The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Jerry Jeudy
I’m excited to kick off another season of the “Path to a WR1 Series” that our staff puts together every summer. Wide receiver is a deep position in fantasy football and every year we see new players breakthrough to crack the top-12 at the position for the first time. Our writers will be identifying some candidates to crack the top-12 by selecting wideouts ranked outside of Andy, Mike, and Jason’s top-15 wide receiver rankings and laying out the path it would take to get them into the top-tier by the end of the season.
This year the series starts with Jerry Jeudy, the second-year wideout for the Denver Broncos. Jeudy is clearly a talented receiver but he had an up-and-down rookie season littered with big plays, bad drops, and inconsistent quarterback play. Let’s take a quick look at his rookie season and dive into his path to a WR1 fantasy season in 2021.
Jeudy was the 15th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, some might say he was “drafted to be great”. He had a solid rookie season, playing in all 16 games and leading Denver with 52 catches and 856 receiving yards. He ended his rookie campaign strong by putting up a season-high 140 yards in Week 17 and finishing as the WR44 on the season. This was despite attempting to catch passes from Drew Lock (aka “Mr. Irresponsible”), Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, and Kendall Hinton.
The Path for 2021
The Broncos offense was abysmal in 2020, ranking 28th in points scored. For Jeudy to make the leap to WR1 territory in 2021, Denver needs to improve offensively. It’s a make-or-break season for Drew Lock, if he even gets the chance. The Broncos also traded for veteran QB, Teddy Bridgewater, who may give them a better chance to win this season and would likely provide more accurate targets for Denver’s pass-catchers, including Jeudy. Of course, as of this writing, Aaron Rodgers‘ and Deshaun Watson’s 2021 situations remain unresolved and Denver has been mentioned as a potential landing spot for each of the superstar quarterbacks. If either Rodgers or Watson does end up in Denver, all of the offensive weapons will get a major upgrade.
Targets and Target Share
Jeudy was second among all rookies with 113 targets in 2020, good enough to lead Denver with a 21% target share. Those are strong market share numbers but the elephant in the room is the return of teammate Courtland Sutton, Denver’s leading receiver from 2019. That season Sutton was targeted 124 times, good for a 26% target share. Over his career, however, Sutton has a 20% team target share, nearly identical to Jeudy’s in 2020.
They both profile as outside receivers, though Jeudy ran out of the slot nearly 29% of the time in 2020, significantly higher than Sutton’s 11.1% rate in 2019. More slot snaps could equate to more targets for Jeudy. But beyond alignment, let’s remember that targets are a skill-based stat that are earned by a player’s ability to get open on routes, and Jeudy is already one of the best route-runners in the game.
Here’s a visual example of Jeudy’s route-running prowess.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) February 11, 2021
Jeudy and Sutton will each demand their fair share of targets and could both easily top 100 on the season. In my eyes, Jeudy should outpace Sutton slightly just based on his route-running ability. The fact is, however, they’ve only been on the field at the same time for 31 NFL snaps, so we don’t really have any data to make a sound target share prediction. What we do know is, assuming health, the two of them should combine to dominate targets in Denver.
This is where it looks bad for Jeudy. It doesn’t get much worse than his 46% catch rate last season. That catch rate ranked 86th out of the 87 wide receivers that saw at least 50 targets last season, only beating out A.J. Green’s 45.2%.
So is Jeudy just bad at catching passes? Maybe.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, Jeudy dropped 10 passes last season. That was third-most in the NFL but not might be that big of a deal considering some of the other names on the list below of players with at least eight drops last year.
|Player||Drops||Drop Rate||Fantasy Finish|
As you can see, dropped passes aren’t a fantasy death sentence. Three wideouts on the list finished as WR1s in 2020.
Another oddity of Jeudy’s drops last year is that six(!) of them came in a single game, Week 16 against the Chargers. That game alone accounted for more than half of his drops on the season and since it came during fantasy championship week it probably led to some bad memories for fantasy managers.
But drops alone don’t fully account for Jeudy’s poor catch rate. While not ideal, Jeudy only dropped 8.8% of the passes thrown his way. Put another way, he caught 91.2% of all the catchable targets he saw. The quality of the targets thrown his way was another issue altogether.
Even if you set aside the games started by Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, and undrafted free-agent wide receiver Kendall Hinton, Jeudy saw the rest of his targets from Drew Lock. No quarterback that started more than five games had a lower on-target percentage than Lock’s 68.9% in 2020. The only other quarterbacks to start multiple games and have an on-target percentage under 70% were Dwayne Haskins (69.6%), Jake Luton (65.4%), and Jalen Hurts (60.7%). So while Jeudy’s dropped passes didn’t help his cause, neither did his quarterback play in 2020.
If Jeudy sees an improvised catch rate, and it’d be hard for him not to, the yards will come. He totaled 856 receiving yards, the fifth most among rookies last season, on just 52 receptions. That amounts to 16.46 yards/reception, the eighth-most in the entire NFL last season. His 92-yard catch in Week 17 certainly buoys his average but, at the same time, you have to give him credit for actually making the play. Even if his yards/reception decreases a bit in 2021, an increased catch rate would boost him over 1,000 yards on the season.
I’ve mentioned this in previous “Path to WR1” articles, but Air Yards is one of my favorite stats when searching for breakout receivers. If you skipped the primer to this series, you can go back and check it out for a more in-depth explanation of the stat. I like to think of Air Yards as a way to gauge a wideout’s fantasy ceiling. According to PlayerProfiler, Jeudy accumulated 1,536 Air Yards last season, the sixth-most in the entire NFL. However, he was second in the NFL with 965 Unrealized Air Yards. This is another metric that tells us Denver’s quarterback play was lacking last season. They were taking shots with Jeudy, but they weren’t connecting on many of them.
Jeudy only scored three touchdowns as a rookie. To have a chance to break into the WR1 tier he’ll need to find the endzone more. Touchdowns are a make-or-break stat for fantasy wide receivers and as will surely be echoed throughout this series, they’re tough to predict. That being said, Jeudy will have the best chance to score more touchdowns in 2021 if the entire Denver offense takes a step forward and improves on the meager 323 points they scored as a team last season. If the Broncos can become an average-to-good offense, double-digit touchdowns are certainly in the realm of possibilities for Jeudy.
WR1 Probability for 2021: Unlikely (10-24%)
As we often do for this series, I took to Twitter to poll the fantasy football community’s opinion.
We're starting off our "Path to a WR1 Series" with @TheFFBallers writing staff this week and I'm writing up Jerry Jeudy. What chance do YOU give him to finish as a WR1 in 2021?
— Aaron Larson (@aalarson) June 20, 2021
While I tend to agree that it’s “unlikely”, I find it interesting how evenly split the community is between the “bad” and “maybe” options. As expected, nobody is banking on him making it as a WR1 as I write this in late June.
Jeudy is a talented wide receiver who should only get better. The offense, specifically the quarterback, is a huge question mark for him moving forward. For him to break out he’ll need somebody, whether Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock, Aaron Rodgers, or Deshaun Watson, to provide better quarterback play than he saw in 2020. Obviously, some of those options are more or less likely than others. Sutton shouldn’t be considered a threat to Jeudy because if the offense is good, both can thrive. We frequently see multiple receivers from a team finish as top-12 fantasy WRs, just like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett or Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen did last season. Given his current average draft position in the eighth round, drafting him seems like a risk-reward wager worth taking.