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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: Wide Receivers

In terms of total talent, the Bears wide receiver corp improved vastly from 2011-2012. In terms of production, however, the bump in total production wasn't quite what we'd hoped, with the wide receivers combining for 197 receptions for 2526 YDs and 17 TDs in 2012 vs. 159 receptions for 2369 YDs and 9 TDs in 2011. Obviously the hope is for better protection, play-calling, and most of all health from Brandon Marshall's comrades next year. I also wouldn't be surprised to see them add a speedier alternative at the slot.

#15 Brandon Marshall: 16 games, 16 games started, 118 receptions for 1508 YDs, 11 TDs, 12.8 YPC, 94.3 YPG.

Brandon Marshall is a great football player. It's amazing to see a guy like that in a Bears uniform. I never thought it possible. He can turn short passes into long gains. He can gain separation downfield and pull down desperate heaves that seem utterly hopeless at the start. He blocks with intensity and effectiveness. He is a complete receiver, and he is a Bear. That happened.

He came to the Bears with a couple of knocks, though. They said he was a headcase, a team cancer, and that he drops too damn many balls. In his time in Chicago he's been up front and honest about his personality disorder, he's been an advocate for proper mental health care for athletes and anyone else who struggles with issues like his, and he's shown nothing but respect and dedication towards his teammates, at least in the public eye. He is, without a doubt, a steal. As for the drops? Well, yes. There were several, and they sucked. But he brought in 118 f*&king passes, so lay off him, strawman-Brandon Marshall hater that I just invented.

#17 Alshon Jeffery: 10 games, 6 games started, 24 receptions for 367 YDs, 3 TDs, 15.3 YPC, 36.7 YPG

Alshon also came into the NFL with some knocks as well. For one, he was fat. That fortunately did not become an issue this year, even when he was sidelined for long stretches during the season.

The other and somewhat related knock was that he was too slow to be a downfield threat in the NFL. That issue seemed to be put to bed in his first game, when he caught a 42 yard laser from Cutler in the back of the end zone against the Colts. For the season he led the Bears with a very good 15.3 average per reception. Like Marshall, Jeffery creates big plays by using his body and ability to create separation to fight for jump balls. Outside of one miserable game against Academy Award-winning actor Sam Shields, Jeffery was everything we could have hoped for out of a rookie wide receiver when he was on the field.

The problem, of course, was that he missed much of the season with an injury and often seemed out of sync with Jay when he came back. Hopefully, considering his lack of an injury history in college, this will all be behind him next year and he can enjoy a full season as the starting wide receiver the team needs him to be, rather than descending into the black hole of squandered potential that swallowed up guys like Mark Bradley and David Terrell.

#23 Devin Hester: 15 games, 5 games started, 23 receptions for 242 YDs, 1 TD, 10.5 YPC, 16.1 YPG

Sigh. Despite what some might think, the Devin Hester experiment at wide receiver wasn't necessarily destined to fail. Hell, in 2009 he was on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving before he got hurt, although he regressed steadily after that.  The problem wasn't that the Bears tried to make Devin Hester a receiver. It's only natural to want to find ways to get the ball in the hands of a dynamic player. The problem was always this bullshit "Devin Hester is a number one receiver" bit. Even after they abandoned that nonsense by acquiring Marshall and Jeffery, there was still an unwarranted emphasis on making Devin something special. He was still starting games on the outside long after it was obvious that Jeffery and Bennett were both better suited for it. In short, the problem was that the Bears tried to make Devin Hester a great receiver, when he was always more suited to be a role player.

Now, that's not to say there's still a place for the Hester Package. The Hester Package was stupid to begin with. Hester should never have been the focus of anything. They should have made him a slot receiver and simply another read, just like everyone else. In those situations, with matchups he could have won inside the numbers, perhaps he'd have been something useful. Instead he was awkwardly forced to run bubble-screens and other gimmicks that they telegraphed well in advance. The Devin Hester Package was, in effect, the Poochie the Dog of the Bears playbook.

Then again, a guy who has never really mastered route-running and has dropped almost 12% of all catchable balls thrown his way over the last four years deserves plenty of blame for his own failures as well. The main takeaway is that the experiment is over, and it was a failure.
#80 Earl Bennett: 12 games, 4 games started, 29 receptions for 375 YDs, 2 TDs, 12.9 YPC, 31.3 YPG

My love for the BBE is well-stated. When healthy, he's a sure handed (tops in the NFL among all NFL receivers with a meager 3.15% drop rate from 2009-2011), reliable slot-receiver who is nearly unstoppable on third down.You know where this is going, don't you?

Earl is, sadly, pretty fragile. He's missed nine games the last two seasons with an assortment of leg, arm, and chest injuries. His injury this year really seemed to throw him off, as he seemed uncomfortable in Tice's offense, and, most uncharacteristically, he dropped several passes. In the end, Bennett's numbers were disappointing for the second straight year (although he had a pretty good excuse for his lack of production after Jay went down in 2011). Hopefully he can reverse the trend of declining health and production next year, or we'll have wasted a good nickname for nothing.

#14 Eric Weems: 12 games, 1 game started, 2 receptions for 27 YDs, 0 TDs, 13.5 YPC, 2.3 YPG

I'm still not sure why the hell Eric Weems and Devin Hester are both on the roster. If Hester's not going to be a receiver at all next year, that leaves over $3.5 million in cap room dedicated to two pure return specialists in a league that's practically eliminated half of the return game with the new kickoff rules. Something's gotta give here.

As for Weems' play in 2012, well, he was a good blocker when he did play at receiver, and he caught half of the four passes thrown his way all season. So, that was nice. 

#18 Dane Sanzenbacher: 4 games, 0 games started, 1 reception for 7 YDs, 0 TDs, 7.0 YPC, 1.8 YPG

Sanzenfucker is gone. Let us not speak of him again.

That's all for now. Next time: struggling to come up with the right combination of swear words to describe Kellen Davis.

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