Kevin White given fair shot with Bears in 2018 but didn’t take advantage

Kevin White given fair shot with Bears in 2018 but didn’t take advantage

Kevin White didn’t sound like a wide receiver.

As he spoke to reporters at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University shortly after getting drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2015, it quickly became apparent that White was a somewhat quiet, reserved, humble kid. He didn’t sound like the flashy wideout that was going to be yelling at his quarterback if he didn’t get the ball.

“I don’t really spend a lot of money,” he said. “I buy my earrings at Claire’s.”

RELATED: Kevin White Admits He 'Checked Out' At Times In Bears Tenure

That first impression was confirmed the next day when I spoke to White at my cubicle at Halas Hall. 

“Sometimes I can be (flashy), but I’m not really into the whole money thing and showing off too much,” White said.

A week later, White easily stood out as the best player on the field at rookie minicamp. But a month later, White was already dealing with a small stress fracture in his leg that would end up costing him his entire rookie season. It was the first of three straight fluke injuries in three years for a player with almost no injury history prior to entering the NFL. 

That’s why it wasn’t surprising to hear White – now completely out of the league – tell NBC Sports Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz in a lengthy interview that he feels cheated by football. It’s completely understandable.

“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.”

Having covered all four years White spent with the Bears, I would agree that he didn’t piss it all away. None of the injuries were a result of poor training or work habits. He battled through three grueling rehabs. Work ethic didn’t seem to be a problem and if it ever became one, you could certainly understand why he would question why it was worth all the work. In his conversation on the Under Center podcast, White expressed frustration that other players who partied and smoked marijuana didn’t get hurt. You never heard anything about White being a distraction off the field. He just had some awful luck.

So we can agree on all that, but I don’t agree with his own assessment of his play – especially in 2018. I would argue White was given plenty of opportunities to prove himself that year and didn’t take advantage of them.

White described himself as playing the best football of his career that summer. I have notes from OTAs that year that suggest otherwise, although in fairness, reporters only get to view one practice a week during OTAs. During training camp, when the pads went on, I remember a few splash plays, but I also remember White struggling to get open. On Aug. 10, 2018, I wrote in my “10 Bears Things” column:

I’m less focused on whether or not White can stay healthy and more focused on whether or not he can actually play wide receiver at the NFL level. We’re now three weeks and two preseason games into training camp and I’m still waiting for some kind of answer.

That was written after White dropped an easy third down completion from Mitch Trubisky in a preseason game against the Bengals. In his interview with Stankevitz, White said he was trying to duck away from a hit on the scapula he broke in 2017, causing the drop. That may have been the case, but it was an enormous missed opportunity in a preseason game when plays like that carry a lot of weight. Also noticeable in that preseason game? Rookie Anthony Miller was pulled before halftime to make sure he didn’t get hurt. Taylor Gabriel didn’t even play. Those are glaring depth chart clues and it was apparent White was, at best, the No. 4 option at wide receiver. Worse, he was clearly behind Gabriel at the “X’ spot, which was the only position White played. He didn’t have a lot of versatility in new coach Matt Nagy’s offense.

White described his spot on the depth chart as “business,” repeating that word to Stankevitz seven times. Of course, the most obvious objection to that claim is that if the depth chart was being determined by “business,” White should have had the upper hand because he was general manager Ryan Pace’s first draft pick and he was failing to live up to expectations. It would have looked better if White was playing. 

Instead, it was obvious that Gabriel was quicker in-and-out of his breaks. He simply got open more. And his hands were better. 

Contrary to what White said, drops and mental errors were an issue in 2018. White would occasionally have a great practice and shine, but he failed to stack good days together. Confidence – or lack thereof – was always a talking point with the coaches throughout his career. In 2017, White wasn’t pleased when wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said they watched some his old West Virginia tape to help boost his confidence.

“It’s just a matter of him mentally, right now, seeing it happen and stacking them play by play in each practice,” Nagy said in 2018.

By White’s own admission, he eventually checked out. Things appeared to come to a head in Weeks 8 and 9 when Allen Robinson was out with an injury. Against the Jets in Week 8, White played a then season-high 29 snaps. He caught just one pass for six yards on three targets. On one particular route down the left sideline, White failed to get open and he wasn’t able to make a play on the ball as Trubisky’s pass landed a foot or two out of bounds. But White also caught a big third down pass for a 20-yard gain right before halftime. With a roughing the passer penalty tacked on, the Bears would have been in position to score. But as things tended to go during White’s career, the completion was called back because Kyle Long took linebacker Darron Lee to ground after the whistle. Long was reacting to something that happened earlier in the game, but Nagy was incensed. Not only did the penalty wipe out a play that could have set up a score in the two-minute drill, it also wiped out a confidence-booster for White. 

The next week, White was inactive in Buffalo, which was peculiar because Robinson was still out. After the game, Nagy confirmed White was a healthy scratch, saying discipline was not a factor.

“Kevin and our coaching staff and myself, we’ve had some talks and (it’s) just the direction we decided to go for this game,” Nagy said. “Nothing by any means is permanent.”

But White didn’t play again until Week 17 when the Bears already had the NFC North wrapped up. Now we know why.

“Nagy talked to me,” White said. “And it was kind of like, Nagy, man, I’m done with y’all. It’s whatever. Y’all got it.”

White isn’t the first or last player to feel slighted by a lack of playing time. But the evidence suggests 2018 had very little to do with “business” and everything to do with performance. 

The entire Kevin White saga is unfortunate. No player should have such poor injury luck – including a rare broken scapula. It’s commendable that White has kept such a positive outlook and that came through as he opened up to Stankevitz.

But the reality is that Kevin White was given a fair shot in 2018 and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. 

Here's who Bears fans picked instead of Kevin White in a 2015 NFL Draft redo

Here's who Bears fans picked instead of Kevin White in a 2015 NFL Draft redo

Former Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White was Ryan Pace's first-ever first-round pick as the team's general manager way back in the 2015 NFL Draft. It was a selection met with excitement by Bears fans after White dazzled college football in 2014 with a spectacular senior season.

White finished his senior year with the Mountaineers totaling 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. He played like a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant and jockeyed with now-Cowboys wideout Amari Cooper throughout the 2015 draft cycle to be the first wide receiver drafted. That distinction ultimately went to Cooper, who was selected with the fourth overall pick by the Las Vegas (formerly Oakland) Raiders. Pace chose White three picks later at No. 7 overall.

After four injury-riddled seasons that failed to produce a single regular-season touchdown, the Bears moved on from White in 2019. He later signed with the Cardinals, who released him last August. White is currently out of football. At this point, it's safe to say he is one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.

NBC Sports Chicago's JJ Stankevitz had an in-depth conversation with White about that bust label. It's a must-read for Bears fans.

It's natural for fans to look back at who their favorite team could've drafted anytime a first-round pick fails to deliver. In the case of the Bears and the 2015 draft, there were several quality players picked within 10 selections of White who could have produced at a high level for Chicago had Pace gone in another direction.

We decided to run a poll on Twitter asking which of the following players -- who were drafted in the 10 picks after White -- Bears fans would've preferred: Todd Gurley, Anrdus Peat, Marcus Peters or Arik Armstead. The results were pretty surprising:

After nearly 1,400 votes, fans would've preferred Gurley at No. 7 overall.

It's an interesting outcome considering Gurley was available in free agency this year after the Rams released him following two injury-plagued seasons. There was little if any call among Bears fans to sign him. Sure, Gurley enjoyed a pretty remarkable start to his career, but like White, it looks like injuries will impact his long-term sustainability. 

Peters finished second in this poll, but it's surprising he wasn't the first choice. Peters is a two-time All-Pro at one of the most critically important positions in the sport. He's had five or more interceptions in four of his five seasons in the league and would've paired with Kyle Fuller to create one of the most dominant cornerback tandems in the NFL. Peters would've been Pace's best first-round pick as GM and it wouldn't be close.

And how about Peat coming in last by a pretty wide margin? With all the criticism the Bears' offensive line has received this offseason, having a player like Peat entrenched in the starting lineup would certainly be a plus. Peat, a two-time Pro Bowler, has evolved into one of the better interior players in the league.

Surprisingly, Titans edge rusher Vic Beasley, who was chosen by the Falcons one pick after White, received a few votes in the replies. I'm not sure why.

Beasley had a dominant second season in the league when he registered 15.5 sacks in 2016, but he's been an otherwise ineffective player along the lines of Leonard Floyd in every other year of his career. Beasley had a respectable eight sacks in 2019, but that's pretty much his ceiling at this point. And like Gurley, Beasley was available in free agency this year. The Bears, essentially, passed on him twice. And both times, they were right.

Unfortunately, the Bears were wrong with White. Maybe it's more accurate to say injuries prevented White from proving whether Pace was right with his assessment of his upside. 

How bad was Mitch Trubisky on deep-ball throws in 2019?

How bad was Mitch Trubisky on deep-ball throws in 2019?

It's been a rough few months for Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. First, Chicago traded for his potential replacement, Nick Foles. Then came general manager Ryan Pace's decision to decline his fifth-year option, a move that's generally considered a no-brainer if a first-round quarterback has shown promise through his first three seasons.

Trubisky's certainly had some quality moments behind center for the Bears, and his productive 2018 season raised expectations for a big second year under Matt Nagy's tutelage in 2019. Unfortunately, he regressed across the board. He was so bad -- and seemed so lost -- that his time in Chicago feels like it's running out.

Pace took his time making his decision on Trubisky's fifth-year option. He did his due diligence; he reviewed and analyzed and scrutinized every aspect of Trubisky's game. In the end, No. 10 just hasn't been good enough, and one thing that's plagued him is his inability to connect on the long ball. In fact, Trubisky was recently rated as the league's worst deep-ball thrower by USA Today's Doug Farrar. 

There are a number of reasons the Bears declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option and brought Nick Foles in to compete for Chicago’s starting job, but Trubisky’s performance on deep passes is stunningly bad. Last season, Trubisky had the worst EPA (Expected Points Added) on deep throws — his -14.6 far outpaced the field, as Daniel Jones of the Giants finished second-worst at -9.0. On such throws, Trubisky completed just 32 of 103 passes for 779 yards, four touchdowns, and seven interceptions. It’s one of many things Trubisky will have to improve if he’s ever to be thought of as anything but a draft bust.

Having a quality deep ball isn't a prerequisite to be a quality NFL starter, but it certainly helps. The ability to flip the field on one play that's the result of an on-the-money bucket-throw is extremely valuable, and it's a reasonable expectation for a player who was selected with the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Bears aren't good enough to overcome a quarterback who fails to take advantage of those rare opportunities to make impact downfield throws. That's why Foles is in Chicago. And it's why Trubisky probably won't be much longer.