Kevin White

Kevin White named Bears' surprise offseason standout

Kevin White named Bears' surprise offseason standout

Chicago Bears WR Kevin White is facing the most important season of his football career. The former first-round pick found himself sliding down the depth chart after several new receivers were added to the roster this offseason, including one of the biggest prizes in free agency, Allen Robinson.

White has been victimized by injury in each of his first three years in the NFL. He's played only five games since joining the Bears as the seventh overall pick in 2015 and has yet to score a touchdown as a pro.

Regardless of his past, coach Matt Nagy has made it clear White has a fresh start in 2018 and the wideout appears to be making the most of it. According to ESPN, he was Chicago's surprise standout through offseason workouts.

White stayed healthy throughout Chicago's offseason program, where he looked better than expected running routes in coach Matt Nagy's West Coast offense. White still has to prove he can stay on the field for an entire season, but the Bears appear willing to give him one more chance.

Pace has consistently preached that creating competition on the roster is an important element to getting the most out of a player. It rings true with White, who not only has to compete with Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller for starter's reps, but also against himself. He has to prove, first and foremost, that he can play a full 16 games as an NFL receiver. If he does, production will follow.

The news of White's offseason performance is great for the Bears, a team that entered free agency with arguably the worst collection of starting receivers in the NFL. Assuming White can carry this momentum into the regular season, Mitch Trubisky will have no shortage of playmakers at his disposal, especially when factoring in tight end Trey Burton and running back Tarik Cohen. 

Kevin White dubbed Bears' most overpaid player

Kevin White dubbed Bears' most overpaid player

It's hard not to feel bad for Chicago Bears WR Kevin White. The former West Virginia star joined the club as the seventh overall pick and came to Chicago with expectations of producing like Dez Bryant or even Larry Fitzgerald. Now entering his fourth season, White's appeared in only five games and has yet to score an NFL touchdown.

It's not all his fault. He hasn't had a chance to actually play. Injuries have turned his once limitless upside into a hope-for-the-best projection heading into 2018. White had no rookie season. He played only four games in 2016. And last year, his season lasted less than one full game.

At some point, however, a player has to prove they're capable of withstanding the punishment that naturally comes with playing professional football. This is the do-or-die year for White to establish himself as an NFL receiver.

From a production and payroll standpoint, it's easy to call White a bust. He hasn't produced and he's getting paid a lot of money. According to Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar, White is the most overpaid player on the roster.

For those five games, the Bears have paid White nearly $14 million of the $16.6 million deal he signed after he was drafted, and they'll be on the hook for the full amount. This season, Chicago has a cap responsibility of $5.3 for their oft-injured receiver, and unless he's able to somehow turn his unfortunate injury history around, his deal can only be seen as sunk cost.

Yes, the Bears have not received a return on investment with White, but his $5.3 million cost this season isn't exactly a back-breaker. Both Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel -- both of whom are coming off questionable seasons themselves -- will make more than White, ranking him third on the receiver payroll. That may be where he is in the pecking order of the passing game, too, assuming he can hold off rookie Anthony Miller. 

White needs a year like Kyle Fuller had last season to justify a contract extension in Chicago. His NFL play has to match his college scouting report. It's hard imagining a scenario this season in which it will.

With all the money GM Ryan Pace dumped into the position this offseason with Robinson and Gabriel and the draft-day investment on Anthony Miller, all signs point toward 2018 being White's audition year for 31 other teams.

OTAs and minicamps were a success for Kevin White, but what does that mean?

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OTAs and minicamps were a success for Kevin White, but what does that mean?

Matt Nagy wasn’t referring to Kevin White — or any player, specifically — when he offered up this line on Wednesday: 

“We all can agree that once the pads come on, there are some guys that aren’t showing up right now that will show up, and there are other guys who are doing well that won’t do well,” Nagy said. “When the pads come on, that’s when we can truly evaluate and answer a lot of the questions we get asked.”

This is the reality of practices during the NFL’s offseason program, which don’t permit pads to be worn. Certain guys look impressive in shorts and helmets only to struggle to match that when the pads come on in Bourbonnais (Adam Shaheen, last year, is a good example). 

So while White showed some promising signs during two minicamps and OTAs between mid-April and early June, the real test for what he can do in 2018 will come during training camp. Can White still body up defensive backs and catch jump balls when the guy across from him can be more physical? Can he still burn past opposing defenders when they can tackle him? Can he run crisp routes and get open for Mitch Trubisky when he’s getting jammed at the line of scrimmage?

For now, though, it’s encouraging that White did exactly what the Bears wanted him to do during the offseason program. Nagy said back in April that he wanted White to stack practices and take a narrow view to his future; by all accounts, that’s what White did. 

“He certainly grew in a lot different areas,” Nagy said. “And the one thing that I’ve noticed about Kevin, that I thought was neat, is that if there was a dropped ball, it was the next-play mentality for him. I kept a keen eye out for that to see how he was going to react to a play like that, and he’s done well. He’s been running routes well, he’s been catching a lot of footballs, he’s been focusing on what he needs to focus on and that’s a big advantage for this offense.”

White began by making a few plays here and there during April’s minicamp, and continued to build on those with better practices during OTAs in May. He’s roundly impressed his quarterback with what he’s done, too, and the chemistry developed between the two of them counts for something. 

“He’s coming out really hungry, which is great to see, lot of passion, he looks great out there and he’s just coming in every day with an open mind ready to work,” Trubisky said. “He wants to be coached, he wants me to just communicate with him every play, what I see, what he sees and we’re talking on the field, off the field, what he can do to get better at and he’s just showing a lot of passion out there every day.”

White did well to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him with Allen Robinson (torn ACL) not participating in team drills during practice. Robinson has said he expects to be fully cleared for training camp, which won’t mean White will lose all of his reps with the first-team offense, but they’ll probably be diminished to some extent (at least initially: If White continues to practice well, he'll earn more reps with the first-team offense). 

It’s a similar situation to the one that was in front of Kyle Fuller last training camp when Prince Amukamara got hurt: A former first-round pick, on the verge of being stamped with the “bust” label for the rest of his career, took advantage of an opportunity and not only played his way into a roster spot, but played his way into a starting role and (eventually) a $56 million contract. 

White has a long way to go before he’s cashing in on a breakout season with an eight-figure contract, of course. The next step is proving he can continue to practice well, with the same kind of speed, with pads on. Then, he’ll have to show his connection with Trubisky transfers over to preseason games. And from there, he’ll not only have to continue to play well in the regular season, but he’ll have to get through a season healthy for the first time in his pro career, too. 

So while White passed his first test of 2018, there are plenty more ahead. But perhaps the most encouraging observation about White has been that if you took the “11” off his jersey and didn’t know who he was, you couldn’t tell that he’s someone who’s struggled to produce in the rare moments he has been healthy. 

“No, I wouldn’t (be able to tell),” Nagy said. “And that’s kind of my mindset coming into this thing. I don’t care about what happened in the past with anybody on this team, I don’t care. You’re going to get a fresh, clean slate, and you gotta prove it. You gotta show what you can do. And they know that. And if you tell the guys that, it’s on them. There’s ownership.”