When the Bears selected former West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, they were supposed to be getting a player who blended traits of Dez Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. Instead, they ended up with a guy who was even worse than David Terrell.
White's career with the Bears ended in 2018 when they declined his fifth-year option and chose not to re-sign him when his rookie contract expired. It seemed like the right (and obvious) decision to make, as White totaled just 25 catches for 285 yards over four injury-riddled seasons in Chicago. He played in just 14 games (five starts) in what was undoubtedly one of the biggest first-round busts in franchise history.
General manager Ryan Pace was given a pass for his massive whiff because of White's injuries. He missed his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his leg and played just four games in his second year before fracturing his ankle. His third season barely lasted one game before a clavicle injury shelved him on injured reserve. In 2018, when he was given a fresh start by coach Matt Nagy in his first healthy season, he managed just four catches for 92 yards.
But even when White was on the field, he looked incapable of making plays in the NFL. He was an incompetent route-runner and he never flashed the kind of elite athleticism that made him a star in college. He was 'just a guy,' if even that. His attempt to resurrect his career with the Arizona Cardinals didn't last beyond the preseason. White is out of the NFL, and there may never be an opportunity for him to come back.
White was one of several disappointing receivers from the 2015 draft class. Six were selected in the first round, and only Cowboys star Amari Cooper has lived up to his pre-draft scouting report. The other first-rounders included DeVante Parker (14th overall, Dolphins), Nelson Agholor (20th overall, Eagles), Breshad Perriman (26th overall, Ravens) and Phillip Dorsett (29th overall, Colts).
Here's the problem: White is the only one who's already out of the league.
Should Pace have been more patient with his first-ever first-round pick? Heading into the season, the answer would've been no. But the recent emergence of Parker in Miami makes the question worth asking.
Parker gave the Bears a huge assist in their playoff chase in Week 13 against the Eagles. He had seven catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns. His performance doesn't appear to be a fluke, either. He's stacked three productive games in a row; he has 20 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns over the last three weeks. Parker now has 53 catches for 854 yards and six touchdowns on the season, which already equates to career-highs in yards and touchdown catches. He'll set a new career-high in receptions assuming he stays healthy over the final four games.
Parker's breakout season is proof that players develop at their own pace, and first-round picks sometimes require that extra season or two of patience to make sure their blue-chip pedigree isn't still buried inside them somewhere.
Take former Bears running back Thomas Jones, for example. Jones, who was considered a first-round bust after his first four seasons in the league, was given a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago in 2004. Jones, like White, was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and suffered through three forgettable and injury-riddled seasons in Arizona. Prior to joining the Bears, his best season totaled just 627 yards and four touchdowns with the Buccaneers in 2003. And as we're seeing in 2019 with Parker, Jones found his mojo in his fifth season, setting career highs in carries, yards and touchdowns.
It jumpstarted what became a five-year stretch of at least 1,100 yards rushing for the Bears and Jets.
And how about former 49ers and current Redskins tight end, Vernon Davis? The former Maryland star was selected sixth overall by San Francisco in 2006 and totaled less than 1,100 yards after his first three years in the league. Sure, his breakout came in Year 4 when he had 965 yards and 13 touchdowns, but the point remains. He's been one of the most dangerous weapons at the position for nearly a decade since his emergence that took longer than expected.
There's also quarterback Alex Smith, who struggled to hold onto a starting job with the 49ers after being selected with the first overall pick in 2005. Prior to his gruesome injury with the Redskins last season, Smith emerged as a top-flight starter with the Chiefs from 2013-17.
Could this have been the case with White? Let's face it, the Bears didn't have a real opportunity to evaluate him on the field because of his incredible injury history. Chicago appeared to move on from him the moment they added Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and drafted Anthony Miller in the second round (2018) upon Nagy's arrival. Was White really given a fair chance to develop?
We'll never know. But Parker's fifth-year breakout only casts more doubt not only on the Bears' decision to select White over him but also for not handling their draft asset the same way the Dolphins have. Maybe it was the coaches who failed to develop him. Maybe White just wasn't good enough. Or maybe he just needed one more year.