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The people’s guide to Jerry Jeudy

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Everything at Alabama sticks to a script. Jeudy is a brilliant, subtle freestyler within it.

Jerry Jeudy after catching a touchdown in the College Football Playoff. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Jerry Jeudy seems to have a compulsion with using the ordinary to prove that he is, in fact, extraordinary.

The way receivers and defensive backs interact before a ball goes airborne is like a choreographed fight scene. Actual contact is an occupational hazard. Bodies work together in limited space while attempting to achieve opposite goals. Montrel Custis doesn’t know it, but he’s done before the ball is snapped.

In football speak, he has outside leverage. His hips are angled toward the formation. He’s lined up like that in the hopes that it’ll help prevent Jeudy from doing exactly what happens next.

Jeudy lets him keep that leverage just long enough, by starting the stem of his route inside, before breaking it outside and stealing the leverage back. In the time it takes Custis to flip his hips and give chase, Jeudy’s blown by him.

The small movements of Jeudy’s body make all the difference. If you blink you’ll miss it — the point where he’s sold everyone watching on one move, only to drop the clutch and go in a different direction:

And here ...

... looking at Jeudy in motion, you’ll notice the ball hasn’t left Tua Tagovailoa’s hand yet. He has to give Jeudy time to set the stage, to make it look like he’s doing what any other receiver would do on any other route.

Depending on whose side you’re on, the scene plays as comedy or tragedy. For opposing defenders, it’s one straight out of a horror flick, one in which they only realize the end is upon them when it’s too late.

For the neutral viewer, it’s suspense. None of us watching know when exactly Jeudy will pop up. We just know that he will, at some point, steal the show. It’s what we came to the theater expecting. Like the best supporting actors, he leaves you wishing he was on the screen more often.

But most cinephiles aren’t directors, and most armchair offensive coordinators stay in their La-Z-Boys for a reason. You can ruin a movie by featuring the best bit players too often. Some of the most memorable performances you’ve ever seen on screen don’t last as long as you’d remember. In the original Star Wars, Darth Vader only appears onscreen for 10% of the movie. Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning turn as Fantine in Les Miz only takes up 15 minutes of a 160-minute film. Anthony Hopkins acts in about 16 minutes of Silence of the Lambs.

What I’m saying is you can do a lot in one seemingly simple scene. Take this play from the Duke game. If this was Notes on a Scene, Jeudy’s scripted directions here would probably be: find the hole in the zone, sit in it, get what yards you can.

And yet look how he interprets his role. They told him to gain roughly 10 — he took upon himself to lose five immediately, effectively lose most of his balance, then regain it to fire himself out of a cannon and end up gaining 14:

It is not just the audacity with which Jeudy attempted this out of pure instinct, it’s that he makes the unscripted look scripted. He had a route. He decided to do what he wanted with it. It worked. He’ll definitely do it again. It’s his balance, and his initial burst, and his ability to turn stunning short area quickness into destructive top-end speed, with changes in direction that make my ACL quiver. He weaponizes his bag of tricks to put something special on screen with limited opportunities to do so.

With relatively few touches available, receivers spend most of the time hanging out on the periphery of the action, but when they take center stage, the great ones do their best acting without words. Jeudy isn’t physically imposing on paper, but he’s able to use his body to create outrageous separation, and that creates film that’s impossible to ignore. Only two receivers in 25 years have ever won the Biletnikoff Award catching fewer balls in a single season than he did (68), and Jeudy played two or more full games than all of them but one: former Tide WR Amari Cooper.

In 11 of those games, as a sophomore, Jeudy recorded five or fewer catches. When targeted by Taglovailoa, he scored, roughly, once every seven times he touched the football. (You should expect that screen time to increase this season. In the Tide’s opening win over Duke, Jeudy was targeted 13 times out of 36 passes by Bama QBs. No other receiver had more than six targets.)

To watch him move is to appreciate fluidity. There is no change in speed as he shifts directions. He is a motion picture.

Jeudy can make you think he’s headed downfield, only to pull up on a dime. Where other receivers manage this with violence, he pulls it off with insidious grace, making a defender open up and then taking advantage of the vulnerability.

Below, against Texas A&M (third from the top) he starts inside and breaks outside. Watch the DB follow him.

Subtle movements convince an opponent that he knows what’s coming, only for Jeudy to pull the rug out from under him, then take the rug to the end zone. Watch here against Louisville, how effortless he makes this all look.

So much about the Crimson Tide is anathema to the concept of enjoyment that it’s hard to divorce two competing elements of Jeudy’s on-field story. That Jeudy is delivering this masterful performance is one thing. That he’s doing it for that team is another.

This story would be so much more beautiful if Jeudy were suited up for Oklahoma State or Washington State, maybe Texas Tech or even Ole Miss. (When he does it against Clemson, at least, it’s like watching a subtle thespian shine in the midst of the biggest dumbest big budget blockbuster money can buy.)

But reality oftentimes is scarier than any entertainment we can create, which is why “Jerry Jeudy, destroyer of defenses” gets to hone his craft as just one moving part in the sport’s most destructive winning machine. It’s a machine built to process only what is in the here and now. We’ve seen this movie before: It’s not just what Bama has, but what they have coming down the assembly line. There was Julio Jones, then Amari Cooper, then Calvin Ridley, now Jeudy. Soon enough, it’ll be some other phenom transported to Tuscaloosa and turned pro-ready, long before he’s actually allowed to be paid.

All the more reason to separate them in your viewing experience. The Tide’s story is one thing, a creeping-dread horror movie built to victimize basically every other program. The performance Jeudy gives — and it is a gift, in the middle of all that gore — is something separately beautiful.