• Matt Oehl

Sophomore Superstars: Henry Ruggs III

On to the Sophomore Superstars wide receivers, starting with Las Vegas Raiders 2020 1st round pick Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs had one of the more disappointing seasons, especially because you had Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool all have fantastic rookie seasons. Part of this was due to injury and part of it was the way he was used but I'll get into all of that below. First I'll start by looking at his 2020 stats.

2020 Stats: 13 games 9 rushes

26 receptions on 43 targets 49 yards

452 yards 54% of offensive snaps

17.4 yards per reception

2 touchdowns

These are lackluster statistics for the 12th overall pick, to say the least. Ruggs biggest issue was he was injured in week 1 against the Panthers and never return to true form. He dealt with knee and hamstring injuries as well as a week 17 concussion.

If you look at how he was used in week 1 we can see why the Raiders used a top 15 pick on him. In the first half alone he was targeted 5 times while also getting two opportunities as a rusher. He never received that amount of usage the rest of the season, most likely due to his injury and the fact that he could not practice. He was used all over the field with a lot of pre-snap motion and was not only used as a deep threat but on quick shots where he could make plays after the catch with the ball in his hands.

After week one not only was his opportunity never the same, but the way he was used was never the same. He only rushed the ball 7 times over the next 11 games and was often used strictly as a deep threat to open up things underneath for other players. Next, I'll dive into the way he was used at Alabama compared to his rookie season with the Raiders.

Year: 2018 2019 2020

aDOT: 10.1 11.7 17.4

20+ air yards rate: 15% 20% 35%

Screens: 14 9 2

YAC: 8.2 10.5 5.7

As you can see, the Raiders drafted a player who was used in many different ways. Whether it be in the quick passing game where he can rack up YAC, as a deep threat, or in the screen game where he can get the ball in his hands and make plays. The Raiders then proceeded to use this player in pretty much one way, as a deep threat, often just a decoy. Now we'll never know why he was only used in this way but we can assume that his injury played a big part in his usage.

The Raiders used Ruggs in a completely different way than at Alabama and here are the few reasons why we can assume this.

  1. Covid-19 kept rookies from having a legit offseason and it is well known how difficult it can be to learn John Gruden's playbook.

  2. Injuries- week 1 he was given a jet sweep, screen, quick out, and a backfield touch before he exited due to the injury

  3. Used mainly as a deep threat after his injuries

  4. Inconsistent chemistry and timing with Carr which again can be attributed to his injuries and a shortened offseason

Ruggs was relatively successful as a deep threat where he caught 5 of 15 targets, the most memorable coming against the Jets where he scored the game-winner with under a minute left. Derek Carr was also a solid passer on deep balls where he was 27/60 for 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with a 53% on-target rate. But this isn't where Carr is best as he is known for being a quick-hitting QB who makes the right read and gets the ball in his playmaker's hands.

Now we can get into why I expect him to take a step forward this season.

  1. Full season and offseason in the system which is going to allow Ruggs to be more involved.

  2. With the way he was used in week 1 of 2020, we can expect that to be a much more consistent way of his usage with the screens, runs, and manufactured touches to allow him to make plays in space.

  3. Nelson Agholor left in free agency opening up 48 receptions on 82 targets

  4. Ruggs can easily step in as the WR1 with Darren Waller as the top target in this passing offense.

Had Ruggs never gotten injured last season I think we would've seen him easily surpass 75 targets as well as taken 10-20 rushes. So my projections for Ruggs are, if healthy:

2021 Projections:

90-100 targets

60-70 receptions

15-20 rushes

1000+ total yards

7-9 touchdowns

aDOT: 11.0-14.0

I'm expecting, if healthy, the Raiders to follow the path they were on in week 1 with Henry Ruggs III. Lots of quick-hitting passes that allow Ruggs to utilize his speed with the ball in his hands, with the occasional deep shot so again he can use his speed to threaten teams vertically. In the end, though, this all comes down to if Ruggs can get and remain healthy for the majority of the season, if he continues to have these soft-tissue injuries he is quickly going to be labeled as both injury prone and a bust. Hopefully he can stay healthy and the Raiders can use him to best bring out his talents.

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