There were plenty of doubts surrounding Alshon Jeffery before the 2011 NFL Draft. Scouts were concerned about his fluctuating weight in college and his drop in production his final year at the University of South Carolina. The Bears were not scared off, however, and traded up to select him with the 13th pick of the second round (45th overall) that April.
He showed some flashes his rookie season where he finished with 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns, but he was only able to play 10 games due to injuries.
Enter Brandon Marshall, who decided to take Jeffery under his wing during the offseason and help train the would-be second year player at Marshall’s training facility in Weston, Fla. Marshall praised Jeffery’s improvements at Training Camp, telling Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: “He was softer last year, much softer. Now he’s strong. He’s a beast.”
That beast has broken out in a big way this season.
Through the team’s first 10 games this season, Jeffery has 54 catches (18th most in the NFL), 818 receiving yards (13th most in the NFL) and leads all wide receivers with 111 rushing yards on 12 carries.
For a team that relied so heavily on Brandon Marshall in the passing game last season, Jeffery’s emergence has not only helped himself, but also the guys around him. Teams are now forced to choose whether they want to double-team Jeffery or Marshall, often leaving one of them in a one-on-one situation.
One key to Jeffery’s game is that he has continued to work each and every week at becoming a better player.
“He continues to grow,” Bears QB Josh McCown said following the Bears’ 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in which Jeffery finished with seven catches for 83 yards. “From the first day, we got together and worked out when we picked him. He’s come in very humbly and has just worked his tail off. He is one of the hardest working guys in practice. He just never really has a down moment.”
The combination of Marshall and Jeffery has made for one of the league’s most consistent wide receiver duos this year with the pair combining for 1,646 yards, second most behind Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (1,706).
Prior to last week the Chicago duo was ahead of Thomas and Decker, and Marshall was not shy talking about he and Jeffery’s place in the league: “We’re definitely the number one tandem in the league right now, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in. Before, I was trying to be the best wide receiver in the league. Now my sole focus is on building this dynamic tandem that’s hard to stop.”
Not only has Marshall’s knack for big catches and big games has rubbed off on Jeffery, so has his run-blocking ability. While Marshall stands atop Pro Football Focus’ rankings of best blocking wide receivers with a +7.0, Jeffery ranks 15th with a +1.6.
His most notable block of the season came back on September 29th against the Detroit Lions. Quarterback Jay Cutler faked a handoff up the middle to Michael Bush and pitched it out to Matt Forte. Jeffery was lined up in the slot and drove cornerback Darius Slay more than 10-yards up the field, knocking out safety Glover Quinn along the way as Forte glided to the endzone untouched for a touchdown.
Lost among his big catches and blocks in the running game, he has become particularly effective running the football this season. He has rushed the ball 12 times for 111 yards off reverses and jet sweeps, and because of his effectiveness, the team has been able to utilize a variety of plays off of fakes to him.
For years the Bears lacked competency at the wide receiver position, having to rely on guys like Roy Williams, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox to make big plays. More than a year ago Phil Emery gave the Bears a bonafide number one receiver, trading for Brandon Marshall, and the way things are shaping up this season, it’s starting to look like he may have drafted another in Alshon Jeffery.
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