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Jeffery a controversial pick for Bears

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

12:11 AM CDT, April 28, 2012

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If Shea McClellin was a conservative pick in the NFL draft, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was a slightly risky one and safety Brandon Hardin was a daring one.

It makes sense to go further out on the ledge in the second round than the first, and further still in the third.

Both players have the potential to be impact players.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Jeffery was rated in the Bears' top three receivers. He was the seventh receiver selected in the draft, but the Bears thought he was the best in several skill areas and that his size and toughness is important.

Emery pointed out Hardin, like Jeffery, has a lot of athletic gifts.

"This is a big, fast, dynamic, physical athlete," Emery said.

But both players also have the potential to make Emery regret taking them.

Jeffery's stock has gone up and down dramatically. It was at its highest after his sophomore year. He went from 88 catches in 2010 to 46 in 2011, but he still elected to leave school early.

He played at 232 pounds for South Carolina. He got down to 216 at the NFL scouting combine, but looked soft according to scouts. He also didn't work out there, and failed to impress some NFL teams in interviews.

"He killed himself at the combine," one AFC front office man said.

By his pro day, Jeffery had lost another couple pounds. He also made a lot of people forget what happened at the combine when his vertical leap was measured at 361/2 inches.

With hops like that, 33-inch arms and a 6-foot-3 frame, Jeffery can be a matchup nightmare. He can catch the ball away from his body, so he takes advantage of his length and explosion. As long as his belly isn't lined up offsides, Jeffery can force coverage adjustments.

It's difficult for NFL secondaries to match up with one big receiver. It's almost impossible for them to match up with two. The Bears now have two — Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

"We're going to be hard to handle in terms of size and physicalness and ball skills with the wideouts we have," Emery said.

At the very least, the Bears should have improved their charity basketball team significantly.

Yet, Jeffery is a polarizing player in NFL front offices.

Said one personnel director: "He has size and hands and can separate for a big guy. He's pretty rare that way."

Said a college scouting director: "He is not fast or quick. He is a between the numbers receiver. I see a lot of average skills there."

A number of NFL front office men have compared Jeffery to Mike Williams.

The Lions made Williams the 10th overall pick of the 2005 draft. He didn't work hard and he didn't stay in shape, and subsequently three teams cut him. He finally has found his way on his fourth team, the Seahawks.

Emery thinks the comparison is invalid.

"Mike Williams isn't as athletic as Alshon," he said. "Mike is more of an inside receiver. A lot of people thought he would be a tight end. This guy is an outside receiver. He's a very dynamic vertical receiver because he is such a big, physical target."

Hardin is an unknown because he barely has played, and he's being moved to a new position from cornerback. He didn't play a snap in 2011 because of a broken shoulder. He was drafted almost solely on his physical ability.

He has plenty of that. At 6-3, 222 pounds, he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and his vertical jump was 35 1/2 inches at his pro day.

One front office man said he might not play up to those numbers though.

"He is big and fast but super tight," he said.

Being super tight could work against Hardin at cornerback, where he played at Oregon State. But the Bears plan on him playing strong safety.

"We do like the fact he has corner skills, he has been a cornerback," Emery said. "The thing we have noticed is he is very good at using his size and physicalness and leveraging receivers. We see him helping us further is matching up against some of the tight ends we face."

There is risk involved with what the Bears did Friday. But there is potential reward too.

A potential big reward.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei