Kevin White’s short time with the Chicago Bears has been little more than disappointment stacked on disappointment.
The Bears took White with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. It was the first draft pick of the Ryan-Pace era and, so far, he's been a bust, due mainly to injuries.
White has played in just four of the possible 32 games in his career. He missed the entire 2015 season with a shin injury and then suffered a fractured fibula in the same leg last year.
It’s been discouraging to say the least for the former West Virginia standout.
“It’s frustrating,” White said following the season. “I didn’t think I would be out this year, obviously. I did everything I could in the off-season. Stayed here, trained, worked my butt off, did everything I thought I could. It’s just unfortunate, but it’s the name of the game. I've just got to fight back and stay patient and, mentally, stay tough.”
The Bears will have to address the receiver position this off-season, particularly if they lose Alshon Jeffery to free agency. Veteran Eddie Royal could be a cap casualty and Marquess Wilson is also a free agent.
Then there’s White, the unknown, who has just 19 career receptions. He's expected to be ready for the start of minicamp this summer but will he be the same player?
Recovering from two surgeries on the same leg is no small task. After his first shin injury, White had to slowly ease his way back into action. As a result of the missed time, it was clear he was still learning during the early weeks of the 2016 campaign. Now White’s comeback will be even more difficult.
One of the things that stood out most when evaluating White before the draft was his speed. He ran a 4.35 40-yard dash as the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, which, combined with his 6-3 height and elite production his junior season (109-1,447-10) made him a Top 10 overall pick. Pace fell in love with White's skill set, despite the fact he was still relatively raw, but does that same skill set still exist?
Pace seems confident White can return to full speed but after two leg surgeries, that might be overly optimistic.
“Yes. This is 100-percent recoverable,” Pace said. “When you come off of a major injury like this, it’s a matter of getting your body aligned. I think there’s a gate analysis to make sure your hips and your hamstrings are ready to play at that speed.”
If White’s speed isn’t what it was coming out of college it could be disastrous for the receiver’s future. White was supposed to give the Bears a vertical threat to compliment the physical Jeffery.
If he's lost his game-changing speed, White could be reduced to the role of a possession receiver. If that’s turns out to be true, the ceiling for White is as a high-end No. 2 pass catcher.
The emergence of Cam Meredith could further diminish White's role moving forward.
Whatever happens, White still believes he'll be the same player he was three years ago, which was the last time he played a full season of competitive football.
“No doubt at all,” said White. “I've just got to get my body right. Once I do that, I’ll do what I’m allowed to do. No doubts. I’m actually excited. A lot of pressure. A lot of doubts that everybody else has but I’ll work it out.”
There hasn’t been a recent case in the NFL where a receiver has undergone two surgeries in as many years on the same leg but there have been wideouts that have had surgeries similar to White during their career.
In 1992, Cowboys rookie Jimmy Smith broke his right fibula during a scrimmage. Smith didn’t produce right away for the Cowboys due to other injuries but he did recover to have a pretty good career.
Smith really got his career going with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He turned out to be a true No. 1 receiver for the Jaguars and made the NFL All-Pro team twice, along with five Pro Bowl appearances.
Then there is Stefon Diggs.
The current Minnesota Vikings receiver had surgery to fix a broken fibula while in college at Maryland. He’s been productive in his short career with Minnesota, flashing his speed and down-the-field ability.
The good news for White is that his second injury was similar to the one that Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls suffered early in the 2016 season. He returned by Week 11 and suffered no setbacks.
White can still produce at a very high level in the NFL but after so much inactivity the past two years, it's probably going to take him even more time to develop into such a player.
For White, the most important thing is to make sure he’s 100 percent by the start of the 2017 campaign. Rushing back does nothing for him at this point in his career.
“He’s such a positive-outlook guy and this was the same leg but it was two different injuries,” Pace said. “So I feel he’s in a really good spot with that right now. Kevin is like is wanting to go, go, go, go. And I’m always like 'slow down on this, let’s make sure we’re doing this right so when you come back everything is in line: your gate, your hips, your hamstrings, everything is in line so you’re ready to go full speed.'”
At just 24-years-old, White is still a big part of the Bears future plans. He may no longer have that elite-receiver potential but hope is not gone.
For him, hearing the doubts just motivates him even more.
“Oh yeah, it motivates me,” White said. “All I can do is what I can do. Try to eat healthy, do everything I can, work my butt off and whatever happens, happens.”null