With so much talk about Alshon Jeffery’s contract and value, it’s been largely forgotten — or ignored — that the Bears wide receiver is poised to have a career season.
You know, if he stays healthy.
While on the field, Jeffery was mostly great last year. His per game averages total out to about 96 catches, 1,435 yards and 7 touchdowns. Great numbers for sure, but not far from what we saw from him in 2013, especially considering the increase in targets. In 2016, however, the stars appear to be perfectly aligned for the fifth-year receiver to explode.
Here are a few reasons why:
• He’s still trying to cash in. Had he stayed on the field last year, he probably would’ve gotten a big contract. That didn’t happen.
To this point, the Bears have told him he isn’t worthy of elite wide receiver money. To their credit, the numbers back that up. While his per game averages would’ve put him in the top 10 in terms of receptions and receiving yards, he still would’ve been well-behind the likes of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and, of course, Brandon Marshall. If Jeffery wants elite wide receiver money, he better put up elite wide receiver numbers and there’s reason to think he will.
• A better defense will allow them to take more risks on offense. The Bears threw a ton of short passes, rarely calling for the deep shots that Jeffery made his name on a few years ago. The Bears were so conservative last year because they were trying to hide their defense. (We’ve heard John Fox and Adam Gase both admit to this.) They knew they had a bad defense and, if they put them in tough situations they were going to get blown out.
With a revamped front-seven and improving young players in the secondary, the Bears defense should be much better.
• Dowell Loggains’ mentor was Mike Heimerdinger, noted for his aggressiveness and ability to push the ball downfield to receivers. With Loggains calling up the plays and a quarterback who is always willing to take chances Jeffery should get a lot of opportunities in one-on-one match ups and he’ll get those coverages because…
• With each practice, the word remains the same: Kevin White is a stud. I don’t expect he’ll be a finished product or one of the top receivers in the league in his first year, but he’s a matchup problem with the speed to get deep. Defenses will have to respect that and it’ll prevent them from cheating over to Jeffery.
• This is going to be a wide receiver-based offense. At least, that’s what Cutler said on Tuesday when asked about how they were going to distribute passes. I don’t expect the Bears to throw the ball a lot, but the majority of the passes they do throw should go to Jeffery, White and Royal.
In 2013, the Bears were 16th in pass attempts. While Jeffery and Marshall had 312 targets, 189 went to Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. I certainly don’t expect either Zach Miller of Jeremy Langford to get over 90 targets like Forte and Bennett did that year. They’ll get some and Royal will get more than Earl Bennett did, but that will still leave some targets available, targets likely to go to Jeffery and White.
• Their offensive line really can’t be worse than it has been the last two years. Charles Leno and Hronis Grasu are still big question marks but the Bears have upgraded other spots on the line. Bobbie Massie is a better tackle than Kyle Long was. Long is a better guard than Matt Slauson was. Neither Ted Larsen nor Cody Whitehair can be anywhere near as bad as Vlad Ducasse. I’ll add that I expect there to be veterans available to upgrade Leno and/or Grasu, but that’s another topic for another time.
I don’t know if putting up big numbers will mean a long-term contract for Jeffery with the Bears. There are still other considerations ranging from the risk of paying players with questionable history when it comes to injury and work ethic to the best way to allocate resources. But John Fox always says it’s a production based industry and Jeffery is in prime position to produce big.