Kevin White knows the word association that goes on with his name. You might be doing it right now.
“When they think of Kevin White: Bust, injuries, we don’t know, question mark,” the 2015 seventh overall pick told me during a lengthy Zoom chat.
Of the 500 top-10 picks from 1970-2019, only seven have played fewer games than White’s 14. Four of those seven players were drafted in 2019.
And even the late Charles Rogers — the most infamous wide receiver “bust” in league history — had four touchdowns with the Detroit Lions. White reached the end zone once.
In a preseason game.
When no Bears starters were playing.
White was a high pick who didn’t live up to expectations —the definition of a bust. But he’s able to cope with that label by knowing why he was a bust.
“People can say bust or whatever the case may be, and it is attached to my name by default,” White said. “So I think for me, okay, you can say Kevin White’s a bust because it didn’t work out. Absolutely.
“But you can’t say Kevin White can’t play this game or Kevin White can’t get open or Kevin White’s dropping passes. You couldn’t say any of that. Not at practice, not in the little bit of games that I did play.
“You could say injuries, you know, held me back but you can’t say I was out there and just pissed it all (away) — you can’t say that. So that’s how I deal with it.”
White is not on an NFL roster right now. The Bears let him become a free agent after the 2018 season, and he was released by the Arizona Cardinals late last August. A tryout with the Detroit Lions in the fall went nowhere, as White said he wasn’t 100 percent following a Grade 3 hamstring tear suffered in Cardinals camp.
White felt like he played at a high level in the NFL, even if he only had 285 receiving yards in those 14 games. Most of White’s healthy moments came in practice, though, either during non-padded OTA practices or training camp. But he still can project the kind of confidence teams want out of their wide receivers, even if he’s not currently on a team.
“If I was out there playing, healthy and I couldn’t get open, getting strapped every play or dropping balls — okay, I can take that and yeah, I didn’t do well, I haven’t been playing well and I’m a bust because of my numbers,” White said. “But with injuries and not being out there, I can’t do anything.”
A stress fracture in his leg sidelined White for his entire rookie year. Then, just as he felt he was starting to realize his potential, he suffered a severe ankle sprain and fractured fibula four weeks into the 2016 season. His scapula was fractured on a freak hit against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter of 2017’s first game.
Three serious injuries. Three grueling rehabs. In three consecutive years.
It’s hard to fathom the mental and physical toll that can take on someone.
“I got dealt bust cards and can’t cry about it, complain about it, but it is kind of a punch in the stomach,” White said. “It’s like, I got all the talent in the world, done it the right way. Like why, God? What am I doing wrong? What do you want me to see out of being hurt year after year after year?”
White still can say he was the seventh overall pick in an NFL Draft. He had a 1,000-yard season at West Virginia. He felt like he went about his career the right way both on and off the field, and just was the victim of horrible, brutal luck.
But White is also only 27 years old. He’s got a lot of life ahead of him. And while he’s still hoping to get another shot in the NFL, he’s also working to make sure being a bust doesn’t define his own life.
Even if that’s what he’ll always be known for by everyone else.
“You can’t let one thing in your life — okay, let’s say I never play a down of football ever again. I can’t let that consume the rest of my life,” White said. “That’s like a smidge compared to, hopefully, how long I’m gonna live. But it’s also a big part of my life so I do care about it, I do think about it but I’m not going to let it consume my life.
“I wouldn’t let football consume my life. It’s other things to do, it’s life. You got one life, I want to enjoy it, do the best I can at whatever profession I’m doing. But I just try to be happy. I’m alive. A lot of people aren’t alive right now.
“Why would I cry about what other people think or how my career has gone? A lot of people can’t say the things I’ve accomplished.
“But yeah," White added, "just take it on the chin.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.