Adam L. Jahns’ “Read Options” column appears in Pro Football Weekly’s insert, which is available Thursday or Friday in the Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Rockford Register Star, Northwest Herald, Kankakee Daily Journal, Peoria Journal Star and on ProFootballWeekly.com.
“Come on Kev!” is a common refrain that can be heard at nearly every Bears practice. New receivers coach Curtis Johnson bellows it loud and clear as he gets on Kevin White’s case.
Even when one of White’s routes look perfect and a catch is made, Johnson is there to address the most minute of details.
“He’s a work in progress right now,” Johnson says. “But he’s going to be a really, really good player for us.”
But how soon?
Bears fans and fantasy owners need to know. White’s physical tools are elite – he is 6-3 and 216 pounds with sprinter’s speed – but will elite production come with them in 2016?
The message from the team is this: believe in the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, but be patient with him. White and star Alshon Jeffery could be the best tandem in the league, but White’s best individual days may not arrive until a month or so into the season.
White is essentially a rookie after missing all of last season after requiring surgery for a stress fracture in his shin. His limited route-running in college at West Virginia was a concern on draft day, and it remains one.
He may have been around the Bears last season, but “mental reps” aren’t the same as actual reps at practice.
As Johnson said, “Kevin had a year off.”
In that regard, camp has been a grind for White. His chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler is coming along, but still developing. He’s becoming a more precise route-runner under Johnson. And he’s learning from Jeffery to use his size as a major advantage.
“He’s taking coaching well and learning,” Jeffery said. “He missed the whole year last year, so this year, he’s progressing right where we need him to be. He listens to the coaches, he’s making plays and he’s having fun.”
The 2014 draft class of receivers changed expectations for everyone. It was a special group led by Sammy Watkins (No. 4, Bills), Mike Evans (No. 7, Buccaneers) and Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 11, Giants).
There were 15 receivers drafted in the first three rounds. The five first-round selections averaged 70 catches, nearly 980 yards and more than eight touchdowns. Jordan Matthews, the Eagles’ second-round selection, made 67 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns.
Some evaluators expected similar results for the 2015 class, which included White, but the production wasn’t the same. The 2015 class was more like previous ones. The rookies struggled to adjust.
Only Amari Cooper (No. 4, Raiders) took off, catching 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. The second-best receiver was Vikings fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs, who had 52 receptions for 720 yards and four touchdowns.
When it comes to fantasy football, Jeffery is the Bears’ best player. There is risk involved because of his durability, but he’s in a contract year, and that’s a fact of life that should move him up draft boards.
The bottom line is that Jeffery produces when he plays. The Bears were below average offensively last season, but Jeffery still averaged 89.7 receiving yards per game, the eighth-best mark in the NFL.