The Las Vegas Raiders made Henry Ruggs III the first receiver selected in the 2020 NFL draft but a tough rookie season left the fans wanting more.
There were several talented wide receivers taken in the 2020 NFL draft but the Raiders chose Henry Ruggs III ahead of all of them. Ruggs struggled to make a consistent impact and had issues with both his health and COVID-19. Meanwhile, his other rookie counterparts flourished. Most notably, CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, and Tee Higgins, all chosen after Ruggs.
Looking back, Ruggs was able to have an impact on games even if he wasn’t making catches. Nevertheless, he was limited to 13 games and clearly wasn’t feeling 100% in several of them.
His starting spot was snatched up by Nelson Agholor after suffering an injury against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2. Then, thanks largely in part to the veteran’s excellent play, Ruggs was unable to win it back.
Ruggs will have competition in 2021 once again
Now, Ruggs has another veteran receiver in John Brown who could potentially take his spot. Be that as it may, the ideal scenario would be having the two of them as the top receivers in the Raiders offense. The coaching staff and Derek Carr are confident that Ruggs will be able to bounce back in a big way. They’ve also noted how hard he’s worked this offseason. According to Carr, Ruggs even looks bigger and more muscular, which should help him deal with the rigors of the NFL. Carr spoke to The Athletic about what’s different about Ruggs this summer and said the following:
‘It’s really his mentality. The way that he has come in about his business every day. The way that he is running routes. There is just a purpose behind it, such a … you can feel him on the practice field right now. His mentality is so good right now, and I hope no one talks to him and it just stays like that. He is doing so well and I am proud of him. It’s been so fun to watch him come back after it didn’t go how he wanted it to last season.’
Ruggs needs to improve timing and chemistry with Derek Carr
Aside from his improved strength, the Raiders will need to see better route running and recognition from Ruggs. There were some notable examples where he was open due to his natural speed last year. However, because he broke at the wrong angle or rounded out a route rather than cutting, the connection with Carr was not made.
Derek Carr is going to show off his ability to diagnose defenses. The Saints give a pre-snap Cover-6 look but bring a 6-man pressure. Henry Ruggs & Carr are still working on their chemistry or this could have been a TD. Bet they run this one again. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/Uv2ZagSO7G
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) September 23, 2020
The play below is an example of needing to build on the chemistry and timing between Ruggs and Carr. It’s evident that a better throw could have been a touchdown rather than just a long completion. Carr and Ruggs were limited in their opportunities to work together due to Covid restrictions but there are no such prohibitions this season.
Plays like this will be 6 points once Derek Carr & Henry Ruggs get locked in. Carr still wants to see Ruggs break before he makes the throw. He’ll be able to anticipate this throw more once they get on the same page & Ruggs speed possibly lets him turn this corner. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/zXjvhxTGqm
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) December 1, 2020
The Raiders knew that Ruggs was not as polished of a route runner coming out of college. This was especially true when comparing him to his college teammate in Jerry Jeudy. Nonetheless, it’s obvious the Raiders underestimated how raw he was coming into the NFL.
A summer of workouts with Carr and a full training camp should help them tremendously in building their chemistry and some additional emphasis on his footwork should help as well.
What can Ruggs bring to the offense?
After some meager returns in 2020, we can expect Ruggs to be one of the focal points of the offense in 2021. The Raiders have a number one target in Darren Waller who’ll still be the focus of the offense. Yet, the majority of Agholor’s targets should be headed his way. This will include many of the deep balls that Carr connected on with his veteran receiver.
Carr said of Ruggs that, ‘in his mind, he is a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown guy, probably more, and he has come back with a chip on his shoulder.’ Ruggs will need more than the 40 targets he got in 2020 to hit those numbers but we can start with the 80 that Agholor received and build from there. Brown will be working his way into the offense and eating at some of those as well but Ruggs will have plenty of chances to separate himself from the pack.
Ruggs was underutilized in the screen game
Another area that Ruggs was underutilized was as a rusher and a receiver in the screen game. I may be wrong but it’s hard to recall a single screen that Ruggs was on the end of. That’s surprising considering Mike Mayock’s post-draft comments about that being one of the goals of the Raiders offense. We have seen how explosive Ruggs can be in the open field. However, he needed more chances to show that off with easy completions in space.
Ruggs carried the ball nine times for 49 yards and had three runs over 10 yards, so the flashes were there. Sadly, the opportunities were minimal. It’s understandable that the Raiders didn’t want to add more punishment to an already injured player. By the same token, the training wheels will have to come off this season. Utilizing Ruggs as a runner could add another facet to an already dangerous offense. In addition, this could be a massive boost at the goal line because defenses will always have to respect his speed.
2020 was a tough year for Ruggs for a number of reasons. In the end, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what’s to come in 2021.
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*Top Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports