There was a point in the not-too-distant past where the Chicago Bears weekly trotted out Rashied Davis, Devin Hester and Brandon Lloyd as the club's core wide receivers. A few years later, Muhsin Muhammad called Chicago the place where receivers go to die.
Those days are over.
Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs) was his usual spectacular self, ranking fifth in the league in receptions, 11th in receiving yards and fifth in touchdown catches. He was again one of the most dominant possession receivers in the league, commanding double teams throughout the entire first half of the campaign. For his efforts, Marshall was recently named to his fifth Pro Bowl.
Fortunately for Marshall, those double teams were less frequent in the second half of the season, as opposing defenses were forced to give Jeffery more attention on the other side of the field.
In his second year in the NFL, Jeffery emerged as one of the best playmaking wideouts in the game. It could be argued he has the best pure hands in the league, due in large part to his enormous mitts, and few other pass catchers in the NFL can track and high-point deep balls like Jeffery.
Many folks remember his amazing 45-yard touchdown grab against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15, one in which he leaped over two defenders for the ball before diving into the end zone. For most receivers, that would have been their best catch of the season, if not their career. For Jeffery, it wasn't even his best catch that month. Week after week, he outdid himself on the Amazing Meter, breaking franchise records along the way.
In Week 5, Jeffery caught 10 passes for 218 yards, which was then a Bears single-game high in receiving yardage. Seven weeks later, Jeffery broke his own record, catching 12 passes for 249 yards. He became one of only eight players in NFL history to have two 200-yard performances in the same season. Jeffery also added 105 rushing yards on 16 carries, serving as a weekly threat on end-around plays.
For the year, Jeffery finished with 89 receptions, 1,421 yards (fifth most in the league) and seven touchdowns, and will join Marshall in the Pro Bowl. It will be first time in franchise history the team will have to wide receivers in the same Pro Bowl.
Jeffery and Marshall became the first Bears duo to post 1,000-yard seasons in the same year since Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham in 1995. Jeffery and Marshall had 2,716 receiving yards, which not only led the league this year but also broke the franchise record for combined yardage by a pass-catching duo.
It was a season unlike anything we've ever seen from a pair of Bears wide receivers, one that may not be eclipsed for many years. Or will it?
Marshall is as reliable as the sun coming up every day and will continue to post eye-popping numbers for as long as his body will allow. And Jeffery has only just begun to tap into his immense potential. If he continues to develop and gets even better, this duo could end up breaking numerous NFL records before it's all said and done.
But their contributions don't stop there, as both players proved equally adept as downfield blockers in the run game. According to Pro Football Focus, Marshall was easily the best blocking receiver in the NFL in 2013, while Jeffery wasn't too far down the list.
With those two dominating on the outside, and tight end Martellus Bennett eating up balls in the middle of the field, there weren't a lot of passes left to go around. Yet slot receiver Earl Bennett made the most of his limited opportunities. He caught 32 passes, which was a slight uptick over the last two seasons, for 249 yards and four touchdowns. Bennett will never be anything more than a role player but he fit very well in Marc Trestmans' offense this year.
The most intriguing receiver on the roster was seventh-round rookie Marquess Wilson. He caught just two passes for 13 yards but his reps increased as the season progressed and when Bennett missed the season finale, the team turned to Wilson to serve as the club's starting slot receiver. Wilson has very good speed and showed well as a blocker as well. If he builds on his solid first year, his role in the offense is bound to expand in 2014.
2013 WR Grade: A+
The greatest pass-catching season in franchise history deserves the highest grade possible. All around, it's hard to find a single complaint about this unit in 2013.
Bears fans witnessed something very special last season. It was a performance by two of the best receivers in the league, one that should give you goose bumps when you consider how good they might be in the coming years, when everyone has been in Trestman's system for a few seasons.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.