On Friday, White was back in Atlanta after spending Thursday at the NFL draft in Kansas City, Missouri, for the first round. One of 17 prospects invited by the league, White ended up being one of four players not selected in the first round. He took spending all night in the green room in stride.
“I enjoyed my time there,” White said on a conference call with media arranged by the Patriots. “I got to experience going through the NFL draft. I’ll never get to experience that ever again, and there’s only 17 guys in the world that got to experience the 2023 draft. You take the moment in. No matter where I got picked, I still got picked, and I still have to put work in after this point. It was a good experience, and now it’s time to get to work.”
White became Tech’s highest draft pick since wide receiver Stephen Hill was drafted 43rd overall in 2012 by the New York Jets. It’s the highest a Yellow Jackets defensive player has been selected since defensive end Derrick Morgan in 2010 (16th overall, Tennessee Titans). He is Tech’s 29th first- or second-round pick.
White was the only Tech player selected in the first three rounds. Five former Jackets – linebackers Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas, wide receivers Malachi Carter and E.J. Jenkins and running back Hassan Hall – will hope to be selected in the final four rounds Saturday or to sign as an undrafted free agent.
The Patriots, befitting their reputation as a secretive organization, did their homework on the Jackets edge rusher without actually speaking to White himself, according to White. New England coaches, scouts and decision makers had opportunities to talk with White at the Senior Bowl, the draft combine and Tech’s Pro Day and could have brought him in for a pre-draft visit, come down to Atlanta for a private workout or even just set up a videoconference call.
But, evidently, others vouched enough for his character, drive and intelligence that they didn’t feel the need to tip their hands by actually speaking with him. It’s not unusual for New England to operate with such stealth.
“So it was a surprise,” White said. “To me, I feel like our personalities mix well, though. So I feel like it’s a really good fit.”
Speaking after the conclusion of the third round, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that the team had had interaction with him.
“When you get so many scouts like the college players do, it’s hard to keep track of ‘em all,” he said.
For White, joining a team with the motto “Do Your Job” and overseen by the taciturn Belichick is good by him.
“I’m a very big business person, so I’m not too big in the glitz and glamor of football,” he said. “I want to work, and I want to win. I feel like that’s what the Patriots offer, and I feel like that’s where we meet in the middle at.”
White’s versatility – he played three positions along the defensive line for the Jackets this past season – figures to be a valuable asset with the Patriots, who play out of a 3-4 defense, unlike Tech’s 4-2-5. With the agility to drop into pass coverage and also rush the passer, White could be a useful piece for Belichick in the team’s hunt for its seventh Super Bowl title.
“They’re getting somebody that’s willing to improve their game, and that’s all I feel like I can ask for from myself,” he said. “Just somebody that’s wanting to get better every day, whether it be practice, whether it be film, whether it be taking notes, getting better in that. I just want to get better in every aspect of the game and just become more knowledgeable in every way possible.”
White’s path to this point is remarkable – as a high schooler at Garner (North Carolina) High, he considered joining the military until a late scholarship offer from Old Dominion. He first played tight end for the Monarchs before switching to defensive end after his redshirt freshman season, breaking out as a sophomore.
Then, after Old Dominion did not play in the 2020 season because of the pandemic, he transferred to Tech, then missed most of the 2021 season because of an ankle injury. He finally played a full season in 2022, earning third-team All-ACC honors with 14 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks.
“Keion’s a guy that really came on this year at Tech,” Belichick said.
White was wise enough to recognize he is not at an end point, but a beginning. He’s now in the hands of arguably the greatest football coach of all-time and about to start his professional career.
“They do a really good job of developing their players, so being a part of that, knowing I have an incredibly amount of things I can improve on and learn in the game of football, I feel like there’s no better situation I can go into,” he said.