Is Alshon Jeffery a Top Ten Wide Receiver?

AlshonCatch

(GIF courtesy BuzzFeed Sports)

 

During Sunday’s tragicomic loss to the Vikings, I tweeted that Alshon Jeffery (again, NOT “Jeffries”) “Might be a top-10 WR.” After I sent that out, Alshon proceeded to make one of the most impressive catches I’ve seen from a Chicago receiver; indeed, one of the most impressive catches I’ve seen from anyone. I could watch it all day. (In fact, I’ve been watching it the entire time I’ve been writing.) As impressive as that catch was, though, it’s only one play. Has Alshon done enough to be considered a top ten receiver?

First of all, I should say this: it doesn’t really matter. It’s fun to think about, but he’s very, very good already. If he’s not one of the ten best receivers in the NFL, he’s certainly one of the fifteen best. Combined with Brandon Marshall’s established excellence, they represent arguably the best duo of receivers in the league. (It’s growing less and less arguable.) Which is remarkable, when you consider that when the Bears hired Phil Emery, he took over a team that had featured Devin Hester, Roy Williams, and Johnny Knox at wideout. Knox was actually a good prospect (and indeed, he’d be a great weapon as a third receiver on this team) but he suffered a horrific career-ending spinal injury against Seattle in 2011. Hester was always miscast as a featured wide-receiver, and Roy Williams was, well, bad.

In his first offseason in charge, GM Phil Emery proceeded to overhaul the position. He sent two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for All-Pro Brandon Marshall, a player with documented personal demons but an unquestioned surplus of talent. Emery then drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round; Jeffery had been projected earlier in the year as a potential first round choice, but doubts about his conditioning and work ethic pushed him down draft boards. The  Bears traded their second and fifth round selections to the Rams for the second round pick they used to draft him. So in one offseason, Phil Emery essentially turned a second round pick, two thirds, and a fifth rounder into one of the best receiver combinations in the NFL. That’s an incredible use of mostly non-premium assets.

The two players complement each other wonderfully, and in many ways they’re mirror images; both are big, long targets with impressive athleticism. Marshall is the savvier of the two players, with more precision to his routes, while the 23 year-old Jeffery maintains a burst of breakaway speed that Marshall seems to have lost. One of the hallmarks of the Trestman offense has been the constant threat of an end-around to Jeffery; he’s actually totaled 115 yards on 14 carries this season, good for an 8.2 yards per carry average. (It’s been so effective that Jeffery is often sent in motion as a decoy to set up an interior run, or a run to the opposite side.) In terms of attracting defensive attention, Marshall’s presence is an undeniable benefit for Jeffery, and with Alshon taking off like he has that relationship should grow even more symbiotic.

Last season, Jeffery caught just 24 balls for 367 yards. Not exactly eye-popping, and certainly not the stat-line of a top ten receiver. So what’s changed?

1.) Health: Jeffery only played in ten games last season; he’s started every contest this year. His injuries last year (a broken hand and a knee injury) have not proven to be harbingers of poor health. And I don’t think there’s a Bears fan alive who doesn’t understand all too well the importance of good health.

2.) Development: Alshon was a raw product coming into the league, having played only three seasons of college football. Wide receivers going from college to the pros often have one of the tougher transitions; that’s why you’ll often see players make long strides from year one to year two. (Along with Jeffery, Atlanta’s Julio Jones was a prime example of this phenomenon; Josh Gordon of the Browns is making a similar case this season.) Jeffery seems to be adjusting very nicely, as that GIF attests; watch his right hand as he reaches the five-yard line. It’s nearly imperceptible, but he uses it to slightly nudge Chris Cook, without extending it to where it might draw an offensive pass-interference penalty. (Cook was so mad about that push that he grabbed an official twice, resulting in an ejection.) Last season, Jeffery was memorably whistled for three interference penalties against the Packers in week 15. I believe he’s adjusted to the rules.

3.) Coaching: This is the big one. The entire offense has been better under Marc Trestman. His ability to put offensive players in positions to succeed has been striking, and a night and day difference from Mike Tice’s efforts last season. This is not to say that Jeffery isn’t a talented player; look at that GIF again. That’s not a “system” receiver. That is an immensely talented athlete. But great coaching gives players chances to flourish, and there’s no better example than Alshon.

So, having covered all of that: is he a top ten receiver? He’s currently fourth in yards and eighth in receptions, so that’s a good start. He’s also just 23, which factors in heavily. Evaluating based on who is playing the best football right now, I think it’s safe to say he’s in the top ten, or just outside. And to take a different approach, which receivers would you most like to have for the next five seasons? Calvin Johnson is on his own plane of existence, but things get murkier after that. I don’t think there are ten guys I’d rather have on the Bears.

What do you think?

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.

37 responses to “Is Alshon Jeffery a Top Ten Wide Receiver?”

  1. Zach

    I am so glad that Bleacher Nation got a Bears section. I was hoping the Bears would get Alshon Jeffery in the 1st round that year but who could have ever expected to get such a talented receiver in the 2nd round. Emery has transformed 2 below average groups of the offense in 2 years. The receiving core has gotten so much better so fast and then just look at the offensive line. I am so happy they finally have a GM who is willing to draft offensive lineman before the 6th round and sign a well established lineman who is still in their prime.

  2. DReese

    I would rather have
    Calvin Johnson
    Josh Gordon
    Brandon
    AJ Green
    Dez
    Cruz
    over Jeffery(s)
    Which is awesome because according to my perfect list the Bears have the 2 of the top 7 WRs!

    BTW I dont trust any WR on the Broncos, Saints, Pats or Packers

    1. Funn Dave

      I can see where you’re coming from with that last point–I’ll even cede that players like James Jones wouldn’t be nearly as effective on a team like the Bears–but Jordy Nelson is a beast with or without Rodgers. I don’t think he’s quite as good as Jeffery this season, but I do think he’s top 20 material. I’d say the same about Cobb if he were healthy.

      That said, it’s so hard to evaluate WRs accurately. Their performance is so heavily dependent on the play of the players around them. Look at poor Anquan Boldin. He should be a top 10 WR but SF’s receivers were so depleted most of this year, he ran into so much coverage there wasn’t much he could do. Which begs the question: if the Bears hadn’t brought in Marshall to take away some of the defense’s attention, would we even be having a coversation like this about Jeffery?

      1. DReese

        I agree QBs are a big deal when comparing WRs but I just hate the packers and I do not trust anything that they have. Blind Hatred!

        Josh Gordon probably has the worst QB situation and is still putting up MONSTER numbers!

      2. Alex

        No Julio jones? Look I get your point but demarius Thomas has some of the best hands in the league, he’s top 5. Jordy Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Reggie Wayne, Pierre garçon,Wes welker, the list goes on. Alshons great and all, but one great season doesn’t put him in the top 10. Consistency is big.

    2. Cubbies1234

      I understand your reasoning behind being untrustworthy of those guys but I have to add Decker to your list

  3. Rudy

    Since we are getting crazy… How bout a Bleachernation Bulls section next?

    1. Brett

      Baby steps, Rudy. Baby steps.

    2. On The Farm

      The best thing to do is to give Jay all your support (as long as he continues to do a good job that shouldn’t be hard at all) and leave Brett no choice, but to continue to grow BN.

  4. Tim

    The offense had made its transition. I think this coming offseason emery is really going to address the defense. The defense needs to get younger. The middle of the field really lacks what Briggs and Urlacher were able to do. Besides cutler, our offense had been relatively healthy all year. The defense has seen the injury bug which I think has a lot to do with the age of a lot of the guys. If the defense can make strides this offseason like the offense did last year, I think the bears are going to be the team to beat for the next 5 years if everyone stays healthy

    1. Funn Dave

      Those are two pretty big ifs.

  5. On The Farm

    Awesome use of the GIF sir

  6. Nathan

    The offense looks solid for years to come if the Bears sign Cutler in the off season. Jeffery, Marshall, M. Bennett, and Forte are hard to top as a unit. I’m hoping to see M. Wilson’s role increase next year, as he is super talented as well. The Bears could honestly draft all defensive players in this years draft, and I wouldn’t complain one bit. Guard and center would be the only two positions even worth targeting in this years draft on the offensive side.

    As for receivers I would forsure take over Jeffery, only Calvin comes to mind. Not saying he is the second best receiver in the NFL, but there is a big bunch up between players and I think Jeffery in that tier right behind Calvin. Combine that with his age, and I’m not sure the Bears would trade him for anyone else.

  7. Austin

    Alright so let’s say Cutler, Tillman, DJ Williams or James Anderson, and Melton are resigned this offseason what do you think the Bears should go with their 1st and 2nd round picks? (This is for everyone).

    I was thinking go best available DL or LB 1st round and the. 2nd round go best available DB/opposite position picked in first. I’d prefer if a DL is picked in the 1st round specifically a DT. that has to be the biggest position of need.

    1. Cubbies1234

      I agree completely with Austin, I think they should go 1st round: DT/LB, 2nd: CB, 3rd: QB to develop (because this QB heavy class) behind Cutler after you sign him to a one or two year deal, 4th: go with whatever you didn’t get in the first. These are all assuming there is someone out there the Bears are interested in these slots. In the first I think they will go D-line because there is only one first round worthy linebacker (CJ Mosely form Alabama) and he will go in the top 15. Look out for Ra’Shede Hageman, (Don’t quote me on spelling) he is the DT from Minnesota and he fits the uber-athletic player type that Emery seems to be in love with.

    2. ssckelley

      As I said below, if it was me I would keep adding to the strength of the team and draft offense with the top 2 picks. There are some good QB’s in next years draft and I would like to see the Bears snag one.

    3. Nathan

      I’ll give you a top 5 of guys I like for the Bears. (Not in any particular order)

      1. Jason Verrett: I personally believe he is the best corner in the draft, and Tillman and Jennings aren’t getting any younger. Plus, they might not re-sign both.

      2. Ra’shede Hageman: Like someone said above, not only is he a freak of nature but he fills a position of need, especially if Melton walks. I believe he is 6’6 310. Even if they sign Melton, this would be solid pick.

      3. Hasean Clinton-Hix: Wright and Conte are pretty awful, and he is the consensus top safety in the draft.

      4. Stephon Tuitt/Louis Nix: I put both down, because I am a Notre Dame fan, but IMO both are deserving of top 20 selections. If the Bears decide to cut Peppers, I think the Bears have to strongly consider Tuitt. Nix is a guy that consistently warrants double teams. He would free up Bostic and Briggs to wreak havoc against the run.

      5. Ryan Shazier: I am putting Shazier here because Mosely will most likely be gone before the Bears pick, but I love Mosely as well. Even if Bostic and Greene turn out to be solid players, Briggs isn’t getting any younger, and is a free agent after next season.

  8. Are You Ready for the 2014 MLB Draft? And Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    […] are reminded to check out the Bears page, where Jay has written recently asked whether Alshon Jeffery is a top 10 wide receiver in the game, wrote about a chat GM Phil Emery had, and even dug deep into some nitty gritty rules stuff. The BN […]

  9. ssckelley

    The Bears have 2 of the top wide outs in the NFL, definitely top 10. The fun part of it is Jeffery is only going to get better.

    Going into next season the Bears need to take advantage of their personnel. The Bears have always been known as a defensive football team, I say next year change that. The Bears have all the tools in place to have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. A big reason why McCown has looked so good is because he is operating in a damn good offense. There are many quarterbacks that could put up good numbers having Jeffery, Marshall, Forte, and Bennett to throw to. In next years draft I am taking a QB and another OL with the top 2 picks. Patch the defense up through free agency and later draft picks. Just getting Briggs back would improve the Bears defense.

    1. Funn Dave

      They did change that. Since last season the defense has gone from great to middling at best and the offense has done the opposite. Personally, I’m going to disagree with your suggestion above that they emphasize offense in the draft. I think they’ve shown significant enough improvement offensively that they should address their issues on defense before they get even worse. Yes injured players will return but there are still a lot of weaknesses.

      1. ssckelley

        But the thing is they rely so heavily on Cutler and he has proved unreliable to stay healthy. I say keep making improvements to the offensive line to give him protection and have a QB waiting in the wings. My theory is to play to your strengths and right now the Bears strength is the offense. If you don’t then, again, you are putting all your eggs into 1 basket with Cutler and I doubt the draft can fix the aging defense.

  10. jh03

    Catching up on my reading, so I’m a little late to the party…

    I think the only WR tandem better than the Bears’ is a healthy Roddy/Julio.

    1. cs50

      Falcons are having a down year, but people seem to have forgotten that when they were healthy they carried an awful defense, awful o-line, and a 30 year old Michael Turner to a 13-3 record and a 17-0 lead in the NFC Championship game. Calvin Johnson is the only guy Id take before Julio and before his multiple injuries this season, Roddy was the most consistent WR in the NFL

  11. Robbo

    I’m glad you mention the Jeffery end-around play. It has almost become a running joke among my friends like every game we are just waiting for them to run that play. It’s hilaroius. Although, I will say, as slow as Jeffery looks on those end-arounds and as predictible as it has become they do tend to turn the play into positive yards.

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