Henry Ruggs III Showing Considerable Improvement In Year 2

Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As disappointing as Las Vegas Raiders 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III’s rookie season was, his sophomore season is off to a start that has been anything but.

Ruggs had perhaps the most underwhelming rookie campaign of any 2020 first-round receiver, a class highlighted by Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Offensive Rookie of the Year contender Justin Jefferson. The Las Vegas receiver had the fewest targets and receptions of all of them, with quarterback Derek Carr heavily favoring guys like Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor, and Darren Waller instead. Even Josh Jacobs, who hadn’t been known to be a big pass-catching running back, had more targets than Ruggs did. As a first-round pick out of Alabama, the newcomer to the Raiders offense seemed like a bust through his first 16 games.

“I was disappointed in the productivity of our rookies, I’ll be the first person to admit that,” said Raiders general manager Mike Mayock after last season. “I think Henry’s got to get better. We knew how fast he is, but he’s got to get stronger, and he’s got to get in and out of his breaks better.”

Well, he’s off to a great start in 2021. Ruggs has suddenly become Carr’s favorite deep passing target, which in turn has made him one of the most dangerous deep receiving threats in the NFL. He ranks second in catches (7) and yards (289) on deep balls—measured as passes that travel 20+ air yards—and Carr’s passer rating of 142.4 when throwing deep to the sophomore receiver ranks fourth in the NFL of any quarterback-receiver duo.

Ruggs and the Raiders have been reaping the benefits. In just six weeks, he’s already only seven yards and six receptions away from matching his season totals from last year. The second-year receiver is averaging almost 75 receiving yards per game, and he leads the NFL in yards per reception with 22.3. Not unrelated is the fact that Vegas has the third-most passing yards per game behind only the high-flying Tampa Bay and Kansas City offenses. And after their win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Raiders are 4-2 and tied with the Los Angeles Chargers for the best record in the AFC West. Last weekend, the improvements Ruggs made ahead of his second season were on full display.

In this first quarter play, Ruggs saw one of the safeties come down over top of Waller to cover the tight end, leaving the other safety outside of the hash on the opposite side of the field. All Ruggs had to do then was beat the corner, which he did by getting inside leverage on a post route with a nice break off the snap. The far-side safety had no chance to defend, with Carr throwing a good touch pass and Ruggs making an adjustment on the slight underthrow. For the final 10 yards, it was a walk to the end zone.

The Alabama product had another big chunk play late in the third quarter with the Raiders facing a 3rd-and-long just inside the Broncos’ territory.

Again reading the safety, Ruggs saw him take off on a blitz, so rather than running a full out-and-up, he started his route fading toward the outside before breaking back inside and cutting up the seam. Under pressure, Carr threw a prayer ball just as Ruggs got the inside leverage on cornerback Ronald Darby, and his receiver jumped to secure the catch just past Darby’s outstretched hand to bring the Raiders inside the 5-yard line.

Las Vegas’ visit to Denver provided the perfect microcosm of the impressive season Ruggs has had following his rookie year. He’s making good reads of what the defense gives him both pre and post-snap, then making the necessary adjustments to his routes and using his speed to get and stay open. That improved route-running ability—paired with his speed—has generated the explosive plays that put his team in a good position to win games. It’s no wonder that Ruggs is leading this year’s Raiders team in receiving yards despite being third in targets and catches.

We know that the Raiders’ coaching staff has liked what they’ve seen with Ruggs’ development. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson was even featured in the receiver’s “Mic’d Up” video this week letting him know as such. He’s been more involved in the offense than he ever was last year and if his current levels of production and explosiveness continue, he’ll be a big reason why the Raiders are able to stay in playoff contention in an excellent AFC West division.

Written By:

Jack McKessy

Staff Writer

Jack McKessy is a recent graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism who grew up in Washington, D.C. As a student, he covered Northwestern’s football, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, and baseball teams. Previously, he was in charge of social media and contributed to both written and multimedia content creation for La Vida Baseball in Chicago. He has also assisted in the production of promotional content for the Big Ten Network. Jack initially joined the TDN team as an intern during the 2020 season. Now, he writes columns—primarily analysis of the New York Giants—and helps run TDN's YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.