Second-year Bears WR Kevin White is essentially entering his rookie year this fall, as last season was a complete loss due to a stress fracture on his shin that kept him off the field entirely. This was without question a major disappointment for Chicago, as the Bears selected White with the seventh-overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft.
At West Virginia in 2014, White posted 109 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns, and while his grades were inconsistent, the physical talent he displayed was undeniable. At almost 6-feet-3 inches tall and 215 lbs., his 4.35 40-yard dash time during his combine workout puts him in rarified air. He is capable of not only consistently winning contested balls with his frame, but also using his first-step quickness and long speed to create separation, making him a dangerous weapon all over the field.
Although he is now healthy, expectations seem to be a bit more tempered for this season, and rightfully so. He not only has to overcome the speed and mental adjustments that come with transitioning from the college game to the NFL, but also the rust he is certain to have from not suiting up for a game in almost two calendar years.
This being said, if he is able to quickly return to the playing speed he displayed at West Virginia, the rookie production of other recent highly-touted receivers bodes well for White this year. Since 2011, three others at his position were selected in the top 10 by teams already with a well-established outside receiving threat: Julio Jones (Atlanta had Roddy White), Mike Evans (Vincent Jackson) and Amari Cooper (Michael Crabtree).
The trio had shockingly similar rookie years, averaging 67 catches on 113 targets for 1,048 yards and just under nine touchdowns. Cooper had the most catches (72) and targets (123), but also played over 100 more snaps than Jones and Evans. Looking at their performances from a grading perspective, only Evans, who debuted in 2014, had an above-average overall grade, as drops held back the other two rookies (Cooper led the NFL with 18 drops in 2015, while Jones’ 12.9 percent drop rate was eighth-worst in 2011).
White’s drop rate of 7.63 percent his final year at West Virginia ranked just 19th in his draft class, and could be an inhibitor of early production this year, as it was for his predecessors. However, Chicago’s existing passing duo of QB Jay Cutler and WR Alshon Jeffery is certain to accelerate his learning process; he is likely to have a high volume of targets without the burden of being the focal point of opposing defenses. Further assuring his playing time and volume despite his youth is the re-fractured foot of Marquess Wilson. Wilson led Chicago’s receiving corps in snaps last season, but is likely to start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The departures of TE Martellus Bennett and long-time RB Matt Forte also suggest White will be a key focal point of the Chicago offense opposite Jeffery.
Assuming he is able to run at full capacity in the wake of rehabilitating from last year’s injury, as well as maintain his health for the duration of the year, matching the average rookie totals of Jones, Evans and Cooper seems like a reasonable expectation for the talented White’s 2016 season.