The Freak Lands in Chicago: How Will Kevin White Impact the Bears in 2015?
Every year during draft season, there’s a player for whom the “raw physical skills cannot be taught” mantra applies. That candidate, this season, is Kevin White. As a result of picking White, the Bears just got bigger, faster, and stronger.
White's backstory is that of a player who spent two years on the Junior College circuit at Lackawanna College before transferring to West Virginia for a lackluster junior year. White was highly impressive in his senior year at West Virginia, but his lack of previous visibility left him open to misguided "one year wonder" accusations.
But let’s be blunt. Ever since White’s combine performance, general managers have been salivating at the thought of acquiring a monster receiver who managed to finish above the 90th percentile in measures as varied as the 40-yard dash and bench press. In short, White's physical attributes are like a Hummer meets Lamborghini. And with a little refinement, White stands to make his mark on the league with the potential to be in the top-tier, elite receiver discussion in a few short years. The Bears were fortunate enough to land him.
But what will White's immediate impact on the Bears look like? Let's find out.
How Kevin White Helps the Bears
To gauge White's immediate impact, let's first look at his most recent body of work. This too was impressive. Compiling over 100 catches, 1,400 yards, and 35% of West Virginia's passing yards in his most recent season at West Virginia. White was clearly a focal point of the offense, and he made his impact felt. According to Matt Harmon's excellent Reception Perception review on White, White consistently reeled in jump balls, displayed good hands, and broke tackles in the open field with ease. So while White is often contrasted with Amari Cooper in terms of "polish vs. potential", White's no slouch when it comes to actual production.
In terms of how he will make his impact felt in his rookie year, it is likely that White's impending physical tools will help carry the day as his route running skills further develop. In his final season at West Virginia, White's size and strength allowed him to go after contested balls with gusto, and with much success. His speed allowed him to get past defending corners with ease; again, a skill that can't be taught.
Regarding White's comparables, our own Joe Juan recently did a piece contrasting White vs. Cooper, in which he compared White's build to that of Julio Jones and Martavis Bryant. If White's career trajectory comes anywhere close to that of Julio Jones, or his rookie season efforts show the kind of flash exhibited by Martavis Bryant in 2014, consider the Bears' brass giddy come August.
White is also likely to make his impact felt because of the team that selected him. In 2014, the Bears' top two receivers were Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, who, as a duo, were actually around league average in terms of numberFire's primary metric, Net Expected Points (NEP) when measuring the combined output of teams' top two receivers. For those new to numberFire, NEP is our method for determining on field effectiveness based on performance measured against expectation. You can learn more about NEP here in our glossary.
In 2014, Jeffrey and Marshall ranked 11th in the league in terms of combined Reception NEP, but only 19th in Reception NEP per target. So, despite their reputation heading into last season as one of the best wide receiver duos in the league, Marshall and Jeffrey weren't incredibly efficient on a per-target basis. And, obviously, with Marshall's offseason exit to the Jets via trade, there are a lot of targets in Chicago for the taking. Presumably, Marshall's targets will head White's way. So the opportunity to make a splash in his rookie year is ripe for White.
While not yet fully developed as a route runner, White has an elite build in terms of size, strength and speed, proven production capabilities with the ability to go after 50/50 jump balls and the hands to win the majority of those matchups. He also has sizable opportunities for looks in the passing game awaiting him in Chicago. Thus, it's highly likely that the Bears will be pleased with White's services immediately and well into the future.