Year 1 was ugly, but Henry Ruggs III can still be a big-time threat for the Las Vegas Raiders in the 2021 NFL season.
In an absolutely loaded receiver draft class, the Raiders surprised many people by selecting Ruggs with the 12th overall pick, making him the first wide receiver drafted in a class that included teammate Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, two players most had atop draft boards.
Ruggs finished with the lowest overall PFF grade (54.0) among rookie receivers who saw at least 30 targets, and his role as the deep threat in the offense was soon snatched by Nelson Agholor, a player looking for a rejuvenation to his career after a disappointing stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Twelve rookie receivers saw more targets than Ruggs. Fourteen first-year pass-catchers caught more passes, and 10 put up more receiving yards. It was a discouraging debut season for Ruggs no matter how you look at the numbers, but does that mean the Raiders just missed on the pick? Or does his tape show reasons for optimism in Year 2?
When you look at his rookie tape, it becomes clear that Ruggs got unlucky to some degree, given how the opportunities evaporated for him.
Ruggs saw the same number of targets as Agholor did (11) over the first five weeks of the season. He saw three times the number of deep targets (six to two) despite not playing in two of those games due to injury. The next few weeks saw a transition away from Ruggs, and in the second half of the year, Agholor saw almost three times the number of deep targets (19 to seven) and more than twice the number of total targets (60 to 25).
At a minimum, Ruggs was supposed to be the designated deep threat to the offense while the rest of his game developed, and Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers showed that kind of potential. He was targeted just five times, but they included three deep shots, including one of the first plays of the game when Derek Carr gave him a chance to split double coverage downfield.
It wasn’t necessarily that Ruggs did anything wrong in his role as that deep threat, but Carr and Agholor found a connection. Over the season, only Tyreek Hill (eight) scored more touchdowns on deep passes than the six Agholor was able to bring in. On ten fewer targets, Agholor was only 31 receiving yards behind Hill on those deep receptions.
Ruggs simply lost out to a player that capitalized on an opportunity to earn those looks, and the timing of his injury didn’t help.
And this is precisely the point at which the Raiders began to fail the Alabama product. Even if Agholor had usurped the role that the team had earmarked for Ruggs over his rookie season, there were ways they could have gotten him more involved in the offense. And they chose not to.
Over the second half of the season, with Agholor now taking the deep targets, the Raiders threw Ruggs exactly one pass behind the line of scrimmage. Agholor saw three, and he was now the guy running the deep patterns. Gruden didn't dial up a single target on a slant over the season's final eight weeks.
There are ways to force-feed a wideout that has blazing speed and electric playmaking ability, even if you’re not throwing deep to him all the time. The Raiders weren’t interested.
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