Comparing Henry Ruggs III to Darius Heyward-Bey or John Ross III, due to speed is just lazy. That doesn’t change the fact that Ruggs faces heavy expectations with the Raiders.
The Silver and Black have a lineage of prioritizing fast receivers, including Heyward-Bey all the way back to James Jett and Cliff Branch even farther back. The Draft broadcast pointed this out. Still, Ruggs needs to eclipse all of them in Vegas.
He won’t just be chasing ghosts. All NFL Draft season, we heard about the strength of this receiver class. The Raiders passed on the consensus favorites Jerry Jeudy (Russ’ college teammate with more production) and CeeDee Lamb as well as passed on taking Justin Jefferson or another first-round receiver with their second pick in that round, by taking Ruggs. The former Crimson Tide receiver will forever get compared to these guys over his career. Alabama head coach Nick Saban compared Jeudy and Ruggs saying the difference between the two is preference.
The Eye Test
Scouting reports about Ruggs highlight his speed and explosiveness to make plays on all three levels as well as his hands and ability to stretch the field. They knock his physicality and ability to get separation at the next level. Mock drafts had him going anywhere from the Raiders picked to the second round so he was really the wild card in his class.
Las Vegas also drafted receiver Bryan Edwards in the third round and athlete Lynn Bowden who will play wildcat QB, RB, and receiver. They are all different players but that means Ruggs will have a competition to prove himself as the top playmaker from his draft class on his team too.
You saw Ruggs in a robe on Draft Day. Some said that was his swagger and it turns out it was a partnership with Old Spice. Either way, that’s the alpha mentality the Raiders need at receiver right now.
Consider the controversy around Derek Carr. Will he stay or go? The answer will happen this year, but Ruggs is supposed to provide Carr the alpha receiver he lacked last season after the Antonio Brown saga blew up.
Speaking of last season, rookie receivers Hollywood Brown and AJ Brown were both parts of great playoff runs with the Ravens and Titans. The Raiders will hope Ruggs brings a similar playmaking ability to their offense.
Is that too much to expect from a receiver who never caught more than 800 years in college as he took a back seat to other offensive weapons on a loaded Bama offense? Outside of Joe Burrow going No. 1, you could argue Ruggs faces the most pressure as a first rounder given the context of where, when, and why the Raiders drafted him.
Ruggs III is already getting comparisons to another speedster in the AFC West, Tyreke Hill. Hill made four straight Pro Bowls as a receiver and returner in his first four seasons. Again, that is a lot of play making to expect from a rookie receiver. Even if it is a talent like Ruggs, there’s no guarantee he sparks the Raiders offense instantly as Hill has in K.C.
Not to mention, the last receiver the Raiders took from Alabama, Amari Cooper, hit the ground running with two consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards as he made back-to-back Pro Bowls. Different players entirely but both pegged as go-to receivers for Derek Carr as rookies. D.C. recently called Ruggs the best receiver in the Draft too. Don’t forget Ruggs is the first official draft pick of the Vegas Raiders era. He’ll be marketed hard alongside fellow Crimson Tide alum and last year’s top first-rounder Josh Jacobs.
It doesn’t help that Ruggs isn’t surrounded by a real established receiver. Tyrell Williams and Zay Jones have struggled as starting receivers prior to joining Oakland as well as last year.
Hunter Renfrow was a welcomed surprise last year since some called him a reach considering he was never the No. 1 receiver. He’ll be seen as the next best receiver coming into the offseason but a sophomore slump makes a surprise in Year Two no guarantee for Renfrow, Thus, there’s a lot riding on Ruggs if he is taking on team’s No. 1 corner every week. The point is, Ruggs is going to face a lot of pressure to contribute significantly as a rookie. Some of it is real and warranted but some of it isn’t.
Many called this a boom or bust pick that high in the draft. The Raiders should use Ruggs all over the formation and give him every chance to succeed from the jump. Of course, that’s what you expect any time you draft a receiver in the first round. This is one of the reasons why General Manager Mike Mayock said statistically it’s hard to hit on a receiver in the first round. That turned out to be a predraft smokescreen but the lesson is the same. Right or wrong, a lot rides on Ruggs in Year One of his NFL career.
What do you expect from Ruggs III as a rookie? Are these expectations fair given the Raiders talent and where Henry Ruggs stands as a prospection?