Chicago Bears: NFLRank

Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall's ranking improved from No. 23 in 2013 to No. 15 in this year’s edition of our #NFLRank project, in which ESPN ranks the Top 100 players around the league on both sides of the ball.

The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 20 through 11.

Marshall
Marshall ranked one spot behind Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and one slot ahead of New England’s Rob Gronkowski. But No. 15 seems a tad low considering Marshall’s 10 touchdown catches thrown in the end zone tied with Dez Bryant (No. 13) for the most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Alshon Jeffery was one of 23 players on offense to make his debut in the 2014 #NFLRank project, checking in at No. 31.

Coming off arthroscopic hip surgery in 2013, Marshall spent the 2013 offseason rehabbing instead of training, and missed time during training camp. In fact, Marshall probably didn’t hit his stride in 2013 until about halfway through the season.

Yet Marshall caught a career-high 12 TD receptions last season, finishing with 100 catches for the fifth time in his career for 1,295 yards. Marshall’s fifth 100-catch season ties Andre Johnson and Wes Welker for the most in NFL history.

Marshall was targeted 23 times in the end zone last season, which ties for A.J. Green for the most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Serving as a mentor to Jeffery, Marshall acknowledges he grew off the field, too, in 2013, saying last season was the first in his career in which he was truly unselfish. Marshall also claims that 2014 will be his Michael Jackson “Thriller” year.

“Last year I grew spiritually, and that was the first time I was able to step outside myself on this spiritual journey and be able to say, "You know what, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But I’m gonna serve Alshon Jeffery. I’m gonna serve Martellus Bennett." Because I know there’s something bigger. I’m a part of something greater. I can’t wait to see what it is,” Marshall said.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Apparently, a pair of tennis rackets dangle from Alshon Jeffery's wrists, and the Chicago Bears just hope the receiver continues to serve up the love in the form of receptions to the club's offense.

Jeffery
"There are a couple of things that make Alshon Jeffery special," explained offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. "No. 1 is his size. No. 2 is his size and ability to get in and out of routes at that size; that's the thing that impresses you the most. No. 3, the balls he can catch away from his body. It looks like he puts up two huge tennis rackets to catch these balls. He pulls them in, and his hand strength is exceptional."

So was Jeffery's production in 2013, allowing him to come in at No. 31 on this year's NFLRank project in which ESPN ranked the league's top 100 players on offense and defense. In all, 23 players on offense made their debuts on this year's NFLRank project.

After a difficult rookie season in which he suffered a broken hand right hand, in addition to being sidelined with an arthroscopic knee surgery, Jeffery produced a gem in 2013, catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns, combining with Brandon Marshall for 2,716 yards and 19 TDs.

"I think part of it is the chemistry he has with this team," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "His work ethic hasn't changed. That's a sign to be able to stack a good year on a good year. He's done it for one year. He knows he's got to prove himself. He's got to stack years and years together to be a great player like Brandon has. If you could see him work here on a daily basis, he's doing all the right things to put another good year together."

Jeffery was one of two receivers in 2013 to produce two 200-yard games (Gordon was the other), and the only one to put together a 200-yard game on the road (a single-game franchise record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 13). Jeffery attributes the bump in production from his rookie season to 2013 simply to learning the intricacies of the offense.

Jeffery also spent the majority of the offseason training with Marshall in Florida.

"My first year here, I would say it was just a learning process. It was about learning and knowing the NFL," Jeffery said. "Just staying on the field [in 2013] and staying healthy helped last year. But like I said, it was a big learning curve from my first year to my second year."

Potentially on the verge of stardom, Jeffery prefers not to look too far ahead. Asked where he sees himself in three years, Jeffery said, "Ask me that question three years from now, but I'd say the sky is the limit."

That certainly seems to be the case with Jeffery and the rest of the Bears coming off a 2013 season in which offense set multiple franchise records. Interestingly, Jeffery is the only player in Bears' history to produce two 200-yard receiving games, and is one of eight players in NFL history to accomplish that feat in the same season.

Over his first two years, Jeffery has caught 113 passes for 1,788 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"My mentality when that ball goes up in the air is it's my ball," Jeffery said. "I've got to make the play."
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman checked in at No. 66 in our NFLRank project, which kicked off Day 4 on Thursday with ESPN ranking the Top 100 players around the league on both sides of the ball.

 The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 70 through 61. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett made the list on Tuesday with a No. 82 ranking, while defensive end Lamarr Houston became the club’s first defender to crack the top 100 (No. 80)

Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles is tops by a defensive back in NFL history. Tillman has forced at least three fumbles in seven consecutive seasons, which ties as the longest such streak in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Playing on a one-year contract signed back in March, Tillman, 33, could be entering his last season with the Bears. They signed Tim Jennings to an extension during the offseason and used a first-round pick to bring in Kyle Fuller.

“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field, and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said after Tillman re-signed. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago, and we’re excited for that to continue.”

The 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, Tillman started just eight games last season before finishing on injured reserve due to torn triceps, but he still forced six takeaways (three interceptions, three forced fumbles).

Tillman’s 36 interceptions rank No. 3 in franchise history, and he owns club records for interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine).
Joseph
Houston
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A Chicago Bears defender finally made the cut in our NFLRank project, which commenced with Day 3 on Wednesday as ESPN continued to rank the top 100 players on offense and defense, with defensive end Lamarr Houston checking in at No. 80.

The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 80 through 71. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett made the list on Tuesday with a No. 82 ranking.

Read more on Bennett and his ranking, here.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Oakland Raiders posted a sack on 7 percent of pass attempts with Houston on the field, compared with 4.5 percent of attempts when he wasn’t on the field. Perhaps that’s why the Bears made Houston the jewel of their class of free agents, signing him in March to a five-year deal worth $35 million.

Bears general manager Phil Emery believes Houston is starting to come into his prime as a defender.

“Obviously watching tape of him, Lamarr has matured into a very versatile, powerful, tough, physical, productive player, and we’re very happy to have him as a member of the Chicago Bears,” Emery said after the signing.

A fifth-year veteran, Houston is coming off a 2013 season in which he racked up a career-high six sacks for 52 yards in losses. Houston led Oakland’s defensive linemen last season with 71 tackles, forced two fumbles and collected 10 tackles for lost yardage.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The NFLRank project kicked off Day 2 on Tuesday as ESPN ranked the top 100 players on offense and defense, with No. 83 for the Chicago Bears making the cut at No. 82 on the list.

In the grouping of players ranked from Nos. 81 through 90, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett was the only player at the position to make the cut, registering one spot above Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris, and one slot below San Francisco offensive tackle Anthony Davis.

None of Chicago’s defensive players was ranked between 81 through 100, but more than likely some Bears are coming up.

Bennett tied for seventh in receptions (65) last season, ninth in receiving yardage (759) and 11th in touchdowns (5) among tight ends.

Surely, the gregarious Bennett won’t like where he falls in this year’s rankings. But hey, there’s always next season.

Quarterback Jay Cutler became the first player to make the list on Monday, cracking the top 100 at No. 93.

#NFLRank: Three Bears defenders in top 30

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Three players from Chicago’s vaunted defense earned recognition in ESPN’s NFL rank project, which lists the top 100 offensive defensive players in the league headed into the upcoming season.

Peppers
Defensive end Julius Peppers checked in at No. 15, while cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs ranked 21st and 27th, respectively.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peppers accounted for 27 sacks on third down since 2008, which ties him with Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware for the most over the past four years. Since coming into the league in 2002, Peppers ranks second in the NFL behind Allen in sacks (111.5) over the past 11 years.

Tillman
Peppers certainly doesn’t appear to be slowing down, either. Peppers joined the Bears in 2011, and last season became the team’s first player since 2001 and 2002 to tally back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. Peppers is also the first Bear to contributed 11 sacks or more in consecutive seasons since Hall of Famer Richard Dent in 1986 (11.5 sacks) and 1987 (12.5). Can Peppers in 2013 make it a three-repeat? Don’t bet against him.

As for Tillman, he led the NFL in forced fumbles in 2012, and tied with Janoris Jenkins for an NFL-high three interceptions returned for a touchdown. After a subpar 2009, Tillman has put together strong seasons three years in a row. Certainly, he’s getting older. But he’s also getting better.

Briggs
Briggs, meanwhile, has proven to be a dynamic playmaker against the run and the pass. Briggs has led the Bears in tackles in four of the last five seasons while reaching 100 tackles or more nine times. Briggs also ranks third in NFL history for interceptions returned for a TD by linebackers.

Since the start of 2008, Briggs has broken up seven passes on throws at least 10 yards downfield in between the painted numbers, which according to ESPN Stats and Info, ranks as tops in the league over the last five years.

Full disclosure: ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson and I were among the voters in the project. But surely, you’d agree, all three players are worthy of the recognition.

#NFLRank: NFC North in 51-60

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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Two NFC North players were among those ranked between 51-60 in our #NFLRank project, an ESPN effort to identify the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the NFL. As always, our portion of both lists are updated at the bottom.

Offense
59. Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil
(Detailed here by ESPN.com's Ben Goessling)

Defense
53. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton
Stats & Info: Melton has 13 sacks over the past two seasons when lined up at one of the defensive tackle positions. Only the Bengals' Geno Atkins (17.0) has more.
Seifert comment: Sack totals always draw attention for defensive tackles, and there is no doubt Melton is productive in a way that NFL teams value. (He's the Bears' franchise player this season.) But there is some doubt about how good Melton is on the plays he doesn't get a sack on. He isn't often mentioned as one game's top interior players.

NFC North showing to date:

Offense
59. Kalil
64. Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb
66. Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson
72. Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan
77. Minnesota Vikings receiver Greg Jennings
94. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford
97. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler

Defense
53. Melton
65. Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway
76. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley
81. Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings
92. Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams
95. Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith

Here is a one-stop link for all of our #NFLRank coverage on this blog.

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