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Jeffery, Marshall Chosen as Athletes of the Year by Grantland

The Bears' receivers have catapulted the team's offense from second-rate to first class

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When it comes to ESPN, it seems as though they exist in their own little corner of the sports universe. They will cover the same teams over and over again (we’re looking at you, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys) and they rarely take a deeper look at any of the teams in “flyover country,” in the nation’s heartland.

Grantland.com made a massive exception to that rule on Friday, however, selecting Chicago Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to be part of their “Athletes of the Year” collection. Here is what Robert Mays had to say about the duo:

“It’s been a while since Bears fans were surprised. For the past five years, fall has followed pretty much the same script. The hope each year was that the defense would be great enough, and the offense competent enough, for Chicago to squeak into the playoffs. Even when Phil Emery started his tenure as the team’s general manager with a splashy trade for Brandon Marshall, the Bears offense never rose beyond these expectations. Cutler force-fed Marshall 12 times a game. The Bears didn’t score much…

“Nothing creates a following faster than an instant hero, and although Jeffery was a first-round talent and a player the Bears traded up to get, his ascension has seemed to come all at once. When he broke Chicago’s single-game receiving record against the Vikings last month, he was actually breaking his own record – one set earlier this season. But that game in Minnesota was something different. That touchdown catch down the sideline was maybe the play of the year, and was just the start of what’s become the cult of Alshon.”

Needless to say, many Bears fans likely agree.

There are numerous wide receivers in the league that have captured the imagination of sports fans throughout the country, with Calvin Johnson serving as the leader of that group. Victor Cruz has his salsa dance. Larry Fitzgerald has his patented “leap higher than anyone else possibly can then toss the ball to the official nonchalantly” celebration. Jeffery may not have the flashiest dance moves, but Mays is absolutely right in pointing out that he has the one thing that many receivers would kill for: the ability to read a ball on its descent, and properly time his jump, better than just about anyone else in the league.

Part of the reason that Jeffery has been so successful this season is because of the tutelage of Marshall in the offseason. The duo has worked out together quite a bit, and whether it’s on the field or off, it’s clear that they are really good friends, and they are enjoying the ride of their careers playing together in Marc Trestman’s offense.

In the NFL, all glory is fleeting, so there’s no telling how long this ride will last, but one thing is for certain: if it wasn’t for Jeffery’s development, and the freedom that it has afforded Marshall to move around the field with less defensive attention on him, the Bears wouldn’t be anywhere close to the playoffs right now. That’s why Mays’ selection of the duo is so appropriate.

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