The quick move, equal parts shimmy and juke, allowed Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy to get past Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill’s futile attempt at press coverage. And just as suddenly, Jeudy looked back toward quarterback Mac Jones and raised his right hand.
Jeudy was open. Again.
He had used his route-running to gain the advantage. Again.
And he was in a position to make a touchdown catch. Again.
Alas, Jones underthrew Jeudy, who improvised to draw a pass interference penalty on Hill and set up a Crimson Tide touchdown in a 35-16 Citrus Bowl win. But the play exhibited one of the many reasons why the Broncos selected Jeudy 15th overall in April’s draft.
They coveted an NFL-ready receiver to play opposite Courtland Sutton, a player who will be able to signal quarterback Drew Lock he is open for an explosive completion.
Jeudy, who will debut Sept. 14 against Tennessee, could buck the trend that sees first-year receivers struggle adjusting to the pro game.
“He’ll make the transition quickly,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “What he does best is the hardest thing to teach receivers — run routes to get open.”
The Broncos need Jeudy to make the transition quickly to help end a four-year offensive malaise that coincides with their playoff drought.
Only the New York Jets and Cleveland have averaged fewer points per game than the Broncos (19.3) during that span. Only the Jets, Arizona and Buffalo have averaged fewer yards per play than the Broncos (5.1). On and on we could go, but the point is clear — a B12 shot was required in the form of re-stocking the cupboard over the last two drafts.
In mid-August, Lock was asked about Jeudy and he paused while smiling as if he was plotting his options: Heap praise and make comparisons or be matter-of-fact? Lock chose the latter.
“We’ll say Jerry is pretty good; we’ll put it that way,” he said. “I think the best thing I’ve seen out of Jerry is how hard he comes out and works every day and just how on top of it he is.”
Big things at ‘Bama
When did Jeudy realize he was good at football?
“My freshman year in high school,” he said. “In one game, I had four catches for four touchdowns and once I did that, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m pretty good,’ because I was never ‘The Guy,’ in little league football. But once I got to high school, I started working hard on my game and I got better each year.”
Jeudy said his favorite player as a kid was Reggie Bush, “because I was mostly into following running backs. When I started playing receiver, I liked Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Stefon Diggs — detailed route runners who had route creativity, too.”
Jeudy said he was a defensive back by trade until his junior year, when he started playing receiver. Smart move.
“I was around a great group of players and I felt like that greatness rubbed off on me and that helped me get into the situation I’m in now,” he said.
Jeudy had 117 catches for 1,554 yards and 25 touchdowns in his final two years of high school and continued the South Florida-to-Tuscaloosa receiver pipeline that began with Cooper and Ridley.
“Those guys were doing big things and I felt I could do the same,” Jeudy said.
The big things arrived following an apprentice season. As a true freshman, Jeudy had 14 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games.
Ridley then left for the NFL, which allowed Jeudy to enter the national spotlight. And he shined … all season long. Five 100-yard games. Fourteen touchdowns. A whopping per catch average of 19.3 yards (68 catches-1,315 yards). And winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
Midway through that season, Lock and Jeudy were in the same stadium when Missouri played at Alabama.
“I was trying to find a way the SEC would let me play 12 guys on the field so I could put a guy at the line of scrimmage and a guy over the top,” then-Missouri coach Barry Odom joked in a recent telephone interview.
Jeudy caught three passes for 147 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown to start the scoring in a 39-10 rout of the Tigers.
“Tremendous speed,” Odom said. “We wanted to try and eliminate the downfield, explosive plays, but then I was also worried about playing too far off and he catches a pass in space. He was dynamic in every area. I sure look forward to watching him play in the NFL.”
Going to be “phenomenal”
Before Jeudy’s junior year, Alabama coach Nick Saban had a message.
“He told me I needed to improve on my conditioning because I would go five plays and then get tired,” Jeudy said.
His stamina improved, Jeudy caught 77 passes for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. He could have easily skipped his final college game — NFL evaluators already had enough tape to see he was the real deal. But Jeudy’s want-to level meant he was in Orlando facing Michigan.
First play: Lined up in the right slot and given 15 yards of cushion, Jeudy ran a post route and scored an 85-yard touchdown.
Jeudy ended the game with eight catches for 204 yards and showed the versatility that should make him a popular target for Lock and a constant headache for defenses.
Jeudy caught passes after lining up in the right slot, wide right and bunch right against Michigan. He beat press coverage for a 21-yard gain. He turned a bubble screen into nine yards. A shallow cross netted 17 yards. He set up his defender by faking a go route and running an out for 14 yards. And his final college catch went for 58 yards on an over route.
Three-plus months later, the draft’s top three receivers were Jeudy, Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb. The top half of the opening round featured several teams who needed pass-catching help. No way Jeudy would reach the Broncos at No. 15, or at least that was the prevailing theory.
But in consecutive picks, the Jets selected Louisville left tackle Mekhi Becton, Las Vegas drafted Ruggs (the spirit of Al Davis making the pick) and Tampa Bay took Iowa right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Presto, general manager John Elway made Jeudy his first Alabama draft pick.
The positive for Jeudy as he learns the NFL game is he won’t have to carry the big-play burden. Sutton made the Pro Bowl last year and tight end Noah Fant, last year’s first-round pick, should increase his threat level.
But the consensus is Jeudy is ready to make an immediate impact, maybe similar to Ridley in Atlanta two years ago, when he was the No. 2 to Julio Jones but still caught 64 passes (10 touchdowns).
“We always love the measurable and saying, ‘This kid is 6-4, 210,’ or, ‘He’s got a 47-inch vertical,’ or, ‘He’s a 4.3 40 guy,’” Orlovsky said. “And coaches always think, ‘Give me that and I’ll teach him to play receiver.’ When you understand body leverage and lean and you understand how to drop your hips and the art of lying to people as a route runner, meaning you set defenders up to make them think you’re doing one (route) when you’re doing another (route) — that’s why I think he’s going to be a phenomenal player in the NFL.”