In Brandon Marshall, the Chicago Bears have one of the NFL's top wide receivers. However, with the team switching to a pass-heavy offense under new head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears badly need another pass-catcher to step up opposite Marshall.
That's where Alson Jeffery, the Bears' second-round pick in 2012, comes in.
Jeffery's first NFL season was something of a mixed bag. The 6'3", 216-pound Jeffery showed significant promise when on the field, reeling in 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
With that said, however, staying on the field was a problem. A broken hand and knee injury cost Jeffery six games and limited him in several others, leaving Jeffery's inaugural NFL campaign something of a "lost" season.
At least one member of the Bears' coaching staff is expecting big things in Jeffery's second year. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports, receivers coach Al Groh is quite enamored with Jeffery's "tremendous potential" and thinks the youngster has "made improvement in the very short time I have been able to work with him."
That tremendous potential was one of the things that drew the Bears to Jeffery in the first place.
Jeffery's final season at South Carolina was something of a disappointment, and that coupled with rumors about Jeffery's conditioning leading up to the 2012 NFL draft caused him to slide out of the first round.
However, we're talking about a player who led the SEC in receiving in 2010, and as you can see the players he beat out aren't exactly scrubs. Jeffery finished as the runner-up for the Biletnikoff Award that year, losing out to Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State.
Bleacher Report NFL Lead Writer Matt Miller has long been the captain of the Jeffery bandwagon, lauding him as the top wide receiver prospect entering last year's draft. It comes as no surprise then, that Miller was a big fan of Chicago's decision to draft Jeffery in the second round.
Miller wasn't far off in his prediction either. It didn't take long at all for Jeffery to demonstrate his ability to hurt opposing defenses over the top, reeling in a 42-yard scoring strike from Jay Cutler in his NFL debut.
Jeffery doesn't run a blazing 40-yard dash time—Tony Pauline of Draft Insider clocked him at 4.55 seconds at South Carolina's pro day—but his "long speed" is more than adequate. He's football fast, and that's all that really matters.
What makes Jeffery doubly dangerous is the impressive size that he brings to the table along with his speed. It's that size, and the physicality that size allows Jeffery to bring to bear, that led ESPN's Matt Bowen to label Jeffery a second-year "breakout" candidate.
While the former South Carolina product isn't a pure vertical threat outside of the numbers (plays a 4.6 speed on tape), he is a fit for Trestman's scheme due to his size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and his ability to run intermediate inside-breaking cuts that put stress on a defender's initial leverage.
The advantage that size offers is on display on the following play. The coverage isn't great, but it isn't particularly horrible either, and frankly it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Given how much bigger Jeffery is than the cornerback covering him, all Jay Cutler has to do is drop the ball in over Jeffery's back shoulder and there's nothing the defensive back can do about it.
Granted, there's still room for quite a bit of improvement in Jeffery's game. As Rotoworld's Nick Mensio points out, Jeffery drew far too many offensive interference penalties, including three in a single half against the Green Bay Packers.
Jeffery also needs to become more consistent, both in his route running and in using his size to his advantage.
Jeffery has five inches and about 20 pounds on Minnesota Vikings' cornerback Josh Robinson. Plays like the one above, where Robinson out-muscles Jeffery and intercepts Cutler, just shouldn't happen.
However, a second-year player needing to be more consistent isn't exactly breaking news, especially at wideout. Many young receivers fall into the trap in college of "coasting" at times, letting their physical superiority carry the day.
In the NFL, that edge is smaller. You have to give 100 percent on every snap. If you take your foot off the gas, even for a moment, then the ball could be headed the other way.
If Groh's comments are any indication, then Jeffery is taking that lesson to heart. If that's the case, then he has the skill-set to excel in Trestman's offense, which features a lot of the types of short and intermediate passes where Jeffery's size will come in handy.
Brandon Marshall is still going to be the top dog in the Chicago passing game. However, the Bears will be a much better offense overall if Marshall isn't getting targeted 180 times despite being double-covered almost constantly.
Alshon Jeffery has the ability to be the complement to Marshall that the Bears badly need, and his second-year growth is going to be a big factor in determining whether the Bears are contenders in 2013.
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