Top WR Prospects Mini-Series Part II: Jerry Jeudy
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Jerry Jeudy is a magician. He plays football like an illusionist, tricking and manipulating defenders with sleight of hand (sleight of foot?). From the way he runs after the catch to his releases and route running, every part of his game is infused with deception. Here's how he makes the magic happen.
Stopping on a Dime
Many players are lauded for their ability to go from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Jeudy, on the other hand, is special for his ability to go from 60 to 0. His most widely circulated highlight puts this trademark skill on display. As that clip illustrates, being able to stop on a dime makes it hard for defenders to get their hands on him. Would-be tacklers often miss so badly that they wind up eating turf.
But more important than eluding tacklers after the catch, his start-stop ability is a real asset when running routes. Jeudy is fast enough to make DBs worry about giving up a big play. Whether it's on a slant or a go, Jeudy has the speed to take it to the house from anywhere on the field (top of the screen in the first clip; slot in the second).
The threat of his speed makes his ability to toggle between a dead sprint and a standstill absolutely deadly and opens up the comeback and the curl (top of the screen).
This combination of threatening deep with speed and underneath with hitches, curls, and comebacks forces cornerbacks to defend all three levels of the field.
Jeudy's lateral agility has a similar effect on defenders as his start-stop ability: it makes them fall down. Check out no. 20 square up for a tackle, then get turned all the way around and fall on his face.
In the next clip it's safety Grant Delpit—winner of the Jim Thorpe award for best defensive back in the country—that Jeudy sends stumbling to the ground.
Jeudy clearly has excellent lateral agility and a knack for making people miss.
Like his start-stop ability, Jeudy's change of direction skills make him effective as a route runner, and they open up flat breaking routes that require sharp cuts to be effective. Here he is making top corner prospect Kristian Fulton fall down on an out route (top of the screen).
Fulton stumbles trying to keep up with the out-breaking route, and ends up on the turf when Jeudy bends it up the field. This ability to break routes at nearly 90 degrees is rare, but Jeudy does it with ease and regularity (slot).
These 10–15 yard outs are one of Jeudy's best patterns. His combination of lateral agility, speed, and start-stop ability make him capable of running a very diverse route tree.
Part I of the mini-series discussed how Henry Ruggs III runs routes as they're drawn up, adding little in the way of creativity or deception. Jeudy's routes exist at the opposite end of the spectrum. All of his movements contain layers of nuance and illusion that make it difficult for a DB to tell where he's headed.
Take the go route, the simplest pattern there is.
Now watch the way Jeudy begins the route.
He alters his gait, suspending his right leg before taking his second step. The hitch causes the corner to break his backpedal, leaving him flat-footed for just a moment. This split second pause is enough for Jeudy to accelerate past him, and you can see that he's won downfield position as they exit the frame. It's a small, subtle movement that he adds to the basic pattern, but it's the difference between winning the route and not.
Another example of the nuance he adds to basic patterns comes on a slant. The Jerry Jeudy version of a slant is far more complex and deceiving than the route as it's drawn up.
Jeudy does two things that work to his advantage in the example below (slot). First, he begins the route by moving laterally, towards the sideline. Second, just before he breaks inside, he gives a jab step and head fake, again towards the sideline. These additional movements get the corner to turn outside, with his back to the area that Jeudy is about to attack.
The corner then has to flip his hips all the way around to contest the pass. This expands the passing window and allows Jeudy to more effectively cross the CB's face. He drops the pass, but succeeds in manipulating the CB to gain an important advantage on the route.
Jeudy's ability to disguise his intentions also helps him release from the line of scrimmage. His basic move fools CBs into thinking he's headed one way when he's really going the other. Here (bottom of the screen), the CB bites on an outside fake and is never able to catch up. The only reason Jeudy isn't celebrating in the end zone is an overthrow.
(Our Part I featured player, Ruggs, is also in this play at the top of the screen. Notice Ruggs' anemic release and lack of separation. Like Jeudy he's running a go route, which he should dominate given his speed. But this play goes to show that sometimes a route is won or lost at the line of scrimmage.)
Here's another release where Jeudy dupes the corner (bottom of the screen).
Like on the go route, he again alters his cadence. The hesitation lulls the CB in and invites him to attempt a jam. As soon as he does Jeudy swipes his arm away and explodes upfield with tons of separation.
Jeudy's game is so thoroughly infused with trickery it even shows up in his blocking. Watch him (top of the screen) momentarily pretend to run a route during a screen so he can shove the CB to the ground.
The defenders lined up across from Jeudy are perpetually confused and one step behind.
Jeudy's skills are complemented by his exceptional awareness. This shows up in the way he executes his routes so that they mesh with the overall design of the play. Notice how in this clip (front of the stack) he starts his route slowly so that Devonta Smith (6) can pass him from behind. As Smith pulls even Jeudy turns on the speed, setting everything up so that (a) he doesn't interfere with Smith's route, and (b) their intersecting patterns create a slight obstacle for the DB that's guarding him.
We have another example against South Carolina. This play—a fourth and three—is designed to get the ball to RB Najee Harris near the line to gain as he moves from right to left. Jeudy, who begins on the side of the play that Harris is supposed to attack (in motion, top of screen), executes his role to perfection. He runs his man out of the area where the ball is headed, then walls him off from the play. This provides a lane for Harris to not only pick up the first down but rumble for extra yardage too.
Of course, both plays showcase excellent play design as much as Jeudy's own IQ. But Jeudy still demonstrates an ability to understand and execute his role in that context.
A Single Play Summary of Jeudy's Route Running
The following play is a fantastic encapsulation of Jerry Jeudy as a route runner (front of the stack). It showcases a deceptive release, explosive lateral agility, and a knack for fitting his route into the broader context of the play.
Notice how Jeudy doesn't start his route immediately, instead hesitating at the snap to allow his teammate to pass unimpeded (contextual awareness). He then gets the CB to bite on an inside fake (deception) before bursting up the field with strong outside position (excellent release). Finally, he breaks to the sideline at a nice, flat angle (change of direction/lateral agility).
This is high level, difficult to defend stuff.
What is There Not to Like?
Jerry Jeudy does so much very, very well. So is there anything about his profile to be concerned about?
I count four red flags:
Let's consider them in order.
While Jeudy's tape is excellent on the whole, it does contain some bad drops (slot).
The second clip is a different angle of a play we saw earlier, in the discussion of how Jeudy adds nuance to the slant. I return to it here because it illustrates the poor technique that is responsible for some of Jeudy's drops. In both of the above clips Jeudy attempts to trap the ball against his body ("body catching") instead of using his hands to catch the ball away from his chest.
I still recall getting chewed out by my wide receiver coach in high school for dropping a pass in this same way. Proper technique on this play would entail bringing his left arm over the top of the ball instead of under it, making a diamond between his index fingers and thumbs. This same fix applies to the first clip as well.
Jeudy is plenty capable of catching with his hands but occasionally allows his technique to falter, and that leads to drops.
In a broad sense, receivers can play a "big" game or a "small" game. Receivers that play the "big" game use size, strength, and physicality to gain an edge, and often excel at jump balls and contested catches. Examples include Mike Evans and Anquan Boldin.
Receivers that play the "small" game rely on quickness, agility, and burst, and place a greater emphasis on separating before the catch point. Examples of receivers that play the small game include Stefon Diggs and Keenan Allen.
I bring this up because despite measuring 6'1" and 193 lbs at the NFL combine, Jeudy almost exclusively plays small. There's not much strength to his game, and he doesn't do well fighting through contact. This is true at the line of scrimmage (in the slot at the top of the screen)—
—and also after the catch, where he rarely wins the point of contact. Here he fails to fall forward even through the corner's flimsy arm tackle, instead getting wrapped up and swung backwards (this happens before the rest of the defenders arrive).
Physical defensive backs can also push him around in the run game (slot at the top of the screen).
And finally, there is little to no tape of him excelling in jump ball or contested catch situations. At least as far as his college tape goes, he is mostly an on-the-ground receiver.
Jeudy plays the small game exceptionally well, but will never be one of the rare players like Julio Jones or AJ Green that can dominate in both the big and small ways. In that sense, his game is limited.
Despite looking like a plus athlete on tape, Jerry Jeudy did not have a good combine. Rotoworld's Hayden Winks published an article that identifies which combine tests matter for each position. For wide receiver, the speed score (weight-adjusted forty yard dash) and broad jump are the strongest indicators. Jeudy's 4.45 forty yard dash is solid—tied for tenth fastest among receivers—but less impressive considering he ran at a relatively light weight. His 120 inch broad jump tied for 33rd out of 43 wideouts.
Overall, Jeudy's SPARQ score, which measures overall athleticism, places him in the 22nd percentile of NFL wide receivers. It's fair to wonder if athletic limitations will make it hard for him to replicate his college success against faster, stronger, and more physical NFL defensive backs.
Finally, Alabama used Jeudy primarily as a slot receiver. Most number one wide receivers in the NFL, however, line up out wide. (Whether that is as it should be is a separate discussion.) If you expect Jeudy to fill a number one role in the NFL, you have to expect him to make a transition from the slot to the boundary. Translating his game to a different part of the field adds a degree of uncertainty to his evaluation.
What you ultimately think of Jerry Jeudy depends in large part on your expectations for a number one receiver. Should he be capable of dominating in every facet of the game, á la Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, or A.J. Green? Because Jerry Jeudy is not that player. He is not an athletic freak, and he will never be able to consistently impose his will on corners through physicality or strength. It's more likely that he'll be the one that gets pushed around. So if you are looking for a player that can win big, Jeudy is not your guy.
What we can project Jeudy to do is dominate the small game. So the key question is whether that in itself warrants a top 15 pick.
I think it does. Despite lacking the ability play big, Jeudy can still win at all three levels of the field. His exceptional ability to manipulate corners made him the best in the nation these last two years at what I believe is the most important skill a wide receiver can bring to the table: getting open. If I'm spending capital on the wide receiver position, that's exactly what I want to be paying for.