ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a moment Sunday when the cameras caught a visibly angry 21-year-old professional wide receiver simply staring at his hands as if he wondered how they could have betrayed him.
Jerry Jeudy, who was the Denver Broncos’ first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft out of Alabama, currently finds himself on unfamiliar ground. He dropped five passes in Sunday's three-point loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, with at least two of those being potential game-changers and one that was a potential touchdown.
"[The ball] definitely came to me," Jeudy said. "... I've just got to make plays. Nobody stopped me. I was open. I've just got to finish. I beat myself.
Many thought Jeudy had a good chance to avoid traditional rookie receiver struggles because of his refined route running and rare explosiveness. But as Jeudy's rocky rookie season nears a close, he has 12 drops. He has turned a team-leading 106 targets into 47 receptions -- or a 44% connection rate.
He and quarterback Drew Lock seem to be out of sync in a wide variety of routes. The usually fluid Jeudy has looked robotic at times as he has moved his hands toward the ball. In fact, since a three-game stretch in November when Jeudy had 15 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown, he has topped 50 yards receiving once -- Sunday's loss -- with 15 catches combined in the last six games.
After the Dec. 6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, when Jeudy had four targets for one 5-yard reception, Jeudy took to Twitter: "At least I got my conditioning in." The post was removed shortly after it appeared, but Jeudy has shown his frustration in the weeks that have followed.
"He's got to come back from it -- could be a defining moment in his career," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said after Sunday's loss. "He's got to come back, have a great week of practice, catch a bunch of balls and then show up on Sunday. When the balls are thrown to him, he'll catch it."
At one point during the second half Sunday, Lock spent several minutes talking with Jeudy on the Broncos' bench. Lock, who has battled mistakes of his own during his second season, said he could relate to Jeudy's frustrations.
"I told him that you're one of the most talented guys I've ever been around and you're one of the most talented guys in this league," Lock said. "You're going to play for a really long time and you're going to have days like this because of how good you are and how many chances you're going to get to go out and catch the ball. You have to let it go. ... I told him that he's just too good to hang his head and too good to be upset.
"There's a lot of opportunities for me to hang my head this year and it's all about how you respond, how you get back up, and I know Jerry has been so good to this point that this might be one of the first times he's struggled. It takes a guy that's struggled a few times here and there to maybe go up and say something to him."
Jeudy, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver during his final year at Alabama, has dealt with shoulder and ankle injuries this season. Even with those injuries, he's the only Broncos player to have had at least 10 targets in three games this season.
There were times in Demaryius Thomas' decorated career with the Broncos that he would have a cluster of drops in a season. Thomas' routine during those times was always the same -- countless footballs from the Jugs machine before and after practice, as well as taking additional throws from the quarterbacks during practices, even off to the side during defensive drills.
Jeudy said Sunday that with just one game remaining in the season, he would do the work.
"Sometimes drops happen. ... I watched the ball come in, it just dropped," Jeudy said. "I just got to focus on the next play. It just happened too many times."