Back in April, the Raiders selected speedy receiver Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama in the first round. Since then, there has been widespread speculation as to how head coach Jon Gruden will incorporate him into the offense. Back in Tampa Bay, Gruden had a similar receiver in Joey Galloway. Looking at how Gruden utilized him could tell us his plans for Ruggs.
Galloway and Ruggs are almost identical in terms of their size and speed. Both receivers stand at 5’11”. Galloway, at 197 pounds, was a bit heavier than Ruggs, who currently weighs 189 pounds. However, Ruggs will likely add some mass in the coming years. Also, both wide-outs have/had blazing speed. We all know about Ruggs’ well-documented 4.27 40 yard dash time. Galloway had wheels in his own right. He allegedly ran a 4.18, but that was before times were electrically recorded. Just in terms of size and speed, Gruden has to see similarities between the two. Could that mean that he plans to give Ruggs a similar role to Galloway?
Galloway Play Style and Usage
From what I saw in the above video, as well as other tapes, Galloway was highly productive doing two things. First, he racked up a ton of yards-after-catch or YAC. Second, he took the top off of defenses by blowing by people. Gruden took advantage of these abilities in a litany of ways, but there were three concepts that I saw a lot.
On a clear-out, one receiver will be lined up by himself on one side of the field and run a crossing route. On the other side of the field, receivers and tight ends run a sticks concepts. What the sticks concepts does is that it pulls defenders out of the middle of the field, freeing up space for the crossing route. Gruden used this to allow Galloway to catch the ball over the middle, and make defensive backs chase. Fast receivers that can make people miss can be deadly on these plays.
Quick Slants and Screens
Of course, any quick receiver is going to get a lot of slants. This is not anything special. Galloway’s quickness off the ball made it easy to get open on these routes in man coverage. However, Galloway was a bit on the small side, so teams would try to defend him with physical press corners. To counter this, Gruden used bubble screens to allow Galloway to catch and run. Gruden has shown that he likes to get fast players the ball in space.
Deep Posts and Go Routes
Contrary to popular belief, Gruden will call more than just ‘catch and run’ plays. He does like to take shots down the field. For Galloway, Gruden liked to send him on deep post patterns where he snaked up and across the field. This allowed Galloway to simply run by defensive backs into open space. Also, Gruden would send him on these modified ‘go’ routes. Galloway was fast enough to beat corners before safety help arrived, so he did not catch the ball deep. Instead, he would beat the corner, catch the ball, and then try to run by the safety.
How Well Does Ruggs Fit This Mold?
Catch and Run Abilities
Alabama fed Ruggs the ball a ton in underneath routes. Ruggs showcased an ability to do damage on slants and crossing routes. However, the biggest thing I noticed was everything ‘Bama did to protect Ruggs from press coverage. They brought him in motion pre-snap a ton, and he would often get the ball near, or behind, the line of scrimmage. He also got a ton of screens.
Ability to Beat Teams Deep
Ruggs made a ton of plays on deep passes last season. They mostly came on ‘go’ routes. At the college level, Ruggs was simply too fast and just ran by people. This will not happen as often in the NFL. However, he did look good on some deep posts, some post-corners, and sluggos. These routes will translate better.
How Will Gruden Use Ruggs?
Based on what he did with Galloway, and Ruggs’ skill set, I think it’s likely that Gruden will do similar things with the rookie. However, there are some key differences. Galloway was a 33 year old veteran when he arrived in Tampa Bay. By that time, he was a more polished route runner. Also, he was a little stronger than Ruggs’ currently is. That being said, Ruggs is probably much faster than Galloway in his rookie season.
Ultimately, I think the usage will be similar in principle, but maybe not in practice. At least not right away. Ruggs is going to need to polish his footwork to expand his route tree at the NFL level. Also, Ruggs is going to have trouble with bigger, more physical, corners early on. Gruden will have to find ways to create space for him. However, I do expect Ruggs to be a deep threat right away. He’s not just fast for college. He’s immediately going to be one of the fastest players in the league.
Here’s what I expect early in year one. Gruden will use screens and end-arounds to get him the ball in space. He will also use his speed to stretch the field. The routes where he needs to get to a certain spot on the field in a certain number of steps will take a little time. Nevertheless, by the end of this season, he should be the focal point of the passing game.
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Stats and measurements courtesy of Wikipedia.
Top photo: Tim Umphrey/Getty Images