The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.
As a senior at Deerfield Beach High School, Jerry Jeudy was walking off the field after leading his team to a berth in the Florida state semifinals when his older brother, Terry, stopped him. He had something to tell Jerry that would shake him to his core — and shape everything that was to come for the standout wide receiver.
Aaliyah, their 7-year-old little sister, was gone.
Jerry had her whole life to prepare for this moment — Aaliyah had been born with complications that kept her from walking or talking — and the fact she had lived so long was a miracle. But Jerry collapsed to the turf under the weight of the news and cried with his brother.
“I love you sis, you in a better place now, I swear I’m going to make it for you and mommy,” Jeudy tweeted the next day.
Jeudy, a five-star recruit, already was committed to Alabama when Aaliyah died. Yet he realized the work had just begun. His sophomore year in 2018, Jeudy won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football after catching 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His junior year, Jeudy’s gaudy numbers suffered a little because of the season-ending injury of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. With the Crimson Tide headed to the Citrus Bowl and not the College Football Playoff, Jeudy could have easily decided to sit out the game to protect himself from injury before the NFL draft. Instead, he torched Michigan for 204 yards, won the game’s Most Valuable Player award and solidified his position as the projected No. 1 receiver in a deep draft class.
“It’s very humbling really, being named one of the top receivers in the class, among all these great receivers,” Jeudy said. “I don’t really care where I get chosen, where I get picked. I just know wherever I go, they’re going to get the best out of me. I’m going to come out and compete, work hard each and every day to show them why I’m the best.”
Jeudy was so dominant, so unchallenged at Alabama that draft analysts have decided to classify it as a potential negative.
Pro Football Focus named Jeudy its top receiver but cautioned, “This guy is 193 pounds, six-one, he’s a skinny dude and he had only 24 contested opportunities in his entire college career. He will see more than that in year one at the next level. He will have to play through contact far more than he ever did at Alabama, and we just don’t know how he is going to hold up.”
Of course, Jeudy’s pristine route running and ability to separate from defenders — and then juke the ones who are able to get close — are among the reasons he hasn’t been contested much.
Still, Jeudy is aware the next level will be different.
“I need to work on my strength,” Jeudy said. “In this league they got bigger defenders. I need to be able to get off the jam and make the blocks I need to make.”
Jeudy goes about his business quietly. He has not been one for creating drama despite the spotlight that has followed him as he became a budding star in South Florida.
But at the NFL scouting combine, he drew attention for wearing a Star of David pendant on a necklace.
“My last name, Jeudy, people sometimes call me Jeu, like Jew,” Jeudy explained. “So I got a Jewish star. I’m not Jewish, though.”
He later tweeted an apology to anyone who found his wearing the pendant offensive.
For those who closely examined the middle opening of the star, that space is occupied by a faded picture of a little girl named Aaliyah.