The Chicago Bears entered the 2015 NFL Draft looking to improve a roster that finished last season with the organization’s worst record in a decade. The team didn’t make any provocative moves in the draft, though they did take wide receiver Kevin White (No.7) and running back Jeremy Langford (No.106) in hopes of bolstering a lackluster offense.
Chicago went 5-11 in 2014, finishing at the bottom of the NFC North. They struggled defensively, but the team also had trouble on offense, which was expected to be the their strength. Quarterback Jay Cutler played so poorly that he was eventually benched, and the Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets in the offseason. With Cutler returning, led by new head coach John Fox and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, the Bears are looking for White to make an immediate impact.
While Marshall traded to the New York Jets and Alshon Jeffery still on the team, White is expected to be Chicago’s No.2 receiver. In rookie minicamp, he proved his versatility by playing all three receiving positions. White might be the most skilled receiver in the draft, though it’s not always easy for rookie wide outs to make an impact in their first year.
"It's always tough, rookie receivers," Gase said, via The Chicago Tribune. "It's completely different than anything you've done — just getting used to the tempo and the speed of practice and being able to maintain it."
From 2005-2013, only three rookies recorded over 1,000 receiving yards in a year. But three rookies stood out in 2014, giving Chicago reason to believe that White can perhaps put up big numbers in year No.1. Odell Beckham Jr. caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards, while Mike Evans totaled 1,051 yards last season. Sammy Watkins fell just 18 receiving yards shy of 1,000.
Only five players in college football totaled more receiving yards than White last year. There had been much debate about whether or not he or Amari Cooper would be taken first in the draft, considering they were clearly the top two wide receivers. Cooper ended up going No.4 overall to the Oakland Raiders, having led the nation with 124 receptions.
White turned heads at the Scouting Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.35. Some scouts rated him ahead of the Alabama receiver because of his speed and ability to make plays after the catch.
“Amari Cooper is a great receiver, a great competitor, but I think I bring a lot more to the table,” White said on "Pro Football Talk" on NBC Sports Network. “He’s at Alabama with Nick Saban. They have a whole bunch of other tools that help him out where he’s not getting double covered. A lot of attention is not just strictly on Amari Cooper…On West Virginia it’s just ‘OK, let’s shut Kevin White down.’ They have a lot of attention toward me.”
Having been taken in the fourth round, Langford isn’t expected to have the same impact as White in 2015. He’ll back up starting running back Matt Forte, and likely be used as a third-down back, though the Michigan State product could be the team’s starter down the road. Fox has a preference for a running game by committee, which could lead to more carries for Langford, though the 23-year-old is willing to do other things to get on the field.
"I feel like I can play any special teams, and I'm willing to do that,'' Langford said at a press conference. “It's a mental toughness and physical toughness ... for anybody, any round, to get on special teams is a key part.''
Cutler and Chicago’s offense was hurt by Forte having somewhat of a subpar season. His 3.9 yards per carry was his lowest average since 2009, and the 29-year-old ran for more than 100 yards in just three games. Much of the running game's problems were the result of a consistently hurt offensive line. Forte will likely rebound should the line avoid the injury problems of 2014.
With White essentially replacing Marshall along with the addition of another running back, Cutler has some different weapons from 2014. He should be helped by the new coaching staff, after head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer didn’t work out during their two-year stint with the team.
Even though Cutler had one of his worst seasons with the Bears in 2014, his numbers were similar to those that he’s put up in the past. He threw a career high 28 touchdowns, and his 88.6 passer rating was the second-highest of his nine-year career.
The Bears offense finished No. 21 in 2014, but were No. 15 in passing yards. With a new coaching staff, an exciting wide receiver and what should be better pass protection for Cutler after a frustrating season for the offensive line, Chicago's offense should at the very least see a minor improvement.