Alshon Jeffery Has Makings of NFL's Next Great Wide Receiver

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Alshon Jeffery Has Makings of NFL's Next Great Wide Receiver

The emergence of Alshon Jeffery into the Chicago Bears offense has given them the weapon opposite of Brandon Marshall they desperately needed.

While Marshall has gotten most of the headlines and is widely considered one of the premier talents on the outside in the NFL, and deservedly so, it's Jeffery who's turning heads and making his case as the NFL's next great receiver. 

Over the past five games Jeffery has 25 receptions for 517 yards and three touchdowns. That's good for an average yards per reception of 20.68, which is exactly the kind of dynamic threat the Bears needed after Marshall saw 40 percent of the targets last season. 

But this season has been a different story, as four Bears players have seen at least 18 percent of the targets. Jeffery and Marshall are leading the way and have combined for 91 catches for 1,268 yards and nine touchdowns through eight games.

Chicago Bears spreading the wealth this season
Player Targets Yards % of teams targets
Brandon Marshall 81 647 29%
Alshon Jefferey 66 621 24%
Martellus Bennett 56 392 20%
Matt Forte 49 316 18%
All others combined 26 158 9%

NFL.com

Choosing Jeffery

While many people thought the Bears were taking a risk when they traded up for Jeffery in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, Bears general manager Phil Emery didn't sound like someone who just took a risk when he spoke of Jeffery after the draft, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

We feel Alshon has the best hands in the draft. We feel he is the best at adjusting to the ball. We feel he is the best sideline and end zone catcher in the draft. He's dynamic with the ball in his hands. He's a big man, he's strong, he's tough. He doesn't go down easy.

Granted, coaches are not going to say anything negative about a player they just drafted, nor shy away from complementing the best about each of the players they just selected. 

But truthfully, nobody really questioned Jeffery's physical abilities—people mostly pointed to his makeup and weight issues as to why he would fall and did fall in the draft.

That and a disappointing junior season at South Carolina, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com.

South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery has generated polar debates among NFL types, some of whom think he will flop in a manner similar to former Detroit Lions receiver Mike Williams.

If you were watching the ESPN broadcast of the draft, you saw analyst Jon Gruden torch Jeffery for his roller-coaster weight and poor reaction to South Carolina's quarterback issues last year.

The Bears had previously shown they weren't shy about taking receivers who may have had some presumed "baggage" accompany them.

Emery and the Bears traded with the Miami Dolphins to bring Marshall to Chicago before the 2012 draft, and Marshall's off-the-field issues were widely documented.

Once Jeffery was drafted, Emery's plan to surround quarterback Jay Cutler with legitimate weapons was realized and noted. 

 

A dynamic pair of receivers

Marshall and Jeffery were slow to coadunate in 2012, due in large part to a number of injuries that left Jeffery with 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season.  

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Jeffery and Marshall

But fast-forward to the present and you see a more-balanced Bears offense with Jeffery and Marshall on the outside, thanks in large part to new Bears head coach Marc Trestman. 

It was Trestman who was tasked with getting the most out of his talented playmakers, and he's been able to do that with a much quicker passing attack. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cutler is completing over 70 percent of his passes on dropbacks where he gets rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, which is good for fifth in the NFL.

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has to game plan against the Bears, and he sees how Jeffery has affected their offense this season, via Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com: "I think it [Jeffery's emergence] has opened things up, pretty much for their whole offense. Last year they were really heavy in throwing the ball to Brandon Marshall, rightfully so, he's a great player."

The system is working, as the Bears are currently second in the NFL in scoring offense behind the Denver Broncos, averaging 30 points per game. 

Jeffrey's emergence over the past five games has been a big part of their success.

Comparing the Top 7 WRs taken in 2012 NFL Draft
Pick # of Games Player REC YDS TDs
5 20 Justin Blackmon 93 1,280 6
13 24 Michael Floyd 79 995 4
20 23 Kendall Wright 107 1,128 5
30 12 AJ Jenkins 1 6 0
33 24 Brian Quick 22 382 3
43 20 Stephen Hill 44 592 4
45 18 Alshon Jeffery 62 988 6

ESPN.com

It's naive to think Marshall's presence doesn't help Jeffery from a statistical standpoint and vice versa, but when discussing Jeffery as one of the next great receivers in the NFL, it has less to do with box scores and more to do with his physical ability. 

 

Film Room

Three things stick out about Jeffery when you watch him on film.

 

1. Separation

He has really improved his ability to separate from defenders when getting off press coverage. It wasn't something he was known for when coming out of South Carolina.

In the screenshot below you can see the progression that Jeffery goes through to set up Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. 

Before the snap you can see that Williams is shaded inside. You're not able to see it in these pictures, but the Packers are in a single-high, man-coverage defense. 

Jeffery will try and gain leverage on Williams to obtain separation, and he's able to do that by using his 6'3", 216-pound frame.

In the second photo you can see Jeffery turn his shoulders and come across with his left foot as if he were going to run the slant. Williams reacts by trying to cut off the inside release as he's playing inside position. 

All Jeffery wanted to do was get his hands on Williams from a position of strength, and as you can see in the third picture, that's exactly what he's done. 

In the fourth picture Jeffery punches with the left arm to get Williams off-balance and swims across the top with his right arm to gain separation. The fifth picture shows the after-effects of the punch and swim to Williams as he stumbles backward. 

Jeffery makes the catch in the sixth picture, and you can see his relationship to Williams at that point. It shows you just how much separation he created off the line of scrimmage. 

 

2. Adjusting to ball

In the Bears matchup against the New Orleans Saints, Jeffery had a career game. 

The biggest play of the day in that record-breaking game for Jeffery was a 58-yard reception late in the fourth quarter.

Jeffery ran a corner route, made a fantastic adjustment to the ball in the air and was able to bring it in for the big gain. 

Cutler made a great throw to keep it away from the defender, but the down-the-field ability from Jeffery was on display and most likely instilled a lot of confidence in him from Cutler.

In this photo you're able to see where Jeffery and the defender, Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, are in relation to where the ball is eventually caught.

Cutler has already thrown the ball and Jeffery has looked back to see where the pass was headed.

In this sequence you're able to see the movements Jeffery made down the field in order to get across Vaccaro and make a play on the ball.

The first picture was after the ball was already in the air and Jeffery was near the 27-yard line, and you can see the catch was made near the 6-yard line. That whole process to get across Vaccaro and to where the ball was going to land took 21 yards and less than two seconds. 

This is a fantastic display of body control, field awareness and pure athletic ability. 

 

3. Physical mismatch

The one thing we all knew about Jeffery coming out of college was that he was a physical mismatch for all of the players he was lining up against on Saturdays.

But the question was how he would do against the guys he'd line up against on Sundays who were bigger, stronger and faster than what he'd been playing against. 

This touchdown pass to Jeffery in the game against the Packers is a strong representation of his physical ability. 

Bears quarterback Josh McCown saw one-on-one coverage on the outside and threw it up to Jeffery, putting the ball where only Jeffery would be able to make a play. 

Jeffery hauls it in for the touchdown, and the world saw the physicality that most people didn't question from the beginning with Jeffery. 

 

Next great wide receiver?

When it comes to pure physical ability, there's no question that Jeffery could be the NFL's next great receiver. 

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He's showing right now that he's more than capable of being the No. 1 option if that's what his team needed from him, at least from a production standpoint. He has developed and improved his route-running and ability to separate from press coverage, which has been a big part of his success over the past five games. 

He's doing everything from catching bubble-screens on the outside to rushing on end-arounds for this Bears offense. He has seven rushes for 89 yards on the season.

When you add in the fact that he's Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) No. 3 blocking receiver in the NFL (min. 50 percent of snaps), he's really becoming the complete package.

At this point it's just going to take time and consistency for Jeffery to be mentioned as one of the league's up-and-coming superstar receivers.

We know he has the ability.

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