“Raw, needs polish, will take time to develop” is the basic descriptor you can come to use and expect for Bears rookies Leonard Floyd and Kevin White. We’ll consider White a rookie in this exercise considering this is his first full playing season. Yes, he’s had 16 months to prepare, but there’s nothing like actual experience on the field.
Being Ryan Pace’s two first round draft picks so far, the brunt of expectations fall on these two to perform immediately, without regards as to an effective rationale. They’re supposed to be impact players right away and dominate their competition, at least relative to the position the Bears place them in.
But that kind of plan doesn’t always work in the NFL.
The thought that your draft status determines that you must be producing at an elite and consistent level right away, is flawed, especially with unfinished players. Some need more time to develop physically, mentally, or both.
My colleague Josh Sunderbruch wrote about the White conundrum a couple weeks back in regards to someone like his draft status and production, and I have to respectfully disagree on several points.
To maintain that a player must be elite right away because he was picked higher stems more from a lack of patience-an ideal all general managers strive for-in keeping their jobs and seeing immediate results. However, some players can be picked at a high draft status with “potential” and effective scouting reports (something Bears fans are familiar with in regards to Jay Cutler). They are chosen with a future in mind and what they could be, as in the mold of the rebuilding team they are joining. Which brings up a fair assessment.
Of top 10 selections, how many players are actually joining teams ready to win now? How many are finished products as the missing piece to a contender? If you have a pick in the high-end areas of the NFL Draft, chances are you’re not climbing the mountaintop anytime soon.
Of last year’s choice 10 organizations, you could logically say only the Ravens, Giants, and Cowboys look like teams ready to make a playoff run this season. In the Giants’ and Cowboys’ case, these are teams in one of the lesser-quality divisions in the league in the NFC East, while also having better cores already in place. When it comes to Baltimore, 2015 was an outlier for a Ravens squad that’s made the playoffs six out of the last eight seasons. Everyone else among that list is rebuilding and trying to set their own standard.
You take a perspective look at who the Bears should be chasing within their own division i.e. the Vikings, and you gain an even greater understanding. Minnesota, by most pundit’s standards, is one of the most talented teams in the NFL. The Vikings have a bright future and seem set for dominance for years to come. What’s their secret in having one of the best young defenses in the league, a budding talented receiving core, etc.?
They have 13 former first round draft picks still on their roster that have been homegrown and cultivated within their own culture on their current roster. That isn’t including depth from other selections in later rounds such as former fifth-rounder and current NFL receiving leader, Stefon Diggs.
The Bears on the other hand, currently have five former first round picks on their roster, with White and Floyd being the only two from the current regime. This is an organization short on talent as well as depth due to neglect over years. They need time to be elevated to that status.
No one can tell for sure whether Floyd or White will be superstars worthy of where they were selected. This is just an urging of patience. Floyd had a fine NFL debut against the Texans with six tackles and a half-sack, but it was far from perfect. He was pushed around due to his limited size at times and still needs to be more consistent setting the edge as a run defender, which is fine. Those limits were understood going in.
Meanwhile, White has prompted an angry mob of those urging the Bears to bench him so he can more properly learn the playbook because he ran the wrong routes-coming from a limited route tree in college-and made several mistakes in his first action. This is magnified by the Bears only having one truly reliable target in the passing game at the moment in Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery himself wasn’t the stud he is now without growing pains in his rookie 2012 season. White was playing at half speed because he was thinking not reacting instinctively, which is also fine, for now. Logic would maintain that he needs more reps to be comfortable, learn, and be instinctive, not less. Shunning pupils as soon as they struggle isn’t something coaches actively look to do.
Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains agrees:
Reporter to #Bears OC Dowell Loggains: How do you get Kevin White to play fast?— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) September 16, 2016
Loggains: "Just give him a bunch of reps."
These are the relative expectations for both. They are going to have ups-and-downs. They are going to struggle. They are going to make mistakes.
Sometimes this year, they’ll even actually justify where they were drafted and play well. All visions of grandeur and what could be will flash across your eyes with a gleam when that happens. Above all, with proper coaching, they are going to adjust and learn from their mistakes and play well more often as time goes on, at least ideally. Floyd isn’t going to be a Hall of Famer just because of his performance in his first game while White isn’t a bust because of his less than quality outing in his first professional game.
I’m also sure that when you think of Floyd and White respectively, sometimes Aldon Smith and Amari Cooper come to mind. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has already maintained that Floyd is a different player from his former San Francisco prodigy. Smith had the size and was more prepared for the brunt of the NFL right away. Floyd has more tools to work on while also literally growing. He’ll need more repetitions for that growth as well according to Fangio.
Vic Fangio on Bears rookie OLB Leonard Floyd: "He’ll play better the more he plays.”— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) September 15, 2016
Cooper in comparison to White, played three full seasons in college in a pro-style offense for Alabama. His impact his rookie season should have been expected and a seamless transition given his experience. Someone like Texans rookie receiver Will Fuller-who is enjoying early success-also is of a different breed and can make the simple transition considering the pro scheme he was involved in with Notre Dame. It’s not fair to expect the Bears’ young men to live up to guys like this that are molded and more NFL-ready right away.
You couldn’t have more drastic ends of the spectrum.
And really, the two are a reflection of their environment. After all, the 10th youngest team in the NFL has questions at playmaker and in the secondary. No one knows what the future rightfully holds for Floyd and White just like no one knows what to make of this Bears season or in the coming years. The Bears’ future rests as much in these two becoming gems as it does in the rest of the roster coming together. It’s all an ongoing process.
Just remember, there will always be time to criticize and wax poetically if necessary.
For now, let’s just take a deep breathe, stay calm, and enjoy the ride.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.