During his sophomore season at South Carolina Alshon Jeffery dominated the SEC to the tune of 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He looked the part of a first round NFL draft pick. He showed great hands, leaping ability and a knack for making the tough catch. Jeffery might have taken that success for granted because he struggled during his junior season. He failed to control his weight and it showed in his play on the field. He went on to catch 49 passes for 762 yards and eight touchdowns.
At times he looked like a tight end lining up at wide receiver. Questions about his work ethic also came into play. Still, his talent was undeniable. 6-foot-3, 220 pound wide receivers with 4.4 to 4.5 speed with his hands, body control and natural pass-catching skills don't just grow on trees. Which is why Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery traded up in the 2012 NFL Draft with the St. Louis Rams to get Jeffery with the 45th overall pick. For Jeffery the expectation was he would come in and play Robin to Brandon Marshall's Batman. Jeffery showed flashes early in the season of the talent he possesses such as this 42 yard touchdown catch in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts:
Unfortunately these types of plays were few and far between as Jeffery struggled for most of his rookie season with injuries, drops, and penalties. Couple that with Mike Tice's incompetence as an offensive coordinator, Lovie Smith and wide receiver's coach Darryl Drake's infatuation with trying to make Devin Hester a wide receiver and Cutler's dependency issues with Marshall and Jeffery was doomed to fail. He finished the season with just 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
Fast Forward to 2013....
General manager Phil Emery fires head coach Lovie Smith and brings in Marc Trestman, who coached in the CFL the last five years but has a succesful background of running offenses in the NFL. Wide receivers have been very prolific in Trestman's offenses. In 1995 Jerry Rice caught 122 passes for an NFL record 1,848 yards (Broken by Calvin Johnson in 2012) and 15 touchdowns. Rice followed that up in 1996 by catching 108 passes for 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 1998 as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, Trestman helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs. That season wide receivers Frank Sanders and Rob Moore combined for 156 receptions for 2,127 yards and eight touchdowns under Trestman's tutelage. Then in 2002 Trestman was the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders Super Bowl team. That team had Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter. The trio amassed 224 receptions for 2,739 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Knowing this Jeffery dedicated his off season to becoming a professional in order to maximize his talent. He spent six weeks working with Brandon Marshall at Marshall's training facility, Fit Speed in Florida. Jeffery got his body fat down to eight percent at 216 pounds. He also studied film, changed his diet, and worked on the little things like route running that he knows will help him take that next step.
Trestman's offense will be West Coast at its core, but with Aaron Kromer coming over from the Saints to be the offensive coordinator, you will see elements from the Saints offense as well. It will be a quick hitting, spread offense that will use Cutler's big arm to dial up the deep ball enough to keep teams honest. Marshall will demand double teams with Martellus Bennett occupying the seams.
This will leave Jeffery to see a lot of single coverage. Devin Hester will strictly be a punt/kick returner under Trestman and Jeffery will take the role as the team's deep threat. With Marsahll opposite of him, Jeffery may not be a high-volume reception receiver, but he's talented enough to win with his height and leaping ability. If he can stay healthy and play 16 games I fully expect Jeffery to post 50-60 receptions for 800-1000 yards and 5-7 touchdowns.
With his year of experience and the work he put in this past offseason, combined with an offensive minded head coach and the talent around him, everything is in place for Jeffery to have a breakout season.