The past two seasons have given Bears fans WR play like they've never seen before. Brandon Marshall, the single most talented WR in team history, was paired with young up-and-comer Alshon Jeffery.
In 2013, the duo was among the NFL's best. They are closely matched in build: big (6'4"/6'3" 230 lbs) WRs who are physical and can go up and get the ball. They might not be burners but they can break tackles and carry defenders into the endzone, as well as go up and out jump and bring in high passes and off-target throws with their huge catch radii.
In 2013 the pair combined for 189 receptions, 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns. Last year, despite Marshall's season ending early and both battling lingering issues for most the season, they still had 146 catches for 1,854 yards and 18 touchdowns combined.
However, now Marshall has been jettisoned for real or perceived locker room issues and his desire to continue doing TV work on his off days. Whatever the reasons were though, the new Bears brass decided Marshall wasn't part of their future and moved on.
That leaves Jeffery as the de facto No. 1 WR moving forward. The Bears signed Eddie Royal to compliment him, but the team will still likely add some help in next month's draft.
Fans seem divided on whether or not the Bears should grab a wideout with their first pick. Amari Cooper, the Alabama receiver with ties to Chicago position coach Mike Groh, is a tantalizing prospect. He has the size (6'1") and the speed (4.42 at the combine), to be a number one at the next level. West Virginia's Kevin White has shot up draft boards since the combine, and he offers better size (6'3") and speed (4.35) than Cooper.
Both have been mock drafted (is that a phrase) to the Bears at No. 7 but a lot of fans feel like they need to take one of the potential game-breaking defensive players over an offensive one, where they already have a strong cast of guys.
That debate, though, is really settled by the belief that Jeffery is a true No. 1 WR. He is very, very good, yes, but he might be a better No. 2 WR than a No. 1.
The case that he isn't a No. 1 can be found in his regular season stats: He had three 100-yard games when Brandon Marshall was lining up on the other side of the field, but in the final three games when Marshall was out, the most yards he had was 78. With Marshall on the field he averaged 5.6 receptions, 73 yards and .66 touchdown per game. In the final three games, with defenses focusing in on him, those dipped to 4/61.3/.66. Not a huge drop off but still significant. The team was also only 2-7 when Jeffery caught a touchdown.
For those that are into going beyond the normal stats, ProFootballFocus.com had Jeffery as the 21st best receiver in the league last year based on their signature "Yards Per Route Run" stat. An explanation of that follows:
Our YPRR takes into account the opportunity players had to gain their receiving yards, potentially separating two receivers with similar yardage numbers but a significant difference in the number of routes run, or showing players who were among the most effective on a per-play basis, but did not have the same playing time opportunities as those near the top in total receiving yards.
On the other hand, it should be noted that while his numbers dipped, the offense as a whole was pitiful down the stretch and can 1.5 receptions and 11.7 yards per game really be considered a huge drop? Also working in Jeffery's defense is another sabermetric site in FootballOutsiders.com, who had Jeffery 13th best receiver based on their Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. Basically that just assigns a yardage number to Jeffery based on how much better he played over an average player and adjusted for the defense's strength or weakness. A more thorough explanation is in the link.
Another positive for Jeffery is that in games when he played his best the team generally won. The Bears were 3-0 when Jeffery had 100 yards receiving last year.
If there is belief that Jeffery can carry the load and be the No. 1 guy and win against double teams, then perhaps the team should draft defense first.
If, however, there are doubts that Jeffery can be as effective without someone else helping draw coverage, then the Bears should consider Cooper or White with the seventh pick.
A lot also depends on whether or not the WR who would be picked is projected to be a bigger playmaker and difference maker over an equally capable defensive player.
Do you think Jeffery can be the No. 1 WR?