Late this off-season during Chicago Bears veteran minicamp, WR Kevin White ran a deep crossing route during team drills. QB Jay Cutler fired a pass that was three feet over White's head, yet the second-year receiver elevated high in the air and snatched the ball for a first-down reception.
It was at that moment when we first got a glimpse of White's upside as an NFL wide receiver. After missing his entire rookie season because of shin surgery, White struggled during OTAs with drops and showed little knowledge of coordinator Dowell Loggains' playbook, even in where to line up.
Yet on that snap, one of the team's last before training camp, White finally showed off his elite athleticism. It was an "a-ha" moment for those in attendance, when we finally understood why the Bears invested the seventh overall pick in 2015 on a talented but raw receiver.
White carried that strong practice over to training camp, where he was excellent. He consistently showed off his speed and leaping ability, while demonstrating his prowess catching balls in traffic. The 6-3 wideout was nearly unstoppable on deep balls, where his 4.35 speed allowed him to create separation from defenders. And the drops? Those disappeared in Bourbonnais.
Yet the preseason has been an entirely different story for White, who in three games has caught just 3 passes for 12 yards. As a result, fans have already begun calling White a bust, while recent fantasy football articles show him falling precipitously in fantasy drafts.
After three preseason games, it appears a lot of folks are ready to write off White, which is shortsighted for a number of reasons.
White has dropped two of the 12 passes thrown to him in the preseason. That's a horrible percentage but remember, drops were not a pre-draft knock on White. He never had issues with drops at West Virginia, so this is far more likely to be a concentration issue than a bad-hands issue.
It's worth noting that both his drops came off poor passes from Cutler. His first drop was a pass thrown two feet over his head, which bounced off White's fingertips. The second was a swing pass that Cutler put behind White, forcing him to further twist his body backward, which resulted in the drop.
Those aren't excuses for White -- Cutler throws a lot of off-target balls, get used to it son -- but it at least shows he's not dropping the easy passes.
At WVU, White averaged 14.5 yards per catch his junior year and 13.3 yards per catch his senior. He was a force on deep balls, where his speed, height and leaping ability made him a man among boys. With 4.35 speed, White has the potential to be a dangerous deep threat for the Bears.
Yet of his 12 targets in the preseason, only one has been for 10 yards or more. His only deep ball was a 25-yard out route that Cutler had to throw early, before White came out of his break, because of blitz pressure. Other than that, the Bears have yet to utilize White's deep-ball ability.
Essentially, the Bears have kept their turbo-charged Ferrari in neutral the past three weeks.
Here are each of White's 12 preseason targets:
-Left flat route overthrown
-Quick out batted down
-25-yard deep out thrown too early due to pressure
These patterns are fine for a 5-9 undrafted slot receiver but if you think this will be the extent of White's usage this year, I have a bridge in New Jersey I'd like to sell you.
It's obvious the Bears have held White back in the preseason, for two reasons. The first is to keep him under the radar for the Week 1 contest in Houston. If the Texans take White too lightly and focus too much on Alshon Jeffery, White will have plenty of big-play opportunities. The second is, simply, to keep White healthy. Bubble screens are much safer than 50-yard deep balls for a receiver in whom the Bears have invested heavily.
Finally, a few dropped passes does not make a receiver a bust. In 2015, four of the top five league-leading receivers in drops were Mike Evans (74-1,206-3), Brandon Marshall (109-1,501-14), Amari Cooper (72-1,070-6) and Demaryius Thomas (105-1,304-6). Even elite NFL wide receivers drop passes.
The Bears did not showcase White, nor their entire playbook, during the preseason. There are legitimate concerns on offense, particularly at tight end and along the offensive line, but White is not one of those. He's shown exceptional athleticism in practice and will benefit greatly playing next to Jeffery.
There will be speed bumps for sure but assuming White won't live up to his first-round billing because he's failed to dominate during limited snaps - both in scheme and quantity - in three meaningless games, that's wildly premature and pessimistic.
So for those fantasy players who haven't drafted yet, let the other paranoid team owners sweat White's preseason numbers, while you swoop in and get a potential stud for a bargain-basement price.null