One could probably still argue that Henry Ruggs III was not worthy of being the first receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. After his underwhelming rookie season, there were questions about whether he should have been taken even among the top six or seven receivers in that class.
It didn’t look promising after one season. The 12th overall pick receiver was behind nearly every rookie receiver in the class even deep into the second round. Justin Jefferson was the breakout early star while the likes of Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Brandon Aiyuk, and second-round picks Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr, and Laviska Shenault were all ahead of Ruggs in the numbers.
Now six games into his second season Ruggs is starting to prove he belongs. That all that speed and potential may have been worth taking a chance on.
Currently, Ruggs is 16th in the league in receiving yards this season. His 445 yards receiving is just seven yards behind his entire 2020 season total (452). His two touchdowns matches his rookie numbers and he’s just six catches away from matching his rookie numbers. Which means he could very well surpass his rookie totals across the board less than halfway through the season.
Raiders’ offensive coordinator Greg Olson is seeing the different level of commitment to putting in the work for Ruggs that he thinks has led to his improved play.
“He’s confident and a different guy,” said Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “We talk about it in the quarterback room with all three QBs. Henry Ruggs is always the topic, how he came out of his shell this year in terms of communication with the quarterback and what he’s doing on the practice field and his extra work habits and his preparation in the film room. He’s a different guy, not that he was a bad study or a guy that didn’t prep well last year. It’s just he’s taken it to a new level this season and it’s been really encouraging to watch.”
There is absolutely no question Ruggs is a different player this year than he was as a rookie. Everyone was wondering where all his speed was as he was not getting open consistently, let alone separating from defenders. And all the big plays everyone was expecting to see from him were just not there.
Those big plays have been there this season as evidenced by the fact that his yards per catch is up nearly five yards this season (22.3) from his rookie year (17.4). And he already has more first down catches (14) in 20 catches than he did in 26 catches (13) last season.
Quarterback Derek Carr has developed a trust in Ruggs this season which has led to the big plays we’ve been seeing on the field.
“Henry has opened up so much,” Carr said. “He communicates with me so well in the games. It’s unbelievable how well he communicates and articulates exactly what he sees, and he’s right. I’ve had guys all the time, ‘Oh man, you got to see me on this.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re not open.’ And he’s right when he comes over. He’s like, ‘hey if they play like this, I’m going to do it like this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going to happen,’ and then we go do it in the game and it’s been really impressive to watch that grow.”
Carr said something like this when describing a catch Ruggs had against the Dolphins a few weeks ago. Ruggs came back to the huddle after a play in which his route took him to the left sideline, told Carr about it and they tried it again later in the game, resulting in a great catch along the sideline to open up the overtime period. A drive that ended with a field goal.
“It’s just a testament to our hard work,” Ruggs said of the trust Carr has developed in him. “We started in the summer. Just from where we started last year, we knew we had to make improvements and that was what we set our mind to. Day in, day out, talking to [Carr], understanding how he sees things, how he thinks, sitting in the film room with him, and just developing that camaraderie on and off the field, it makes everything better. We trust him, he trusts us. We just gotta go make plays for him and make him look good.”
Last week that trust had Carr launch a ball for Ruggs near the goal line that seemed like it just as easily have been picked off as caught. And Ruggs adjusted to the ball, going through the defender to make the catch for a 40-yard gain and put the Raiders in first and goal. They scored the touchdown on the next play. And, of course, there’s the catch he made on Xavien Howard.
Clearly Ruggs has taken his play to another level. So, how is he comparing to his draft class this season?
Ruggs’s 445 yards is third behind draft classmates Justin Jefferson (542) and CeeDee Lamb (497). While Ruggs’s four 40+ catches leads his draft class and is second in the NFL and his nine catches of 20+ yards is tied with Lamb for the best among the draft class and is fourth in the NFL.