By Brentley Weissman
As we get ready to turn the page on the year that was 2020, I wanted to quickly look back and think about what the year has given us. 2020 has given us a lot. A lot of bad things that I won’t discuss, but also a lot of good things. It has given us a newfound appreciation for the outdoors, work/life balance, and most importantly quality time with loved ones. 2020 has also given us football, and for that, I am extremely thankful, as that was certainly not a guarantee back in the summer. One thing about football that I am particularly appreciative of is that 2020 gave us one of the best rookie receiver classes that the NFL has ever seen.
The 2020 rookie wide receiver class was very highly regarded all throughout the evaluation process, and with just one game left in the regular season, it is abundantly clear that the hype was warranted. We have seen outstanding rookie campaigns from the likes of Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, who is arguably having one of the best seasons a rookie receiver has ever had. Fellow AFC North rookies Chase Claypool and Tee Higgins have had outstanding seasons for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati respectively, while other players such as CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Laviska Shenault have all had very strong years as well.
One member of this stellar class that I haven’t mentioned yet is Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who many evaluators liked best coming out of the University of Alabama.
Jeudy has had an up-and-down season. Statistically, he has had a solid yet unspectacular season. He has caught 47 balls for 716 yards and two touchdowns. There are many things he does on tape that blow you away and remind you just how talented of a player he really is, but then there are moments where he leaves you wanting a lot more.
In Denver’s Week 16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Jeudy, unfortunately, had more of the latter, where he leaves you wanting more. In a game in which Jeudy had 15 targets, he only managed to haul in six receptions for 61 yards. To make matters worse, Jeudy committed five drops in the game alone, with one being late in the game where (if he would have caught a deep ball from Drew Lock) his team may have had a chance to tie the ball game up.
The drops against the Chargers weren’t just a one-off occurrence. As a matter of fact, Jeudy has committed 12 drops on the season, per PFF, and has a catch rate of just 44%. Jeudy’s struggles with drops this season have been very concerning, but just how concerned should the Broncos be moving forward? Is this something that Jeudy can improve on so he can live up to his high draft billing?
I’ll start with the first question. The Broncos should be very concerned about these drops with Jeudy, but simultaneously realize he is still an elite talent with a very high ceiling.
Coming out of Alabama, Jeudy had it all. He had rare explosion and short-area quicks to snap off defenders with ease, and the savviness to be able to change speeds mid stem and create easy separation. He showed an outstanding ability to track the ball deep and is excellent after the catch with the ball in his hands. However, one thing that many evaluators in the NFL did knock Jeudy on was the inconsistency of his hands. In Jeudy’s last season with the Crimson Tide, he committed seven drops, and many were left wondering why these drops were happening.
This brings me to the second question; can he improve and fix the drop issues? This question is very difficult to answer as there are many factors that go into a receiver having this problem. Many receivers will drop passes due to concentration lapses, in which they take their eyes off the football before it's securely in their hands. Often receivers will look up and scope their surroundings in order to get ready to make a move before they have actually caught the football. I do believe that this is coachable and with time and reps a receiver can minimize, or all the way get rid of, these types of drops. Another type of drop is one where a receiver is running across the middle and will short-arm the catch as they are afraid of contact. This often happens with receivers who lack size and strength and are contact-adverse. (It is worth noting that Jeudy only comes in at 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds). The last reason receivers will drop passes is that sometimes pass-catchers who have small hands just struggle to bring in the football cleanly, and there really isn’t something you can do to improve that. Jeudy has 9.5-inch hands, which for a receiver are not the biggest, but are above average.
I believe the root of Jeudy’s drops are a bit of a mixture of the first two types, both with concentration lapses and being contact-adverse. Jeudy is a player who excels after the catch, and with his rare acceleration and burst all he needs is a little bit of space and he can take it the distance. I think Jeudy, knowing this, is very quick to make a move and try to score that he often doesn’t complete the process of securing the football. Again, I think that can be coached up. Jeudy is also more of a finesse receiver, meaning he doesn’t do well in contested situations, fighting through contact, and breaking tackles. I believe that when defenders are able to get physical with him, and when he runs across the middle, he will short-arm balls in order to brace for the contact. This is an area where I don’t think coaching will help, and it is up to Jeudy to take on that challenge and become tougher through contact.
There is also evidence that receivers can improve their drop issues, and we can just take a look at fellow Alabama alum Amari Cooper’s career as a reference point. Cooper, who is widely considered one of the better receivers in the NFL (I definitely consider him an elite receiver), has had his fair share of issues when it comes to drops. As a rookie, Cooper led the NFL with 18 drops. He has since spent time in the offseason working and improving his hands, making sure he brings the ball in with his hands before he makes a move, and has only dropped the ball three times this season while being targeted 119 times. Cooper's improvement is one that should give the Broncos' coaching staff and fans a reason for hope that Jeudy can improve his drop issues in the future.
While Broncos fans might still be irritated by Jeudy and his performance from this past Sunday, I would urge them to understand that this is still a 21-year-old rookie whose best days are ahead of him. Jeudy has made many plays for Denver this season and has still shown the explosive route-running and ability to create separation with ease that made him such a highly-touted prospect. Knowing Jeudy’s attitude and work ethic, I will not bet against this young man, and I expect many better days are ahead.
- Jun 24, 2022
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