may well be valued by a team that parted company with special teams contributors such as Bubba Ventrone and Kassim Osgood during the offseason.
At his pro day White professed his love of playing special teams, per 247Sports' Charlie Potter, and with DeAndre Smelter—whom the Niners drafted in the fourth round—a likely redshirt candidate following an ACL injury at Georgia Tech, there is certainly an opportunity for him to take a place on a receiving depth chart that features no standout names beyond starters Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Jerome Simpson are seen as the main three competitors for snaps behind Smith and Boldin.
Ellington impressed in bursts last year and figures to be given a chance to build on that, and Patton should be looking to prove that the flashes of talent he showed in the 2013 postseason were no fluke. Former Minnesota Viking Simpson has plenty of experience and athleticism and has the ability to stretch the field, but he arrives with the Niners having missed the entire 2014 campaign following well-documented off-field troubles.
As a result, Simpson is likely to be on a much shorter leash with a Niners organization keen to avoid any further public relations embarrassments, and White, should he continue to stand out in training camp, could present them with a viable alternative who San Francisco may decide is a better option than a player whose reputation has already suffered significant damage.
Depending on the status of Smelter's recovery, White may not need to beat out Simpson or Patton for a roster spot should the Niners choose to carry six receivers. The early signs are that San Francisco would be wise to add a player whose showings so far are already allaying concerns over his ability to play at full speed in the NFL.
Playing to the same speed and with the same results in pads is a different issue. However, White is a wideout who has enjoyed success at arguably the highest level of college football in the SEC and has the experience and the willingness to contribute on special teams as well as on the offensive side of the ball.
The simple fact is that San Francisco, after Smith and Boldin, lacks receivers it can trust. If White continues to give them reasons to put their faith in him, then expect the 49ers to offer the 23-year-old a shot on the 53-man roster, which for an UDFA would represent a huge success.
Nicholas McGee is a San Francisco 49ers Featured Columnist based in Leeds, England. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasmcgee24.