Broncos never managed to get the best out of Jerry Jeudy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After agreeing to trade wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to the Cleveland Browns for two draft picks on Saturday, the Denver Broncos continued on their constant carousel of change.

Whatever becomes of the remainder of Jeudy's NFL career will determine how big a mistake it was for the Broncos or if it was the right move at the right time.

Jeudy was a first-round Broncos pick in the 2020 draft, the second receiver off the board that year. Three of the receivers selected after him in the opening round -- Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk -- have 32, 30 and 25 career touchdown receptions and nine 1,000-yard seasons among them. Jeudy, meanwhile, has not reached 70 receptions in any of his four seasons and peaked with 972 yards in 2022. He also played with six different quarterbacks in four seasons in offenses that finished 28th, 23rd, 32nd and 19th in the league.

But he closed out the 2023 season saying "I can't worry about'' trade talks and held a sliver of optimism that a second year in Sean Payton's offense would help.

"[I've] had different OCs, different game plans darn near every year, finally to have consistency to already know ... what expectations [are] is a lot more helpful,'' Jeudy said.

Opposing defensive coaches have often said their defensive backs could get under Jeudy's skin during games. Tugging his jersey, getting in his ear, the brush-by shove on the way back to the huddle would force a reaction from Jeudy and his play would slip for a series or two.

And more than one personnel executive has said they felt like the more Jeudy was waving his arms at the officials after plays about getting a flag, the less he was going to catch the ball. Those same personnel executives, however, believe Jeudy's route running and ability to create space against even the best defensive backs were still signs of vast potential.

Overall, in his time with the Broncos Jeudy turned 59.3% of his targets into receptions, well short, for example, of Jefferson's 68%.

"He gets open against most everybody,'' an NFC defensive backs coach said. "He's a tough cover, but he doesn't always finish [the play]. We always felt like he could be frustrated, you know? Get him worried about other things.''

But Jeudy's balky development and the trade to move him along also shows how many potholes the Broncos have put in the developmental path of the players they have valued most in the drafts during their current eight-year playoff drought.

They are down to two of their own first-round picks on the roster -- tackle Garett Bolles (2017) and cornerback Pat Surtain II (2021) -- players who are considered foundational building blocks.

Because of trades and personnel moves, they have selected only three players among the draft's top 45 picks in the last four drafts. And as it stands now their first-round pick in April will be just the fourth top-45 pick in the last five drafts.

The Broncos had entertained the idea of moving Jeudy dating pack to the preseason. So, it's not a shock they eventually said yes to an offer, this one a fifth-round and a sixth-round pick in April.

Jeudy's departure gives Marvin Mims Jr. the much needed chance to play more.

"He's playing the same position as Jerry, I've said this a number of times, I think you're going to see a lot of growth [from Mims]," Payton said at the scouting combine.

But the Broncos' depth chart keeps getting thinner along the way. Jeudy, Wilson, safety Justin Simmons and tight end Chris Manhertz are all out so far as the Broncos try to get back among the playoff hopefuls. That task might be helped if they can count their own first-round draft picks with more than two or three fingers again.