In 2012, for the second straight year, the Chicago Bears moved up in the second round of the NFL draft to grab an impact player. South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was considered by some to be a first round talent heading into the 2011 season, but weight issues and a drop in production led to his falling to the second round. Bears GM Phil Emery didn't hesitate to move up for Jeffery – trading a fourth round pick to move up six spots in the second round to select him – with the hope he could serve as the corner stone of what was hoped to be a great passing attack.
Jeffery's weight never became an issue and, from Day 1 of OTAs and mini-camps, he established himself as the likely starter opposite Brandon Marshall. Jeffery had a very strong performance in all four preseason games and was named the starter for the opener against the Colts.
Jeffery's impact was immediately felt, as he hauled in five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. His best play of the season also came in Week 1, when he ran a deep post down the middle of the field and caught a 42-yard touchdown score from Jay Cutler. It was an awesome play, showcasing Jeffery's down-the-field ability and solid concentration to make an over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders.
But much to the dismay of Bears fans, Jeffery struggled with injuries the rest of the season. He suffered a broken hand in the Week 5 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, forcing him to miss four games, and went down with another injury in the Week 11 San Francisco 49ers game and missed the next two games.
Those six missed games hampered the Bears' passing game and also hurt Jeffery's development as a wide receiver. As a result Jeffery finished 2012 with 24 catches (48 targets) for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
Jeffery had a very strong rookie season and showed off talent that would lead most Bears fans to believe he can be a No. 1 receiver in the future. Yet there are some concerns moving forward.
Coming out of college there were concerns as to how good of a route runner Jeffery could be at the NFL level, and whether or not he could gain separation in and out of his breaks. For most receivers, this is a skill that develops over time and is something that Jeffery must work on going forward.
In this first play we examine, Jeffery runs a five-yard dig route.
In the NFL, the ability to run a good dig route is important because you have to get separation in a short-yardage situation over the middle. You want your receiver to get yards after the catch, so he needs space between him and the defender.
On this play Jeffery doesn't get any separation from the cornerback. To be fair, Cutler was off target and threw the pass behind Jeffery so he had to adjust to the ball, but at no point does he stop or break stride. He never gains that separation against the defender to get the important yards. There are too many wasted steps in his footwork.
Using his body is where Jeffery had the most success. He is very strong, uses his big frame well and can out-jump most of the players covering him. This is his strong suit, but there needs to be more to his game than just dominating physically.
In the second game against the Packers at home, Jeffery was flagged for three offensive pass interference calls. The primary reason for those penalties: Jeffery could not gain the separation necessary to make a play on the football. As a result, he had to push off to create space.
Another concern surrounding the rookie is the lack of variety in the routes he was asked to run. The vast majority of Jeffery's targets consisted of two routes: a streak route, sometimes with a double move, or a stop route. Very rarely was Jeffery asked to run a slant, post or any other route in which he had to plant his foot in the ground to gain separation.
The scheme for Jeffery didn't require him to get open by running a good NFL route, rather it consisted of routes that he could win. On a streak, he could run by the defender and win the battle by high-pointing the ball. He excelled as a down-the-field threat even though he's not a burner. Jeffery also ran a lot of comeback routes, battles he could win by using his physical size to shield off the defender and catch the ball away from his body.
In this next clip, we examine a stop-and-go route from Jeffery, also against Detroit.
At that point in the season Jeffery had run so many curl routes that the defense was very much expecting him to do it again. So when he does run the curl, the Detroit corner jumps the route. Jeffery then twirls around and begins to run up the field. He's wide open and hauls in a 55-yard catch – his longest of the season.
These routes show off excellent skills that receivers in recent Bears history did not possess. Ye they do little to allay fears surrounding Jeffery's weaknesses. He's a physical beast and shows a lot of promise, but he needs to be a more consistent threat by being able to run all the routes in the route tree.
The main question is: Was he limited in his routes because of the passing scheme developed by offensive coordinator Mike Tice, or because these were the only routes Jeffery could win at as a rookie?
From what we saw on tape, there's a lot of work still to be done if Jeffery is ever going to be a complete, well-rounded wideout.
Jeffery can be a very good wide receiver on the outside for the Bears for a long time. He has a special skill set that no Chicago receiver has had in the last decade. But it's important not to get caught up in the two or three strong points of Jeffery's game, thus ignoring his areas of weakness.
Jeffery has the potential to be great. He just needs to develop into a complete receiver that can threaten the defense from all angles.
Brett Solesky has worked in TV, newspapers and, for the last seven years, in radio. He also co-hosts the best Chicago Bears podcast on the Web, Bear Report Radio, which appears on BearReport.com and his blog MidwayIllustrated.com.