Part nine of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft, which begins on April 27.
The Bears’ voluntary offseason program officially opened Tuesday, and wide receiver Kevin White was part of it. And that’s on the field.
With the Bears finalizing their draft board soon, expectations remain high for White even though he’s returning from his second major surgery on his left leg since becoming general manager Ryan Pace’s first first-round pick.
The pressing question for the Bears is whether White’s return, Cam Meredith’s potential and the free-agent arrivals of Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright are enough to pass on adding help via the draft.
After all, the Bears did see Alshon Jeffery leave in free agency.
“Grinding like tomorrow ain’t coming,” White said this week, accompanying an Instagram photo of him going through drills.
This year’s draft class is thought to be deep at cornerback, safety, tight end and running back. But there’s still a decent group of receivers.
Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross are the headliners.
Are any of them worth a pick as high as seventh, where White was selected in 2015? That’s unclear at this point.
“There are a lot of good players in there,” said SiriusXM NFL Radio analyst Gil Brandt, the former vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys.
“But there isn’t anybody that really jumps out to me as the guy that’s going to come in and catch a lot of passes — 80 passes or so — as we’ve had in the past.”
Apparently, the Bears remain invested in White, who had a team-best 19 catches for 187 yards before breaking his left fibula in Week 4.
Pace told the Chicago media at the NFL owners meeting last month that he has a “glass-half-full” outlook for White.
“I’m also mindful and responsible about creating the right depth,” Pace said. “But I’m excited about his upcoming season. I’m excited about where he’s at right now — where his mindset is at right now — and it’ll be exciting to see that moving forward.”
Wright and Wheaton make up that depth Pace mentioned. But Days 2 and 3 of the draft also present some options.
The Bears have a good feel for Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp and East Carolina’s Zay Jones after coaching them at the Senior Bowl.
USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster was among the players the Bears formally interviewed at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Bears also hosted Grambling State’s Chad Williams on a pre-draft visit.
But whether the Bears draft a receiver or not, they’re counting on White this season.
“Kevin is going to have to step up, stay healthy, and he knows that, and he’s motivated,” Pace said. “We’re excited about a handful of guys, and we still have the draft ahead of us, too.”
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Bears position spotlight: Wide receiver
Rating the Bears’ need
Kevin White, Cam Meredith, Eddie Royal, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Reuben Randle, Daniel Braverman, Dres Anderson.
You should know
Wheaton is one season removed from a decent one. He had 44 catches for 749 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games in 2015 before a torn labrum limited him to three games last season and later required surgery.
The Bears would gladly take that production, especially if Wheaton is quarterback Mike Glennon’s second or third option.
Wheaton, who was signed to a two-year deal, leads all Bears receivers with a $5.25 million salary-cap hit this season.
Best of the best
The debate is between Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams. Davis, from Wheaton Warrenville South, is a tricky evaluation. Teams will have to trust the tape on him. He didn’t run at the combine or his pro day after surgery on his ankle.
“Davis is a wild card because he hasn’t been able to do anything with his injury,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
“I want to make plays; I want to finish down the field. Whether you count that as a No. 1, 2 or 3 [receiver], that’s up to you.’’ — Wheaton