This weekend brought news Chicago Bears fans had been speculating about since the start of training camp. General manager Ryan Pace announced first-round pick Kevin White will require surgery for a stress fracture in his shin.
The news crippled an already brittle fan base coming on the heels of a disastrous 5-11 season that led to a mass purge of the team’s old regime. Within the changes this off-season, troubled wideout Brandon Marshall was dealt to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick at the start of free agency.
Many asked, “How can they replace the production of Marshall?” Pace had a quick answer when he signed slot receiver Eddie Royal to a three-year, $15 million deal. The first-year GM continued adding through free agency, mainly on one-year deals and went into the draft with a clear plan: draft based on talent, not need.
That led to the Bears selecting White, who was the consensus second best receiver on the board and arguably the best player available at seventh overall.
Fast forward to OTAs, during which White suffered a shin injury and missed two weeks of off-season activities. On Day 1 of training camp, Pace announced White would begin camp on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list with what was widely assumed to be shin splints.
Chicago’s first-round pick began running this past Monday, with the Bears expressing positivity in regard to his progress. Four days later, it was revealed White needs surgery and will miss at least the first six games of the year. Was Fox hiding something from the beginning?
Reports began to pour in that White may indeed miss his entire rookie season, which had some fearing the USA Today’s 3-13 projection for the Bears might come true.
Was White’s impact going to be that substantial in Year 1? The answer may not be what most originally thought.
How much of an impact would White have had in year 1?
As highlighted in a previous piece, expecting any receiver to be a star as a rookie is simply unrealistic.
Before the news broke of White’s impending surgery, he was still going into the season battling with Marquess Wilson for snaps as the No. 3 receiver and possibly the No. 5 overall receiving target.
On top of that, new offensive coordinator Adam Gase is expected to implement a much stronger run game, which will in turn eat into the team’s overall pass attempts.
Comparing Old Versus New
Last year, under former head coach Marc Trestman, the offense was tied for seventh in the league in pass attempts (609), completing 396. Trestman ran the ball just 355 times, which was third fewest in the entire NFL. The offense ended the year with a 73-percent pass rate, which led the league.
In contrast, Gase’s 2015 offense in Denver averaged a 58-percent throw rate on 1,050 total offensive snaps.
What exactly does that mean this year? It’s simple. Expect substantially less throws in 2015.
Balance on Offense
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Bears run 1,000 offensive plays—which is close to the average between Trestman and Gase’s production in 2014. Out of those snaps, assume Gase keeps a similar 55 percent throw rate, which equals out to 550 attempts. Both teams completed 65 percent of their passes last year, which would be 357 completions, which was 39 less completions than the Bears’ 396 just a year ago.
In 2014, running back Matt Forte led the team with 102 receptions, tight end Martellus Bennett followed closely with 90 receptions, wide out Alshon Jeffery totaled 85 receptions and Brandon Marshall grabbed 61 receptions in an injury-shortened season. Those four pass catchers totaled 338 receptions in 2014 and although Forte’s catch total will see a noticeable cutback, it’s easy to see that from just four targets, almost all of the receptions have already been taken.
Projecting totals for next year using three-year averages and taking into consideration role changes, available receptions are still scarce after adding Eddie Royal.
Catch totals would be as follows: Jeffery leads the team with 90, followed by Bennett at 70, Forte at 60 and Royal at 55, which totals 275 catches.
Outside of the team’s top four targets, that leaves just 82 catches for three more receivers and any other tight ends or halfbacks.
Beyond the top four targets last year, Chicago’s pass catchers in 2014 totaled 58 receptions, which equates to just 24 total receptions left for what would be White or Wilson in the third receiver role.
How much of an impact can one receiver have with just 25-30 receptions available in 2015? The answer is simple: Not much.
With a team expected to throw less and run the ball more, White’s ceiling would have been 40-50 receptions if he was lighting it up. With him missing at least the opening six weeks of the regular season, it’s time to look at this realistically.
Pace did not select White with just his rookie year in mind. The team needed a speedy target that can play the No. 2 receiver role, especially with Forte in a contract year and Bennett looking for a new deal.
Although this may ultimately hurt White’s overall development as an NFL receiver, it does not affect the 2015 Bears nearly as much as some may think.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.