The following appears in the August Football issue of Mile High Sports Magazine
A mystery currently looms over Broncos Country and one of its young stars.
That mystery? What the heck happened to Jerry Jeudy’s rookie season?
A quick backtrack. Jeudy, taken with the 15th pick of the first round in the 2020, burst on the scene with all the excitement of a budding superstar. The impeccable college career at national powerhouse Alabama. The electrifying highlights. The speed. The flare. The ankle-breaking routes. It all added up to a rookie wideout who arrived with expectations that had Broncos Country buzzing.
The high flying Jeudy was seemingly grounded.
Among NFL receivers with at least 110 targets, none had a lower reception rate than Jeudy.
Sure, he had some calamitous drop issues, dropping 12 passes across 16 games at a drop rate of 10.6 percent, but that leaves 49 incompletions where Jeudy was the intended receiver unaccounted for.
What happened on those 49 plays?
In an attempt to answer that question, Jeudy’s season must be meticulously reviewed. Specifically, there are two primary culprits for an incompletion: The man throwing or the man catching. By going back and looking at every single time Jeudy was targeted in 2020, trying to determine what went wrong, the mystery does begin to unfold. But perhaps more importantly, this examination reveals what must happen in order for Jeudy, one of the most naturally gifted athletes in Broncos history, to improve in 2021.
Before bringing out the torches and pitchforks, there’s an unpleasant reality – call it an excuse if you want – that must be addressed: Jerry Jeudy’s biggest obstacle his rookie season, was the quarterback throwing him the ball.
Now granted, that’s not all on Drew Lock—Kendall Hinton, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien certainly didn’t do Jeudy any favors either—but Lock is the chief culprit.
Out of the 61 total incompletions Jeudy saw when targeted this season, at least 26 of them can be attributed to the quarterback’s inaccuracy or troublesome decision making. Translation: Almost have of Jeudy’s incompletions can’t be attributed to drops. And of those 26 passes deemed “uncatchable without extraordinary effort,” 21 of them came from Lock.
Considering those numbers, all of a sudden, Jeudy’s rookie year struggles start to become a lot more understandable. On 18.6 percent of his targets, he had to deal with a “nearly-uncatchable” ball from Lock, and on another 4.4 percent of his targets, he had to fight through the inaccuracy and poor decision making of Denver’s backups.
On the bright side, the failings of the Broncos quarterbacks can somewhat absolve Jeudy of his rookie year struggles. On the not-so-bright side, there’s not much reason to believe the quarterbacks will support Jeudy more this year than they did a season ago.
Jeudy is a precision weapon that relies on his quarterback’s timing and accuracy to be the best version of himself. Meanwhile, Lock has dealt with inconsistent accuracy and mechanics since he started playing the quarterback position, and for now, is far from “surgical.”
“The issue with the pairing of Lock and Jeudy, in year one at least, was Lock’s inaccuracy on horizontally leading throws,” NFL film guru Robert Davis—who can be found on Twitter @DavisBreakdows—said. “Jeudy is at his best when he is cutting across field or working the defenders’ blind spots, even at Alabama. Lock had issues hitting him in stride, or at all.”
It seems optimistic to think that after four years of SEC play and two years in the NFL, now is when Lock will finally conquer his inaccuracy demons.
Fortunately, there is reason for Jeudy to remain hopeful for quarterback play that will better elevate him, thanks to Teddy Bridgewater.
“[Bridgewater] is a better decision maker and is more consistently accurate with the football, especially underneath, where playmakers create quick separation and can utilize their yards after catch ability in the open field.” Mile High Sports’ own Joey Richards wrote in June.
During summer OTA’s, there were already signs of what Bridgewater could do for the second-year wideout, as Jeudy consistently looked like one of the best players on the field when working with the new addition at quarterback. If that can carry over into 2021, Jeudy should have a great season, especially considering his drop problems were greatly overstated.
Were Jeudy’s drops really that big of a deal last year?
At face value, the answer seems like an obvious yes. According to Pro Football Reference’s counts (10 drops), Jeudy had the third-most drops of any player in the league, and the 12th-worst drop rate.
A quick note: Upon reviewing all of Jeudy’s targets from the 2020 season, the staff at Mile High Sports discovered two drops he suffered against the Falcons which weren’t accounted for. Now for the sake of keeping our variables constant, we’ll primarily refer to PFR’s count, however, those two overlooked drops shouldn’t be forgotten about entirely. Adding those back in, raises Jeudy’s total-drop-count to being the second highest in the NFL, and his drop-rate to being the eighth highest.
However, all of those numbers are greatly inflated by one bad performance to give an impression of Jeudy that just doesn’t fit reality.
The Week 16 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers was dreadful. In that game, Jeudy dropped six passes on 15 targets—for a drop rate of 40 percent—and at one point dropped five passes in a seven-target span. Jeudy got the yips that week, and that mental barrier that seemed to materialize out of nowhere likely cost the Broncos a divisional game.
That’s a performance worthy of criticism, but we’d be foolish to forget that the drop problem – at least at that magnitude – did seemingly materialize out of nowhere.
Per PFR, Jeudy dropped the ball just three times in his 98 targets over the span of Denver’s 15 other games, for a drop rate of just 4.08 percent. According to PFR, the league-average drop rate is 4.55 percent.
This offseason fans and analysts alike have discussed Lock’s inaccuracy and Jeudy’s drops as if they’re two essentially “equivalent” problems, and that each had a large negative impact on the other’s 2020 season. But the numbers suggest that doesn’t align with reality.
While Jeudy dealt with a near-uncatchable pass from Lock 18.6 percent of the time, Lock dealt with a drop from Jeudy on just 2.0 percent of his passing attempts.
After some objective and critical analysis, it’s clear that Jeudy’s drops aren’t getting in the way of him having a tremendous second season. The quarterback struggles, on the other hand, are a different story.