The Las Vegas Raiders have had several players improve from last season, a big reason they are 5-2. Let’s take a look at which offensive contributor has improved the most so far in 2021.
In the 2020 NFL draft, the Raiders rolled the diceÂ and selected Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick. Former head coach Jon Gruden saw his very own Tyreek Hill in Ruggs and wanted to draft someone who would force opposing defenses into respecting the deep ball, something which the Raiders had lacked throughout Gruden’s tenure. Last season, there was much hype around how Gruden planned to use Ruggs in his offense. While there were brief flashes of potential, Ruggs’ rookie campaign was overall underwhelming.Â
Through the continual emergence of Darren Waller and chemistry between Nelson Agholor and Derek Carr, it seemed as though Ruggs was the odd man out. Add that on top of a seemingly endless list of injuries, Ruggs’ rookie season left much to be desired from the coaching staff and the fans.
Fast forward to the 2021 Raiders’ Week 8 Bye, and the narrative around Ruggs has done aÂ 180.Â So much so that Ruggs should be labeled as the Raiders’ “most improved player” ahead of the bye week.
There were multiple occasions during last season where Carr and Ruggs seemed out-of-sync. That led to a handful of game-altering plays to be left on the field. While the two were adamant that they had a great connection, the film showed underthrown passes from Carr or overrun routes by Ruggs on the few plays he was targeted. This type of issue can be corrected.
So, following a full offseason together, the duo look as-advertised through the first portion of the 2021 season. Connecting on 24 catches for 469 yards and two touchdowns, Ruggs has already matched his 2020 touchdown total. He’s also surpassed his 2020 yard total and is two catches shy of his 2020 receptions total; there seems to be an obvious improvement in Carr and Ruggs’ chemistry.
Entering last year, Ruggs looked noticeably small. While his speed was his specialty, his size was notably a weakness. Having difficulty against press coverage, Ruggs made it a point to grow throughout the 2021 offseason.
He entered the 2021 season up 14 pounds. Ruggs looks more like an NFL player, and his physical growth has paved the way for development in his game. Finding more success with jump balls, avoiding constant injury, and showing progress when playing against press cornerbacks, Ruggs has most definitely taken the next step in his development simply by committing to his craft and using the offseason to bulk up.
While we only saw Ruggs miss two total games during his rookie season, the entire year saw Ruggs battling injuries that kept him less than 100% throughout the year. That would not only lead to a lack of production but cause the Alabama product to miss out on ever-valuable game snaps that could’ve had him further along in his development than he already is.
Much to the point of the previous section, Ruggs’ increased size and muscle mass have put injury concerns in the past, as he looks extremely reliable, healthy, and reinvented so far through the 2021 season. Ruggs has also seen an increase in attention due to his consistently strong hands when making plays on the ball.
All in all, Ruggs has taken a much-needed “next step” so far through the 2021 season. That lands Ruggs the title as the “Most Improved Offensive Player” through the first seven games. Look for Ruggs to continue his development and add more and more value to the offense as the season progresses.
*Top Photo: MichaelÂ Clemens/Las Vegas Raiders