In April of (now) last year, Phil Emery managed his first NFL Draft as the Chicago Bears General Manager.
Only three of his six selections played for the Bears in 2012, although Brandon Hardin would have likely played a role in the secondary if his season wasn't ended by a preseason injury. First round pick Shea McClellin had 14 total tackles (seven solo) and 2.5 sacks this year, and fourth round selection Evan Rodriguez established himself as a solid fullback.
But the pick that excited me in April was second round pick Alshon Jeffery. The big wide receiver slipped from his projected first round status all the way to the 45th overall selection, where the Bears gladly added his 6-3, 215 pound frame to the offense.
Jeffery had an up-and-down rookie season for the Bears. Most fans will immediately point to the offensive pass interference penalties called on Jeffery in the Bears Dec. 16 loss to Green Bay. And there were the missed games because of injuries; a broken hand suffered in Jacksonville cost Jeffery more than a month.
There were many positive from Jeffery this season, though. Perhaps the best mark of his maturation came after he was shutout in - and blamed for - the loss to the Packers. In the two weeks that followed, Jeffery had five catches for 111 yards and appeared to bounce back mentally from a rough performance.
If we step back from the frustration that was the offensive performance of the 2012 Chicago Bears and look at Jeffery in the context of his fellow rookies, however, there is more cause for confidence in Jeffery's future as a Bears receiver.
Jeffery was the seventh receiver taken in April. These six receivers came off the board before him:
- Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville (5th overall)
- Michael Floyd, Arizona (13)
- Kendall Wright, Tennessee (20)
- AJ Jenkins, San Francisco (30)
- Brian Quick, St. Louis (33)
- Stephen Hill, New York Jets (43)
As one would hope, Blackmon had the best season of the Class of 2012, stepping in as the Jaguars' number one receiver immediately. It took him some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but he finished with strong rookie numbers (64 receptions, 865 yards, 5 touchdowns).
One name that keeps popping up among the stud rookie receivers is TY Hilton, who was one of a handful of incredible draft picks by the Colts this year. He led rookie receivers with seven touchdowns, finished just behind Blackmon with 861 yards (in one fewer game played) and ranked third among rookies with 50 receptions.
Looking at the numbers of Blackmon and Hilton, and other 2012 rookies, how does Jeffery stack up? Let's take a look at where the Bears youngster ranked among rookie receivers this season.
- 367 receiving yards: five receivers - Blackmon, Hilton, Chris Givens (HOU), Wright and Floyd - had more receiving yards than Jeffery.
- 24 receptions: six receivers - Blackmon, Wright, Hilton, Floyd, Givens and TJ Graham (BUF) - had more catches than Jeffery.
- 15.29 yards per reception: only four receivers - Hilton, Givens, Travis Benjamin (CLE) and Rueben Randle (NYG) - had a higher average than Jeffery
- 3 touchdowns: only Hilton, Blackmon, Wright and Mohamed Sanu (CIN) caught the ball in the end zone more Jeffery.
It's necessary, however, to remember that Jeffery only played in 10 games. If we look at his numbers per game rather than his gross production, his season is more impressive. Among rookies, Jeffery's 36.70 yards per game ranked sixth - behind only Hilton, Blackmon, Givens, Jarius Wright (MIN) and Wright - in 2012.
There were two areas where Jeffery could improve. One wasn't something he could completely control; he was targeted only 4.8 times per game.
The other is something he'll have to work on between today and August if he wants to stay Jay Cutler's number two option (especially in the red zone); Jeffery only caught 50 percent of the balls thrown his direction.
Where will Jeffery's career go from here? Who knows. The Bears will have new coaches and a new offensive scheme in 2013, both of which should only improve his chances of performing well. And working with an all-pro like Brandon Marshall will hopefully provide the opportunity for Jeffery to learn to use his body and ability to make big plays.