There’s far more to Henry Ruggs III than what his statistics will tell you on paper. The “third receiver” on the Alabama Crimson Tide is quite certainly one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire 2020 NFL Draft class. But is there more to his game than simply speed? Let’s dive in.
Speed from the Beginning
Like many other gifted NFL Draft prospects, Ruggs was a three-sport high school athlete that wowed in almost every physical endeavor. He casually posted a 10.42-second 100 meter dash. Then of course he followed that up with a 40-inch vertical. And by the time he was ready to head to college in 2017 Ruggs had worked his way up to the 11th most coveted receiver in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking.
Ruggs didn’t see a high volume of targets in his first year for Alabama, but he certainly made his presence felt right away. His first five collegiate receptions all went for touchdowns, and he averaged nearly 20 yards per reception on the year thanks to his absurd speed and elusive ability.
Year 2, Ruggs topped out at 24.3 miles per hour on his 81-yard touchdown against South Carolina.
Year 3, Ruggs posted a 4.25-second forty-yard dash at the Alabama junior combine.
“Okay, we get it. Ruggs is stupid fast and athletic. What else should we know?”
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If you’ve spent much time at RotoViz you know that we typically like hyper-productive receivers. There’s plenty of evidence pointing towards college production linking to possible future NFL production. This doesn’t look good right?
Ruggs’ peak receiving yards market share never scraped even 20%. His receiving touchdown market share was nice early on, but even that died off. In fact, I called Ruggs Alabama’s “third receiver” for a reason. Both Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith eclipsed Ruggs in production when looking at combined raw numbers and adjusted market share over the past two seasons.
All this is true, but let’s see where Ruggs actually falls in Kevin Cole’s regression tree for evaluating prospects to help inform us of his actual potential chances of hitting at the next level just looking at relevant production variables.
These regression trees can seem a bit complicated at first glance, but I’ll summarize without going into the reasoning behind all of the thresholds involved. In short, Ruggs falls short of what we typically like to see from a production standpoint in receiver prospects.
Ruggs averaged less than 29% final season receiving yards market share so he falls on the left half of the tree. He logged less than 933 final season receiving yards, so he falls to the left again. That places him in a category of receivers that only hit about 3% of the time. Not great.
So production is a “maybe he could hit if everything goes perfectly” kind of thing with Ruggs. But if you’ve followed our work closely you’ll know that draft capital is also quite important when projecting NFL success for receivers as well. So where will he go and who should we compare him to?
Comps and Draft Prospects
According to Grinding the Mocks Ruggs is currently expected to hear his name called around pick 19 in the NFL Draft this spring. That seems a bit presumptuous given the depth of the 2020 receiver class and typical production profiles of players in that draft range. However, if Ruggs does run what some believe could be below a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash and his jumps place his burst score in the 95th percentile like they very well could, the middle of the first round isn’t impossible.
However, if Ruggs doesn’t receive top tier draft capital and he doesn’t have the production we look for, things might look a little gloomy. But . . .
Why He Could (Should Still) Succeed
There are several reasons why NFL Draft pundits have fallen in love with Ruggs.
Yes, everyone loves Ruggs’ speed. That part of his game is undeniable. But there’s much more to Ruggs than this.
He doesn’t run the crispest of routes throughout the typical NFL route tree, but he can certainly create separation running anything. Yes, a good portion of Ruggs’ route distribution is primarily slant, go, and screen. But Ruggs separates at an elite level on the more difficult routes for quarterbacks to throw like corner routes and deep outs.
Ruggs also demonstrates ridiculous balls skills at the point of catch, reaching outside of his frame, adjusting, and reading the ball well. And when you mix those skills with his 40-inch vertical the “film guys” (and frankly anyone) start to drool.
These parts of his game will be talked about at length by the masses here soon.
But really, the key to understanding Ruggs is context. Ruggs nearly fit into the segment of the receiving production regression tree better known as the “field stretchers” of college football (but just missed minimum final season yardage). Essentially he’s a player that only requires a few plays to absolutely dominate the stat sheet for you. And at Alabama, Ruggs just simply didn’t need to be a high volume market share guy thanks to their bevy of five-star receiver talent. That may seem like a cop out, but in this case it truly isn’t. There’s still plenty to “wait and see” on, but if draft capital, adequate production, and elite athleticism mix together just right we could be looking at a mix between Marquise Brown and Tyreek Hill for years to come.
Image Credit: Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Henry Ruggs.