The Chicago Bears are in the market for a wide receiver. Johnny Knox is on the mend and Roy Williams won't be returning. Devin Hester and Dane Sanzenbacher are bit players at best. Earl Bennett is the only viable option on the current roster.
The team will likely address this enormous need with a veteran free agent, yet it would be wise to invest in an early round receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft. There have been plenty of receivers linked to the Bears with the 19th overall pick. One of those is former South Carolina wideout Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery is one of the biggest receivers in the draft (6-6, 229). Chicago needs a big-bodied target to whom Jay Cutler can lob the deep ball. Jeffery fits that profile. He did not post eye-popping numbers for the Gamecocks – 49 catches, 762 yards, 6 TDs last season – but that was largely a product of South Carolina's run-heavy system and inconsistent quarterback play. In 2010 though, he caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards and 9 TDs.
WR Alshon Jeffery
Douglas Jones/US Presswire
Jeffery dwarfs the average NFL cornerback and has outstanding leaping ability. He made a number of one-handed grabs in college and had some of his best games against top competition, including a four-catch, 148-yard performance against Nebraska in last year's Capital One Bowl.
As a sophomore, he faced eventual national champion Auburn and No. 1 ranked Alabama in back-to-back weeks. In those two games, he racked up 15 catches, 319 yards and 4 TDs. In the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl, he caught 9 passes for 130 yards against Florida State.
Jeffery shows great body control and is an absolute beast after the catch. It typically takes two to three defenders to bring him down. He has good zone awareness and is tough to cover on deep balls.
Yet he's not without his flaws, and he has a bunch. First, Jeffery is not a burner. He'll be lucky to break the 4.60 mark at this year's scouting combine. His lack of speed, combined with sloppy route running, doesn't allow him to create separation consistently. This was a problem for Chicago's receivers in 2011.
He doesn't use his hands well to beat the jam and struggles against press coverage. He's ponderous off the line and it takes him a while to reach top speed. When given a free release, he's tough to cover, but physical corners in the NFL will give him a lot of trouble.
Most concerning about Jeffery is his sketchy ability to make catches in traffic. Slower players in the NFL need to be able to snatch balls with defenders near them and while taking hits. Jeffery failed to do so more often than not, showing questionable hands trying to absorb contact. He also does not utilize his big frame well enough to shield defenders.
Many of these flaws are curable with hard work and good coaching, but no NFL team should count on him to come in and contribute right away. He does his best work in the red zone – he caught 22 touchdowns in three collegiate seasons – so he has value there but it will be a few years before he can be expected to produce on every down.
While Jeffery has a lot of potential, the deficiencies in his all-around game make him a scary pick in the first round. If the Bears grab him at 19, it will be a wait-and-see process for a few years with the youngster. If he somehow falls to them in the second, he's a no-brainer, but that's unlikely.
Chicago needs a player that con contribute right away, which makes receivers like Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd and Mohamed Sanu more attractive. Yet Jeffery's ability near the goal line may be too much to pass up. If the team is willing to be patient with him, Jeffery could be in the Navy and orange next season.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.