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Former Bears first-round pick Kevin White looks like a classic Patriots reclamation project

The first-round bust becomes a free agent next week.

New England Patriots v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No position on the New England Patriots’ roster might see at much most turnover during the 2019 offseason as wide receiver. With Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson all headed towards unrestricted free agency, and with the future of suspended Josh Gordon still in doubt, the world champions might drastically overhaul their receiving corps outside of Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman.

Sounds familiar? Last offseason was a pretty similar experience for the Patriots. The team parted ways with its top two receivers from a year prior — Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola — and brought in a boatload of players trying to fill their roles. One thing New England was not afraid to do during this process was picking up highly drafted players that for one reason or another flamed out with their previous teams.

This was no new approach for the team, however: from Shea McClellin to Barkevious Mingo to the aforementioned Dorsett and Patterson, the Patriots have never shied away from giving first-rounders a second shot when their stock was at its lowest. You should therefore not be surprised to see New England go a similar route this offseason in order to rebuild the wide receiver group surrounding quarterback Tom Brady.

One option might be Cincinnati Bengals wideout John Ross, who is reportedly on the trade market. If the Patriots want to explore another avenue and not enter trade negotiations for a former top-10 pick, the seventh overall selection of the 2015 draft will also become available next week: Kevin White, who is set to hit unrestricted free agency on March 13 after four disappointing seasons with the Chicago Bears.

White was never able to live up to the expectations that naturally come with being a high first-round draft choice. The main reason for that were injuries: he sat out his entire 2015 rookie season due to a fractured shin, while fibula and shoulder injuries limited him to only five games over the next two years. White was finally fully healthy in 2018, but limited to a mere 170 offensive snaps in nine games under a new coaching staff.

All in all, the West Virginia product ended his four-year tenure in Chicago with only 14 in-game appearances and 25 catches for 285 yards — one of which a last-second Hail Mary during last regular season’s game against the Patriots that came up one yard short of the goal line. Now, the team against which he made the 54-yard catch (it helped him set a new career-high with 66 yards in one game) could very much look his way again.

Despite White’s status as a former first-round selection, his market will likely develop slowly: too little are his contributions in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league that is the NFL. Consequently, the Patriots might be able to pick him up for a relatively modest price — similar to how they acquired Kenny Britt or Jordan Matthews in late 2017 and early 2018, respectively. And while neither ultimately made an impact, their upside was worth bringing them on board.

White would pretty much be the same. His injury history and lack of production are worrisome, of course, but his talent cannot be denied: at 6’3, 215 lbs he has the size to serve at least as a red zone target, with his 4.35 40-yard dash making him an option as a deep-threat X-receiver in the mold of Josh Gordon as well. His build and speed alone are not the only traits that made him a first-round pick four years ago, however.

The 26-year old also displayed great hands and physicality in college, to find consistent success when asked to go up against press-man coverage. And while he would need to show an ability to get on the same page with Tom Brady, his athletic skill set in combination with what projects to be a low price for a much-needed change of scenery could make White as intriguing a free agent wide receiver as there is this year.

No, he should not be counted on to suddenly turn his career around in a new environment and become the number one wide receiver he was drafted to be. But the same had to be said about Dorsett, Patterson and to a certain degree Gordon as well, and all three of them carved out roles in New England. As a complementary piece and a potential high-upside upgrade over a player like Chris Hogan, White could have value as the Patriots’ latest reclamation project.