Chicago Bears: Evaluating Alshon Jeffery's Rookie Season

Chicago Bears: Evaluating Alshon Jeffery's Rookie Season

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.

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  • fb_avatar

    You made a big deal out of Jeffery having a bad game against the packers an he did, but for whatever the reason, perhaps the one time he committed pass interference and wasn't called, the refs had it out for him. All season I have been watching various games and I see the refs letting the players fight it out, rarely calling penalties against either side and yet in this game the refs constantly called the kid when if anyone should have been called it should have been the defenders. Secondly you complained about dropped passes. Yes he had some, so did Marshall for that matter. The point you seem to have missed is just because a reciever is targeted doesn't mean Jay threw a catchable ball. He has a very bad habit of throwing at recievers feet. I realize Jay is doing so to avoid 1)a sack & 2)an interception. That being said I just don't feel that it was necessary to blame Jeffery. Does he need to improve, yes, is he better than the person you are decribing, most definately. If the Bears ever get Culter the time to pass the Jeffery and Marshall, they will be killers next year.

  • In reply to Ronald Woolever:

    Thanks for the comment, Ronald. I'm actually a HUGE Jeffery fan, and tried to dampen my enthusiasm for his potential by putting his season into a context of other rookie wideouts. IMO there were only two - Blackmon & Hilton - that had better rookie campaigns, and who knows where Jeffery's season might have ended up if not for the broken hand. I hope he works with Brandon Marshall during this offseason and takes a big step next year. If Cutler had two big, legitimate options outside, we wouldn't be talking about him being a 3,000 yard passer any more.

  • fb_avatar

    Good article. Personally I think that Alshon could have had a bigger rookie season. I think all the receivers, Matt Forte included, suffered from Jay Culter's obsession with Marshall. If you are fortunate enough to have 'NFL Rewind' you should re-watch the games and see how wide open Jeffery and Forte are open on some plays, but instead, Jay Cutler elects to throw to a double covered Brandon Marshall. I hope our next head coach has a bigger ego than Jay Cutler so that this offense can finally blossom. It's hard to imagine that Jay Cutler could have a better year with Roy WIlliams, Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, and Earl Bennett. Sigh.....

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