Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery
Fuller intercepted six balls and broke up 34 passes in 50 games at Virginia Tech. That propensity for getting a hand on the football in pass coverage was one of the traits that attracted the Bears to Fuller in the pre-draft process.
“It was a good start for Kyle,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “That was a tremendous play he made in the first series of the day. The second one [interception] we had [the receiver run] the wrong route but he [Fuller] was in the right place and made the play. That’s a good thing. He was around the football. That’s a good start for him today.”
Fuller spent the entire offseason program working on the Bears’ first-team nickel unit at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings generally bumping inside to cover the slot. That personal grouping did not change on Friday, raising expectations that Fuller will be asked to contribute immediately in the regular season, if he avoids injury in the preseason.
“I had a good start, but I definitely have a lot of work to do,” Fuller said. “I definitely enjoy coming out here and competing with guys like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery every day. They are making me better.
“I just try and come out here every day and show the coaches what I can do. My goal is to just get better, and whatever happens, happens.”
So it’s not like Marshall and Jeffery will be sneaking up on any opponents in 2014, and there’s now the added pressure of raising the high bar already set.
Battle to watch: The Bears want Marquess Wilson to win the No. 3 spot, and that will be an important position for the team moving forward as defenses start to devote more attention to Marshall and Jeffery on the outside. A dynamic player that can threaten the seam -- similar to the way Martellus Bennett does from the tight end spot -- could open up things for everybody else on offense. So unless Wilson falters significantly in camp and in the preseason, the job appears to be his to lose.
That means most of the competition will be for those final spots on the roster at receiver, and will involve veterans such as Josh Morgan, Eric Weems, Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards, Chris Williams and Josh Bellamy. So we’re talking about six players competing for two, possibly three roster spots, and the ability to contribute on special teams will likely wind up being a major determining factor.
Of the group, Morgan is probably the most polished as a receiver while Weems and Spurlock possess a combination of skills as receivers and return men.
Dark horse: Terrence Toliver, believe it or not, is actually in his second stint with the Bears. The club first signed him in January 2013, before cutting him at the end of camp. The Bears then brought back Toliver last October. Toliver hasn’t caught a single pass in an NFL regular-season game, yet he’s spent time with five different teams. Toliver possesses some upside, and is similar to Marshall and Jeffery in terms of size (6-foot-5, 204 pounds). He’s shown gradual improvement throughout his tenure with the Bears, but the question is whether he’ll receive enough of an opportunity to show the club what he can do in training camp and the preseason.
Who makes the cut: If the Bears keep five receivers, they’ll likely go into the season with Marshall, Jeffery, Wilson, Morgan and Weems. If they keep six, Williams would likely make the cut over the other competitors.
Sutton never went into specific details about the matter but said "everything is good now" when asked if the situation had been resolved.
"I talked it over with the coaches and they let me go," Sutton said. "They said to take as time as I need but I'm here today."
Sutton felt he performed fine on Thursday despite missing the first two days of the club's mandatory minicamp, but the Arizona State product revealed that he plans to return home in the weeks leading up to training camp to ensure that he keeps himself in top physical shape. Sutton gained weight his final year with the Sun Devils that caused his production and draft stock to dip.
He is currently listed at 6-foot, 303 pounds on the Bears' official offseason roster.
"I'm just going to go back to Arizona and train," Sutton said. "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot.
"My weight isn't a problem. I put on the weight [last year] because I was told to. It's not a problem. It's not that I'm lazy and don't work out."
Speaking of working out, the Bears don't necessarily view the five week gap between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp as a vacation. Bears head coach Marc Trestman delivered that message to his team at their final meeting before the players left the building Thursday afternoon. Apparently, Trestman's speech resonated within the locker room.
"There's no real time to rest," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You might take your weekends off, but for five days a week you need to get ready for training camp. It's not time to take off."
Kicker Robbie Gould added: "The time to take vacations is in January."
The Bears are set to report to training camp on July 24 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
• Teams can learn a lot about themselves over the course of an eight-week NFL offseason program.
But can you actually tell if a team will be good in the regular season based on OTAs and minicamp?
"No, you really can't tell," Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. "All you can tell is where your team is at. You don't know where you are going to rank, but you know what you have at this moment."
• The Bears clearly like that they have seen from rookie safety Brock Vereen. He took all the first-team reps alongside Ryan Mundy throughout the entire minicamp, but the organization is not ready to anoint Vereen a starter.
• Trestman described undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Lynch as being in the mix for a reserve role in the Bears' offensive backfield.
"We have a logjam from two through five [on the running back depth chart]. Jordan is in that logjam. A lot of that will be balanced out with special teams. I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads with the rest of the younger guys.
"Jordan is doing well."
• Safety Chris Conte was excused for a third straight day due to an illness that the Bears were concerned could be contagious, according to Trestman. However, the bulk of the roster was present on the final day of minicamp, although right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, cornerback Sherrick McManis and Matt Slauson did not participate.
• Safety Craig Steltz went through individual drills for the third straight day while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had full participation after he rested on Wednesday.
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014
Teammates quickly intervened to end the fight, but not before Bennett slammed his own helmet to the ground in frustration.
"That's football. We just go back to the next play and keep working. It's nothing personal. Marty is a good guy. He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to go in there with him after this. Everything is all good.”
Bennett later tweeted: "I go hard every [expletive] day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of [expletive] in me.”
Here are several other observations from Tuesday's voluntary session:
Former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente split reps with Eben Britton at left guard with starter Matt Slauson sidelined due to a shoulder injury.
Middle linebacker D.J. Williams worked out in front of the media for the first time in the offseason. Williams was absent from last Tuesday's open OTA, but did participate in practices later in the week that were closed to the media.
Charles Tillman's absence on Tuesday opened the door for veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden to receive a look on the first team at cornerback in the base defense and in the nickel package. Hayden missed the entire 2013 regular season after tearing his hamstring in training camp. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller still worked with the starters in nickel when Tim Jennings bumped inside to cover the slot.
Hall of Famer Mike Ditka watched Tuesday's workout from the sidelines in Lake Forest. Ditka addressed the team last year following a practice at Halas Hall, and had his number retired by the Bears during halftime of the team's Monday night Dec. 9 game versus the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his strong hands when he went up and snagged a red-zone pass over Jennings.
Safeties Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen had blanket coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep Jay Cutler ball down the middle of the field. The pass fell incomplete.
Rookie David Fales and second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson received extra reps in team drills as No. 2 QB Jordan Palmer took a backseat to allow the young quarterbacks to get extended looks.
"I'm glad I got the opportunity to catch a ball. Not many people can say they did that," Wilson said. "Not everybody can get on an NFL field."
Even more can't stick, which is part of the reason Wilson didn't hesitate to accept the invitation of receiver Brandon Marshall to spend a portion of the offseason training with him and fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery in South Florida. Marshall extended the same invitation after Jeffery's rookie season.
When Jeffery returned, he and Marshall quickly teamed to finish 2013 as one of the league's most dynamic duos at receiver. Jeffery and Marshall combined for 2,716 yards, which ranked No. 2 among NFL duos behind Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (2,718 yards). The combined production of Jeffery and Marshall in 2014 ranked as the most receiving yards in franchise season history by a duo.
"Brandon invited me and I figured if he took the time to ask me to come, I'd better get down there because he just wants to help me out with my career," Wilson said. "Seeing [Jeffery] went down with Brandon after his rookie season and came back last year and just blew up, just seeing if it worked for him, it could work for me. That gave me confidence going down there with B-Marsh and working with them two."
At the two sessions of organized team activities open to the media, Wilson worked with the starters when the Bears operated out of three-receiver sets. The coaching staff and general manager Phil Emery have indicated Wilson will receive the first opportunity to win the job as the slot receiver.
Now, Wilson just has to seize it, and he has leaned on Jeffery and Marshall for guidance on how to do it.
"It's great. Those two guys are the best in the business," Wilson said. "You've got those two on the outside and me coming in. It could open up a lot. We just feed off each other. If one person makes a play, we're gonna all want to make that play and [that] just [raises] us to another level on the field."
Given the increased expectations and potentially increased role for Wilson in 2014, the No. 1 goal for the receiver between now and the preseason is simply "to be a hard worker," he said.
Is there pressure for 2014?
"No," Wilson said. "If I know my role and if I know the plays, I shouldn't feel pressure. I can't play with pressure. I've got to play with confidence, and that's one mindset I've got to stand by."
Jeffery said he and Marshall in 2013 were the league’s two best receivers. As a duo, they were, combining for a monstrous 189 catches for 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns, but Jeffery also knows it’s time to put that accomplishment in the past.
Jeffery gained a team-high 1,421 receiving yards on 89 receptions for seven touchdowns in his second season, which ranked as No. 6 in the NFL. He’s already put together the two biggest receiving games in franchise history (218 yards against New Orleans and 249 yards at Minnesota last season). Asked about a potential nickname, Jeffery came up with “The Show.”
“I feel like every time I try to catch the ball and make a play, I try to put on a show. So that’s what I would call myself,” Jeffery said.
Nobody’s arguing Jeffery’s ability to make such plays, but as the receiver mentioned before: 2013 is the past. He’s got to gain a level of consistency before he can legitimately put himself in Marshall’s class.
Marshall recently signed a three-year extension worth $30 million, and Jeffery could be in line for a similar payday. Jeffery has two years remaining on his rookie contract.
“Alshon has potential,” Marshall said. “We can’t crown him right now. You have to be consistent. You have to stay healthy. He has all the potential in the world if he can do that, if he can stay humble. That’s what got him here. So if he can do that, he’ll set himself up to secure his family and get him some stability. I think we have the guys in this locker room that can really help him with that.”
Jeffery told Sporting News that the game “slowed down for me” last season, and he doesn’t see 2014 as a daunting challenge despite the expectation that defenses will now consistently gear up to neutralize him.
“I feel with the hard work I put in, the results you’ll see will show for itself,” he said.
Over eight seasons with Chicago, Miami and Denver, Marshall has averaged 89 catches for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns per year, for a career total of 712 receptions for 9,050 yards and 57 touchdowns.
There is little chance Marshall will break Carter’s touchdown mark, but the Bears wideout only needs 389 catches and 4,849 receiving yards to pass Carter on the list of the all-time NFL receivers.
That is doable. In fact, Marshall actually has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Carter did in his first eight years, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but Carter managed to last an impressive 16 seasons in the league.
Marshall, 30, stated on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” on Tuesday that he’s focused on playing 14 seasons until he reaches the age of 36. But even if Marshall ends his career two years before Carter ended his, the evidence suggests Marshall can finish with more receptions and receiving yards.
First of all, Marshall has been extremely durable, missing just six regular season games over eight years, despite undergoing three hip surgeries.
Secondly, he’s been reunited with his old Denver quarterback, Jay Cutler, in Chicago, and the results speak for themselves. In only two seasons with the Bears, Marshall has caught 218 passes for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns.
An argument can be made that Marshall was the Bears' only target on offense in 2012 and therefore put up some of those numbers by default, but the Bears were flush at talent at the skill positions last year (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett) and Marshall still managed to have another Pro Bowl year and record his fifth 100-plus catch season -- Marshall is the only player in NFL history to catch 100 balls for two different teams (Bears and Broncos).
With Marshall (four years, $40 million) and Cutler (seven years, $126.7 million) both under contract for the foreseeable future, Marshall can theoretically expect to play with his favorite quarterback for possibly the rest of his career, a luxury few wide receivers are afforded.
Thirdly, while statistical evidence suggests running backs fall off a cliff in terms of production when they hit a certain age, wide receivers have been known to flourish deep into their 30s.
One of the best recent examples of this phenomenon is Terrell Owens, who topped the 1,000-receiving yard mark five times after turning 30 and continued to be a productive player up until he left the league at age 37.
For the first time since 2002, the Bears had a new set of eyes overseeing the draft process. The Bears fired longtime general manager Jerry Angelo at the end of the 2011 regular season and replaced him with respected scout and college talent evaluator Phil Emery.
First-round pick: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
Number of picks: 6
How they did: Three members of the 2012 draft class had important roles for the Bears last season: McClellin, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (second round) and nickel back Isaiah Frey (sixth round). Safety Brandon Hardin, selected in the third round out of Oregon State, spent his rookie year on injured reserve and suffered another injury in the final preseason game last summer that again landed him on IR. The Bears quietly released Hardin several weeks later. Fourth-round pick tight end Evan Rodriguez contributed to the offense in 2012 but was released the next offseason after multiple brushes with the law. Greg McCoy, a cornerback/return man out of TCU whom the Bears took in the seventh round, failed to make the club out of training camp in his first season.
Pivotal pick: The Bears were in need of fresh legs at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who at that time still played at a Pro Bowl level, and veteran Israel Idonije. Emery bypassed what some considered safer pass rushing options at No. 19 overall (Chandler Jones and Whitney Mercilus) and selected McClellin, who impressed the Bears with his combination of speed and athleticism. Two years later, McClellin is projected to compete for a starting job at strong side linebacker in 2014. McClellin was certainly disruptive at times rushing the passer from the edge, but the name of the game at defensive end is sacks. McClellin had only a combined 6.5 sacks in two years, with three of the quarterback takedowns occurring in his memorable effort against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4 when McClellin knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game with a fractured collarbone. McClellin went on to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Best pick: Jeffery, by a mile. Undeterred by the rampant questions surrounding Jeffery's weight and attitude in his final year at South Carolina, the Bears moved up in the second round to snatch the former All-American wide receiver. Jeffery rewarded the Bears' faith by being named to the Pro Bowl in just his second season after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 wideout holds the top two spots in franchise history for receiving yards in a game with 218 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 6, and 249 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1.
Worst pick: Hardin. A former and often injured collegiate cornerback, Hardin failed to make the transition to safety. Although Hardin had impressive size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), he didn't seem to bend his hips much and appeared to play too high. Even if he stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to make an argument for the Bears to keep Hardin on the 53-man roster based on pure performance and football skills alone. The Bears are still searching for help at safety, in part, because the Hardin pick failed to pan out.
Here is a list of Williamson’s criteria for a true No. 1 receiver:
- They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
- They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
- They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
- They must display the above traits with consistency.
Certainly Marshall and Jeffery possess all the above attributes, which is why Chicago should finish among the top 10 in offense in 2014.
Williamson lists Jeffery in the category of "Freaks of nature, but a step below Calvin Johnson" and ranks him No. 9, below A.J. Green at No. 4, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas.
Williamson writes: Jeffery didn't eclipse 51 receiving yards in Chicago's first three games and also had three other outings in which he had fewer than 60 yards receiving, but he was utterly dominant against the Saints and Vikings. Still a little up-and-down, the 24-year-old has rare size and body control for such a big man. He also has very strong hands.
Only Gordon and Calvin Johnson averaged more yards per catch than Jeffery in 2013. Jeffrey was the Bears' most feared receiver by the end of his second NFL season.
As for Marshall, Williamson lists him among the “Oldies but still very goodies” at No. 10 on the list.
Williamson writes: Drops were a problem for Marshall in 2013, which has been a recurring theme throughout his career, but he caught 100 passes (for the fifth time in his career) and scored 12 touchdowns. Marshall attacks the football in the air and is a very aggressive ball carrier once it is secured.
Marshall just turned 30 years old, but his style of game should translate for some time, and he is showing zero signs of slowing down.
What’s even more encouraging about Marshall is he’s participating fully in a conditioning program right now after finishing the season pretty much injury free. If you remember last offseason, Marshall was recovering from arthroscopic hip surgery. Without the hip being a hindrance to training now, Marshall should come back an even better player in 2014.
Stats: Bennett finished the season with career highs in receptions (65) and receiving yards (759) and tied his all-time best mark with five touchdown catches. Bennett’s 65 grabs ranked fourth on the Bears and No. 8 in the NFL amongst tight ends. His 759 receiving yards were the third highest total on the team and ninth amongst tight ends in the league.
The good: Compared to the Bears’ 2012 starting tight end, Kellen Davis, Bennett looked like Kellen Winslow Sr. in his prime. Bennett immediately turned tight end from a position of severe weakness to a position of strength. The six-year veteran began the year with a bang when he hauled in three touchdown passes over the first two games, including the game-winner versus the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. He displayed a willingness to fight for additional yards after receptions, even if he occasionally landed on his head as a result of the going to extra mile. Bennett’s quirky and eclectic personality played well with the media. He was never a distraction and seemed to be extremely happy and comfortable in his new surroundings.
The bad: Bennett never missed a game or complained about injuries, but he did fight through a variety of physical ailments that possibly curtailed his effectiveness to a small degree. There were weeks in the season when Bennett failed to factor much into the offense. He had five games where he caught two or fewer passes, but the Bears also had a variety of weapons for the quarterback to choose from.
2014 outlook: Bennett figures to pick up where he left off in 2013. Expect the tight end to again be one of the top four options on offense from week to week. Bennett would benefit from a stronger No. 2 tight end behind him on the depth chart. Perhaps that is an area the Bears address in the draft or in free agency. At 26 years old, Bennett, who turns 27 in March, should be entering the most productive phase of his NFL career.
The good: Wilson is talented. He hauled in 82 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns during his sophomore year at Washington State. His height (6-foot-4) fits the mold of what the Bears are looking for at wide receiver alongside Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3). The coaching staff’s willingness to sprinkle him into the offense as a rookie signals the organization likely has big plans for Wilson.
The bad: Wilson needs to bulk up. It’s difficult to envision him holding up for an entire season at under 200 pounds, much less be effective. Jeffery weighs 216 pounds. Marshall tips the scales at 230. Wilson won’t reach that weight overnight, but he needs to commit to the offseason strength program. Wilson hasn’t proven anything yet at the NFL level. He is still an unknown, albeit a potentially talented one.
Looking ahead: No. 3 wide receiver Earl Bennett plays winning football. His issue is staying healthy, but Bennett did play in 15 games last season until he had to miss the regular-season finale to deal with a family matter. Unless Bennett’s contract gets in the way (he had to take a pay cut in 2013), Wilson is going to have to light it up in the offseason/preseason to unseat Bennett in the slot, or slide past him on the depth chart. However, Bears general manager Phil Emery clearly envisions a role for Wilson in the offense moving forward. The belief is that Wilson will be given an opportunity to earn increased playing time in his second season. What he does with those opportunities is entirely up to him.
Selected by Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice in the 16th round, Marshall was passed over by alumni team captain Deion Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback. Marshall walked slowly toward Sanders shortly after he was drafted while giving his reaction to being selected.
“You couldn’t guard me,” Marshall jokingly said. “Them DBs you picked, they’re not gonna be able to guard me.”
Perhaps he’s correct. Under the old AFC versus NFC format in 2012, Marshall -- then a member of the Miami Dolphins -- caught six passes for 174 yards and a record four touchdowns en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors at the Pro Bowl. On Tuesday, Rice and Sanders selected 14 players apiece, with rookie guard Kyle Long landing on the latter’s squad as an assigned player.
Some of the defensive backs Marshall will face off against on Sanders' team include Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Eric Berry, Brent Grimes, T.J. Ward, Eric Weddle, and his own teammate Tim Jennings.
Marshall joins fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery (sixth round) and Matt Forte (19th round) as selections made by Rice whose team will be quarterbacked by Saints quarterback Drew Brees and coached by former Chicago Bear and current Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
Jennings was assigned to Sanders' team, which will be coached by Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano, in the 20th round.
So it'll be interesting to see the five Chicago Bears Pro Bowlers square off on Sunday night.
This week’s Pro Bowl draft represents part of a format change implemented last July in an attempt to bring life back into the league’s annual all-star game. With Rice and Sanders serving as alumni team captains, both have a say in which players end up on the teams, but player captains are also given input in picking the teams. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles serve as the captains on Sanders’ team, while Brees and St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn are the captains for Rice’s team.
The good: On the way to making it to the Pro Bowl, receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall racked up 1,421 and 1,295 yards, respectively, to finish sixth and 11th in the NFL in receiving yardage. Their combined 2,716 yards ranked as the second most of any receiver duo in the NFL, behind only Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (2,718). Marshall and Jeffery’s combined yardage total represents the most by a duo in Bears franchise history. When teams focused on Marshall, Jeffery often took advantage of single coverage, which helped him to become the only receiver in Bears history to produce two 200-yard receiving games in a season. That production moving forward will likely change the way teams defend Marshall and Jeffery.
The bad: Because of all the weaponry at the offense’s disposal, the Bears weren’t able to utilize much of the receiving corps outside of Marshall and Jeffery. Running back Matt Forte finished third in receptions (74), with tight end Martellus Bennett right behind with 65 grabs. So as difficult as it may be moving forward, the Bears would probably like to get their No. 3 and No.4 receivers more involved. No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett played in 15 games, but finished with a 243 yards receiving, his lowest total since 2009. Rookie Marquess Wilson played the No. 4 role, but caught just two balls for 13 yards as he was inactive or didn’t play in six contests.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Marshall ($9.3 million), Earl Bennett ($2.45 million), Eric Weems ($1.6 million), Jeffery ($1,240,317), Wilson ($506,787), Chris Williams ($495,000), Terrence Toliver ($420,000).
Draft priority: Low. The Bears appear to be set going into 2014 with the receivers currently on the roster. But they might consider trying to extend Marshall prior to the season to try to lower his cap figure and prevent him from hitting free agency. Bennett took a pay cut in 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club asked him to take another going into the season. If Williams makes it to training camp, he could challenge for one of the auxiliary receiving spots as well as the job of primary return man.