First Look: Jerry Jeudy could be best receiver prospect in years

In just about every draft class, there are a select few players that you can single out as elite, top-of-the-line prospects before their junior season even plays out.

Last year, I felt that way about Nick Bosa. In 2017, I felt that way about Saquon Barkley. In 2016, I felt that way about Myles Garrett.

This year, I have a similar feeling about Jerry Jeudy.

In general, I’m reluctant to make hyperbolic proclamations like player ‘X’ is the best player I’ve seen at his position since player ‘Y’ almost a full year before they’re even eligible to be drafted, but Jerry Jeudy is different. He inspires that kind of confidence.

***

I began studying NFL Draft prospects back in 2014, so I’ve seen quite a few impressive receivers in my time as an amateur draft scout. The catalogue of top receiver prospects I’ve previously studied includes players like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper and Kevin White. From the seven draft class sample size I have to draw from, I couldn’t pick out a single receiver that I’d definitively take over Jeudy based on pre-draft evaluation. He’s that talented.

To understand what makes Jeudy such a special wide receiver prospect, we need to revisit the 2018 college football season – his first as a starter for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Last year, as a true sophomore, Jeudy announced his presence to the college football world in a big way. In an offense filled with future NFL starters, the 19-year-old former five-star recruit out of Deerfield Beach, Florida, quickly stood out, establishing himself as the preferred target of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The second-year receiver piled up 68 receptions, 1,315 yards (19.3 YPC) and 14 touchdowns over 15 games last year. At season’s end, he was recognized with the Fred Biletnikoff Award, an annual honor bestowed upon the best wide receiver in college football.

As a 20-year-old receiver with just one year of college starting experience, Jeudy already appears to be well ahead of curve in terms of NFL-readiness.

Given his youth and inexperience, it also seems likely that he hasn’t finished improving yet.

So what can Jeudy do to improve in what could be his final season in Tuscaloosa, and what am I seeing on film that gives me such confidence in him?

Allow me to explain:

ATHLETICISM

The first things that jumped off the screen when I took my initial look at Jerry Jeudy were the insane body control, vertical speed and separation quickness that he displayed.

Judging by the game speed, I’d be pretty surprised if he didn’t run sub-4.4 at the NFL Scouting Combine. In a nine-game sample size, I watched Jeudy run by countless SEC cornerbacks and safeties.

Jeudy’s blazing top-end speed makes him a big-time deep threat, but he’s far from a one-trick pony.

Like a Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr., Jeudy possesses the rare ability to turn routine short and intermediate gains into huge, game-changing plays.

He can house a slant, shallow cross or post with his ability to outrun favorable pursuit angles, as he did in the following play vs. Arkansas last year.

He can also create huge chunk gains after the catch with his ability to make defenders miss and sustain balance through contact, as he did against LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette.

His lightning-quick release off the line of scrimmage makes it difficult for cornerbacks to match his stride right out of the gate, and his stop/start ability and change-of-direction quickness make mirroring his lateral movements an absolute nightmare.

ROUTE RUNNING

As a true sophomore, Jeudy was, perhaps, the best route runner I’ve ever scouted.

His ability to set up cornerbacks with a variety of route releases and ability to sell route fakes with changes of speed and subtle body movements are advanced beyond his years. With his attention to detail and elite suddenness, Jeudy is nearly impossible to cover one-on-one.

Here are a few examples:

In this play from the 2019 National Championship game vs. Clemson, Jeudy runs a gorgeous hitch route.

First, he sets up the route with a stutter release, causing the cornerback to open his hips away from the sideline. Then, he sells the fade by working to the cornerback’s blind spot. Finally, he breaks down with no wasted steps and works back toward the quarterback.

Easy pitch and catch.

In this play vs. Louisville, Jeudy gets the safety flowing inside with a fake on the post-corner route before breaking back outside toward the sideline. The hard inside fake and sudden outside break get him wide open.

In this corner route vs. Louisville, Jeudy’s change-of-direction quickness and fluidity are readily apparent. First, he presents an inside fake. Then, he straightens out his angle before pivoting out toward the back corner of the end zone.

BEATING PRESS COVERAGE

It’s essential for perimeter receivers to have the ability to defeat press coverage consistently, not only to create open throwing windows, but also to preserve the timing between quarterback and receiver.

As a first-year starter, Jeudy displayed a knack for avoiding the jam with his superior quickness and variety of release plans.

In the following play vs. Auburn, Jeudy torches Tigers’ cornerback Jamel Dean with a three-step hesitation release.

In this play vs. Ole Miss, Jeudy toasts the cornerback with a hesitation move at the line and a swift chop to clear the hand as he begins his vertical push.

In this play vs. Ole Miss, Jeudy uses a “stretch” release to lull the defender to sleep before bursting upfield. The defender is able to match his speed, but barely touches him in the contact window.

In this play vs. Ole Miss, Jeudy wins at the line of scrimmage with an “attack and slip” release.

HANDS/BALL SKILLS

The ability to catch a football is the most rudimentary skill of a wide receiver. For Jerry Jeudy, it’s just another area where he excels.

The top-rated receiver prospect for 2020 is a natural hands catcher, as you’d probably expect. He secures the ball with arms extended whenever possible, and he rarely allows catchable balls to slip through his hands. In the nine games I watched for the purpose of this article, I counted one dropped pass.

In the 2018 film, Jeudy showed an ability to make tough catches away from his frame. He also displayed impressive toughness and concentration to finish catches through contact, albeit in a small sample size.

QUESTIONS/CONCERNS

At this point in the article, I’ve already talked in-depth about Jerry Jeudy’s strengths, so now I want to shift the discussion to potential weaknesses.

If I’m nitpicking, he’s a little thin-framed for a WR1. His catch radius isn’t huge. He might not be a big-time red zone threat or ideal jump ball receiver. He played the majority of his snaps at slot receiver last year, so he typically had extra space to aid him in dealing with press coverage. He could potentially struggle to get off press coverage with less room to operate if he’s played at X more consistently… but he’s so gosh dang quick and so skilled with his footwork that I’m not sure it matters.

Because he’s so adept at creating separation, I didn’t see many contested catch opportunities; however, in the two or so situations where he did have to make a contested catch, I thought he showed good concentration and hand strength.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’d be surprised if Jerry Jeudy didn’t end up as a top-3 player on my final big board in 2020 based on the 2018 film. He reminds me a lot of former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson in terms of size, athleticism and route running. If Jeudy stays healthy and plays up to expectations in 2019, he feels like a pretty safe bet to go top-10 next April. He’s the complete package at wide receiver.

PRESEASON GRADE: Elite — Top-10 pick — perennial Pro Bowler with All-Pro potential

GAMES WATCHED (9): Louisville, Ole Miss, Georgia, Clemson, Texas A&M, MissouriAuburn, Arkansas, LSU (2018)

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