One of the most popular Titans free agent projections from “Big NFL Media” this year is going to be Alshon Jeffery. You can already find Jeffery to the Titans guesses all over the internet: here, here, and here for example. Jeffery is absolutely a tremendous talent and wide receivers with his ability almost never hit the free agent market so I can understand why some would think the receiver-needy Titans could be interested. I laid out my argument for Kenny Stills being the Titans top target at wide receiver if they choose to address the position via free agency previously and briefly touched on some of Jeffery’s flaws in the process, but I do think he is worth a deeper look.
- Age: 26 (will turn 27 on 2/14/2017)
- Height: 6’-3”
- Weight: 218 lbs
- College: South Carolina
- Experience: 5 years
- Drafted in 2nd round (#45 overall) of 2012 NFL draft by Chicago
Alshon Jeffery Career Stats.csv
As a rookie Jeffery struggled to stay on the field missing games due to three different injuries: a torn meniscus, a broken hand, and a pulled hamstring. He had his break out season in 2013 as the big play complement to Brandon Marshall in Chicago earning him a Pro Bowl nod in just his second season. His third season saw the Bears offense fall apart around him, but he became the go-to receiver for the first time in his career. The injury bug popped up again that year as he pulled his hamstring and had to leave the first game of the year. While he was able to return the next week he was clearly limited. The Bears traded Marshall away to the Jets before the 2015 seemingly paving the way for Jeffery to become the star of the offense, but injuries struck again. Jeffery pulled his calf during the offseason costing him part of training camp and the preseason. Another pulled hamstring cost him 4 games early in the season, groin and shoulder injuries cost him a game midseason, and then finally a torn hamstring landed him on IR to end a disappointing season. Last season Jeffery came in to camp again with a nagging hamstring injury, but managed to get healthy enough to play by Week 1. He stayed healthy and put up pretty decent numbers despite the Bears struggles for the first 9 weeks before drawing a 4-game suspension from the NFL due to a fail drug test.
Here is what NFL.com had to say about Jeffery going in to the 2012 NFL Draft:
Jeffery is a lanky prospect who uses his size well to make plays on the ball downfield. He has a massive pair of hands to go with his long arms and is an elite receiver once the ball is in the air. He has the anticipation and jumping ability to high point the ball over nearly any corner he faces. Off the line of scrimmage, he is non-explosive but uses his hands and a subtle jab step to keep defenders at bay. He is good to work into his route and get back on top of his defender after beating a jam. He has a natural feel for turning to catch the ball in-phase and will be a prime candidate for back shoulder fades in the red zone after setting them up.
Jeffery is indeed an elite jump-ball prospect, but his value will be heavily determined by a simple 40 time, as he does not stand out as fast on tape and is such a long strider that he at times looks to be moving in slow motion. Speed will never be his game, but he needs to become more comfortable in his routes to work the corner and truly gain separation. The development of his route running skills will be the key to his success. Jeffery was bit uncoordinated early on in his career and seemingly only began to look comfortable in his body towards the end of his collegiate career.
Jeffery’s 40 time at his pro day (he didn’t run at the combine) came in at 4.47 which is incredible for a receiver of his size and skills. However, there were lots of concerns at the time that Jeffery’s time was unrealistic due to the fact that he played his senior season nearly 20 lbs heavier than his 216 lbs weight when he ran the 40. His weight fluctuations also lent credence to the idea that Jeffery’s effort was inconsistent off the field.
How Jeffery Fits the Titans
When Alshon Jeffery is healthy and motivated he has as much talent as any wide receiver in the NFL not named “Julio”. It is incredibly rare for a true go-to wide receiver to hit the free agent market during the prime of his career as Jeffery is heading in to his age 27 season. The Titans could clearly use someone with his ability to make big plays in the passing game.
Jeffery’s primary skill is his ability to provide the quarterback with a big, physical target. Here is a good example of this from last season:
His big body, long arms, big hands, and natural ability to adjust to the football and box out defenders make him one of the most lethal redzone targets in the NFL. Here is another example from the 2014 season:
Jeffery has also excelled in the NFL as a deep threat thanks to his ability to out-muscle corners while the ball is in the air. Watch him break off his route as Cutler leaves the pocket and then fight back through the defender to make the touchdown catch. He’s one of the best in the game at this.
Jeffery also has developed in to a really good route runner in the NFL thanks to a really good feel for pacing and timing in his routes. He is not overly quick, but makes the best of his physical abilities as you can see in the GIF below. Jeffery twists up Brandon Carr with a series of well-timed moves allowing him to get over the top and eventually draw the DPI call after Cutler under throws him.
Jeffery is a physically dominant receiver which is something that cannot be said for any of the Titans current receivers so he definitely is an intriguing on-field fit. He would make Mariota’s job a lot easier and give him a trustworthy target to look for to make plays for him when things break down. The problems come in with what you get from Jeffery off the field.
Jeffery’s injury risk is substantial. He has suffered from 8 different injuries that have cost him either regular season games or important training camp reps. The vast majority of these injuries have been soft tissue ailments with hamstrings being the most common issue. These types of recurring injuries often are a result of a lack of conditioning and taking care of your body in the offseason. Jeffery’s inconsistent work ethic is a criticism that has followed him throughout both his college and NFL careers and it also seems to be backed up by reports of his fluctuating weight as well as the frequent injuries. Even John Fox implied that Jeffery’s mostly healthy 2016 could have been a result of it being a contract year for the soon-to-be free agent. You have to wonder if removing that motivation by giving him a big guaranteed deal might be setting yourself up for disaster.
Beyond the injury aspect of it, the attitude issues and lack of work ethic are alarming on other levels. Here are some reports about John Fox’s response to Jeffery’s effort this past offseason.
#Bears sources: John Fox "considerably upset" over Jeffery being out, and still disappointed he skipped earlier optional practices. 1/3— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) August 5, 2016
Still very tenuous relationship between Fox & Jeffery, with the coach not fully trusting him, worried that he "sandbags." 2/3— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) August 5, 2016
These reports don’t sound very much like a Robinson/Mularkey guy. They also match up with other reports that Jeffery has a tendency to let his off field frustrations with a team impact his effort level on the field.
As JG pointed out in a recent article about what we learned from Robinson’s first offseason, he wants to build this team around tough, team-first, and dependable football players. Jeffery checks none of those boxes for me and that’s what makes it so hard to see the Titans giving him the 5 year, $61M deal that Spotrac is currently projecting for him. Jeffery just feels like the kind of guy that will get that huge deal in March and then show up for camp in July weighing 255 lbs and nursing another hamstring injury. I understand the fascination with his abilities, but I don’t think he is a good cultural fit and our money would be better spent elsewhere.