Chicago Bears: #NFLRank 2014

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.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte improved his standing from a year ago in our #NFLRank project, moving from No. 48 to No. 29 in the latest edition, in which ESPN ranks the top 100 players in the league on both sides of the ball.

Forte
Forte
The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 30 through 21. Receiver Alshon Jeffery was one of 23 players on offense to make his debut in the 2014 #NFLRank project, checking in at No. 31

Forte finished last season ranked third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,933 yards) on the way to being named to his second Pro Bowl. Forte rushed for 1,339 yards, carrying the ball on 71.5 percent of the team’s rushes, which ranked as highest in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Since 2008, Forte ranks third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (9,585), behind Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson.

Forte ranked one spot ahead of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and one slot behind Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

None of Chicago’s defenders made Wednesday’s offering in the #NFLRank project.
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."
The NFLRank project rolled into Friday with Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs coming in at No. 56, as ESPN continued to list the top 100 players around the league on offense and defense.

The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 60 through 51. Charles Tillman checked in at No. 66 in the project on Thursday, while tight end Martellus Bennett made the list on Tuesday with a No. 82 ranking. Defensive end Lamarr Houston became Chicago’s first defender to crack the top 100 (No. 80)

Having earned Pro Bowl recognition on seven consecutive occasions, Briggs finds himself in unique company considering the only Bears with more trips to the league’s annual all-star game since the merger are Mike Singletary (10) and Brian Urlacher (eight).

Interestingly, Briggs ranked one spot above Seattle linebacker Cliff Avril. The Bears face the Seahawks on Friday night at CenturyLink Field in preseason game No. 3.

Briggs played just nine games last season, but finished with 10 stuffs -- a tackle of a rusher for negative yards, according to STATS LLC -- which tied for seventh most in the NFL. Since coming into the league in 2003, Briggs has collected and NFL-high 81 stuffs for 197.5 lost yards.

With 1,501 tackles over his 11-year career, Briggs ranks No. 2 in franchise history behind Urlacher. Briggs moved past Singletary last season, and posted 87 stops despite playing in just nine games.
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).
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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 launched on Monday in which ESPN ranks the top 100 players on offense and defense, and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler checked in at No. 93.

In the grouping of players ranked from Nos. 91 through 100, Cutler was the lone quarterback, ranked one spot above Minnesota offensive tackle Matt Kalil, and one slot below Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, and two places below Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Interestingly, Cutler's ranking likely means multiple Chicago Bears offensive players register higher rankings than the quarterback.

None of Chicago’s defenders were ranked 91 through 100.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler comes off a season in which he put together his best total QBR (66.4) over five seasons with the Bears. Cutler’s 92.5 total QBR in the fourth quarter ranked as No. 1 in the NFL.

Bears fans probably won’t be pleased with Cutler’s ranking, but from this vantage point, the quarterback’s place is just about right. The truth is it’s probably better for Cutler to fly under the radar than to go into the season overhyped anyway.

Based on what we’ve seen from Cutler so far this preseason (123.3 passer rating and a completion percentage of 72.7), he figures to take a major step forward operating in Year 2 of Marc Trestman’s system.

That should mean more victories in 2014, and naturally a better ranking going into the 2015 season.

Where do you think Cutler should be ranked?

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