One year ago in April, the freshly minted Las Vegas Raiders selected wide receiver Henry Ruggs with the 10th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Things weren’t entirely smooth for the 1st-year wideout. He dropped three passes, which doesn’t seem problematic. Yet, with his lack of targets, that number was a 7% rate, which could be cause for concern. Drops haven’t been an issue in college for DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle throughout their college careers.
That shouldn’t be a problem in the future, though, considering how solid he was in this area while at Alabama. Speaking of the Crimson Tide, two of Ruggs’ former teammates will hear their name called on Thursday, April 29. Coincidentally, both those receivers have the opportunity to vault over Ruggs’ 10th overall draft selection if teams at the top are looking for dynamic receiving threats.
How does Ruggs compare and contrast with his former teammates?
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Henry Ruggs’ traits as a prospect
Henry Ruggs had game-breaking ability as a prospect. His speed was effortless, but he was more than just a speed guy.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, he made strides as a route runner. He became a problem on the vertical plane. His speed forces defensive backs to work so incredibly hard over the top that, as he improved his footwork, his ability to separate followed. His improved footwork also transferred over to his ability to run more complex route concepts like blaze outs.
In all the games I watched of Alabama charting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, I only caught one Ruggs drop on tape. His hands were, outside of his vertical receiving ability, his best trait. Although he didn’t do much as a creator after the catch, his vision and speed deleted pursuit angles, and his YAC was always impressive on tape.
His press coverage releases were fine, but adding a bit more nuance instead of relying on speed to stack before getting back on the red line sometimes hurt timing. Also, his effort and ability as a blocker was always a welcome sight.
How does he compare with Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith?
In June, I called my shot, and I was wrong. I believed that, at the end of this process, Waddle would be the highest-ranked of the four big Alabama receivers as prospects. I thought Henry Ruggs would be second, Jerry Jeudy would be third, and Smith would round it all out, and I was almost correct until I absolutely was not.
Smith’s only real improvement in 2020 was the only one he needed outside of eating a bunch of peanut butter sandwiches to bulk up. He became even more able to generate separation consistently. Overall, Alabama produced four of my top five receivers in the past two draft cycles.
Only CeeDee Lamb cracks the brick wall of eliteness the Crimson Tide receivers put up. I would be shocked if Waddle and Smith weren’t the two highest producers at the NFL level. I even placed a friendly futures wager with a buddy that Waddle will have a 1,500-yard NFL season, and it’ll happen before Smith does.
Yes, that means I believe that they both have 1,500-yard potential. The only weakness Smith possesses is his frame. Waddle’s only sore spot is his height. That’s it. Yet, let’s quickly look at how, after the 2020 film, Henry Ruggs compares trait-by-trait with Waddle and Smith.
Ruggs still reigns supreme here. Waddle is undoubtedly a blur on the field. However, his speed seems different. He doesn’t have the same top gear as Ruggs, but his acceleration is more instant. Smith certainly doesn’t lack long speed, but when competing against two players firmly in the 4.30 discussion, losing in a trait battle here isn’t a killer.
This is a more nuanced discussion. I believe Waddle has the best traits as a route runner out of the group. Before folks jump on me for this, let me explain. Route running isn’t just about the technical refinement in which you play the game. Your physical ability also factors in, as does the ability to separate given your technical skills (and imperfections).
Even though Smith is more technically refined than Waddle, he doesn’t consistently generate the amount of separation Waddle can, given his propensity to get obnoxiously wide open. Henry Ruggs falls to third in this respect, but I expected that.
Waddle’s movement skills somewhat mimic Jeudy’s, although it doesn’t transfer to consistent technical refinement as a route runner. It still allows him to separate at will. Ruggs was a good route runner in college, but Smith and Waddle get open more consistently.
We must take the professional happenings of Henry Ruggs out of the equation here. This is strictly based on how they looked in college.
At Alabama, Smith’s hands were the most consistent, which is incredible because Ruggs had a drop rate of less than 2% in college. Smith’s flexibility, soft hands, and the vice he places the football between at the catch point. Ruggs ranks second in this category. He was good above the rim and had a slightly larger radius than Waddle.
Jaylen Waddle is the most dangerous wide receiver prospect I’ve evaluated. DeVonta Smith has whiffs of Isaac Bruce and Stefon Diggs in him. Henry Ruggs was my WR2 in 2020, but both Smith and Waddle graded higher for me this cycle.
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