Speed. Kills. If you asked anyone to say anything about Henry Ruggs III, “speed kills” would be a unanimous answer, and for good reason. The first time I heard the name “Henry Ruggs,” it was during the 2018 Orange Bowl where he made a fantastic catch to put Alabama on the board. However, at that time, I never in my wildest dreams thought an Alabama receiver would match, or be better than, 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy. At that time, my naive belief was that Jeudy was king and no other receiver would ever rival his game until he got drafted.
Boy, was I wrong. The one they called “lightning in a bottle” is so much more than that. After learning about his background, I can gladly say Henry Ruggs III is entering the league with a flame in his heart. If this flame reaches its full potential, the NFL better watch out because Henry Ruggs III is on a mission to prove something. This is everything you need to know about one of the most misunderstood talents in recent memory.
Ruggs’ best trait by far is the one thing everyone raves about when mentioning his name: speed. The Alabama receiver clocked in at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.27 40-yard dash and barely broke a sweat. To top it off, he didn’t even look like he was trying. It looked like it came so easy to him. Ruggs’ speed is unreal without a doubt. “Lightning in a bottle” honestly doesn’t do full justice to how fast this kid is. Watch this play against New Mexico State.
Henry Ruggs speed is ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/Q1FGe5AuEX
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) September 7, 2019
Alabama is lined up in 11-personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) with receivers DeVonta Smith (X, 1st from bottom) and Jerry Jeudy (slot, 2nd from bottom) on the strong-side of the formation. Tua Tagovailoa is in shotgun with running back Najee Harris in his right hip pocket and Ruggs on the weakside (Z, 1st from top). Ruggs runs a presnap jet motion and is the 1st postsnap read. Tagovailoa immediately throws the swing pass to him after the fake handoff to Harris (RPO-ish).
Regardless of run or pass, Jeudy and Smith only have one job: get downfield and block. As soon as Ruggs gets this ball, notice how Jeudy engages very poorly and his man immediately gets a great inside pursuit angle to cut Ruggs off.
If this is any other receiver outside of Tyreek Hill, Marquise Hollywood-Brown, John Ross, or DeSean Jackson, this play is over at about the 30-yard line. However, because Ruggs is so fast, he’s got the speed to get around that defender’s pursuit angle, even though Jeudy does a terrible job of blocking downfield.
As Ruggs accelerates, there are 3 defenders on his tail, but a fantastic downfield block by DeVonta Smith shields another defender from the inside lane and the rest is all history after Ruggs once again escapes another good pursuit angle. Ruggs sticks his foot in the ground and when he hits top speed, no one in college football is making that tackle.
This is what people mean when they say “speed kills”. It really does. Not many receivers can make this play at all because no one has the unique Olympian-level speed Ruggs possesses. In fact, I’d argue he’d be a lock to make the US Olympic track team if he tried out.
However, what’s even more impressive is that speed is only one of many weapons in Ruggs’ freakishly athletic arsenal. Not only is he insanely quick, but the time he takes to reach top speed is nearly unmatched; in fact, Ruggs’ acceleration to top speed may be more impressive than his top speed itself. Watch this long touchdown against South Carolina.
— InsideBamaRecruiting (@RTRnews) February 25, 2020
Alabama is lined up in 10-personnel on this play. Tagovailoa is in the shotgun with backup runner Brian Robinson III in his right hip pocket. DeVonta Smith (bottom) is the X-receiver, with Jerry Jeudy (2nd from bottom) and Jaylen Waddle (2nd from top) in the slot, and Henry Ruggs III (top) as the Z-receiver. Jeudy and Ruggs III both run slant routes, while Waddle runs a bubble route and Smith runs a go route.
Watch how quickly Ruggs gets off the line into his break. The opposing corner is playing bail technique in South Carolina’s zone defense because he’s dead scared of Ruggs’ speed (more on this later). The corner’s backpedaling as fast as humanly possible to not get beaten deep, so when Ruggs gets into his break, the separation between him and the corner is giant. Based on the last play, this is more than enough for a superhuman athlete like Ruggs to get plenty of yards after the catch.
Once Ruggs gets the ball, notice the distance between him and the two DBs. Ruggs knows he can accelerate to top speed very quickly, so he takes an inside lane which puts him in the range of 5 South Carolina defenders. As he accelerates to top speed, he has almost the entire left field to himself, and the South Carolina defenders are all left in the dust. Once again, the rest is history. What’s incredibly impressive is that Ruggs said he was clocked at 24.3 miles per hour on this touchdown run, which is beyond blazing fast, even for a future NFL player.
This is why Ruggs is so highly touted. It’s not just about having that speed, but more about how he can really kick into that gear. This acceleration time makes him even more explosive in the open field (more on this later). If those components of speed weren’t enough, an additional weapon to Ruggs’ athleticism is his vertical element. Watch how he plays this high fade ball for another touchdown against Texas A&M.
Henry Ruggs joins the Touchdown party
Tua Tagovailoa has his 4th TD of the game pic.twitter.com/I7n86GY2pa
— Alabama DieHards (@AlabamaDieHards) October 12, 2019
On this play, Alabama is once again in 11-personnel, with Jerry Jeudy running a jet motion into the backfield, with Tagovailoa and Najee Harris in the backfield. DeVonta Smith (bottom) is originally lined up on the line of scrimmage in the slot but with the Jeudy’s motion, he becomes the X-receiver, and Ruggs is lined up as the Z-receiver at the top of the screen.
When the ball is snapped, Alabama calls 7-man protection, with Smith running a post and Ruggs running a double move. Jeudy just continues on his jet motion. This play shows two things. Watch the move Ruggs puts on this Texas A&M corner. The DB is playing him in bail technique once again, so he bites on the inside move because he knows he’s already at a disadvantage. Once again Ruggs knows this, so he sticks his foot in the ground and explodes outside to run a near-perfect route, turning the DB around completely, creating both lateral and vertical separation from the cornerback.
However, watch how Ruggs works back to the football here. Tagovailoa throws it short of where its trajectory should be: over Ruggs’ left shoulder so he can shield the defender from making a play on it. Since the pass is underthrown, Ruggs leaps for it and makes a back-shoulder catch to keep it away from the DB, and then secures it to get in the end zone.
Speaking of leaping, making a play on that ball only scratches the surface of what Ruggs can do in the air. At a modest height of 5″11, his vertical jump was 42 inches and his broad jump was 131 inches (almost 11 feet). Wow. Talk about a freak athlete. Ruggs may be a bit short, but there’s no denying that he can leap out of the building, both vertically and laterally. His combine measurements overall were utter insanity because they revealed the true extent of his explosiveness, especially when one considers the fact they came from a future NFL player who isn’t even 6 feet.
Just to recap, this scouting report has seen Ruggs win in three different ways: catch a short pass and then take it the distance by accelerating to top speed in an instant, running a perfect route to create lateral and vertical separation from opposing defenders, and high-pointing a poorly-thrown back-shoulder ball for another touchdown (wow, that seems to be a common theme with these scouting reports). However, there’s still another way Ruggs can win that doesn’t involve the short passing game or the deep ball: using intelligence, momentum, and leverage to break off routes and create separation. Watch this completion against Auburn (5:18 timestamp).
Alabama is once again lined up in 11-personnel with Brian Robinson III in the left hip pocket of quarterback Mac Jones. DeVonta Smith (bottom) is lined up on the line of scrimmage (X-receiver), Jaylen Waddle (2nd from bottom) is lined up well off the line of scrimmage in the slot, and Henry Ruggs III (top) is also lined up well off the LOS as the Z-receiver.
Smith runs a go route, Ruggs pretends to run a go route, and Waddle runs a slant route. Watch how quickly Ruggs’ feet move when he fakes the inside move, and then explodes off of his left foot to make the defender think he’s running a go route.
The corner obviously takes off at full speed because the only way he can keep up with Ruggs stride for stride is if he’s running at full speed. About 12 yards downfield, the corner is still under the assumption that Ruggs is running a go route. In all honesty, he has to assume that because if he doesn’t fully commit to that deep ball, he’s beat for 6. The issue with that, however, is the predicament that Ruggs brings about whenever he’s on the field; overcommitting to the deep ball allows Ruggs to take advantage of him in every other level of the field, which is exactly what he does here.
Ruggs uses his right arm to break off his “go route”, which was a deep curl route all along. He also takes advantage of his freakish athleticism by stopping his momentum when it was previously at full speed. When the corner is covering Ruggs as if he’s expecting a go route, he turns around to read the quarterback, so he can get a better idea of its trajectory. However, Ruggs is aware of this moment, so he stops his momentum and breaks off his route to use the defender’s inside leverage against him. The way he stops creates a ton of separation by itself, as the defender can’t match Ruggs’ ability to decelerate. Ruggs then makes an easy catch; first down, Alabama.
The big question now is: What can’t Henry Ruggs do? Ruggs can literally beat defenses in every way possible. He’s stopped on a dime to make underneath passes look incredibly easy, he’s shown that he can thrive as a YAC receiver on short passes by accelerating to full speed in the snap of a finger, jumping out of the building to bring in contested catches, and he’s shown he can create lateral and vertical separation, through elite route-running in all depths, at the NFL level.
E.J. Snyder, co-creator of the Bootleg Football Podcast, made this comment when discussing Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, “When we see players with physical gifts like that, the immediate thing we want to know is: do they know how to use them?” This question can also be asked about Ruggs’ athleticism, and the answer is a resounding yes. Ruggs can definitely manipulate corners with his elite routes to get open without a doubt. If anything, the film in this scouting report definitely shows that.
Ruggs’ combination of elite route-running also has one very bold implication: he may be the most dangerous weapon in the entire league, let alone the most explosive receiver. When Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, currently one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL, entered the league in 2016, he scored 12 touchdowns on 138 total touches, which is an absurd touchdown rate of 8.6%, meaning Hill scored about once every 11 touches (Brett Kollmann). However, according to Evan Silva, Henry Ruggs scored 24 career receiving touchdowns on 98 total receptions, culminating in a touchdown rate nearly 3 times as large as Hill’s at 24.5%, meaning Ruggs was likely to score a touchdown every 4 catches. I’ll say that again, once every 4 catches.
It can also be argued that Alabama didn’t use the dynamic explosiveness within his skillset enough. He was open a lot more than he was targeted, mainly because his crafty footwork, paired with elite athleticism and excellent football IQ, created so much fear in opposing defenses. The main reason why Ruggs wasn’t targeted more, however, was the presence of 3 other future first-round NFL wide receivers: Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle, think subtraction by addition. While yes, Alabama added a ridiculous amount of skill-position talent by playing them together, the presence of the others always impaired the production of one (applicable to all 4 receivers).
However, the transition to the NFL will only create more production for Ruggs. Rather than being on the most talented team in the nation, where everyone at his position is equally talented, he’ll be prioritized as a #1 or a very strong #2 receiver at the professional level. Teams don’t spend 1st-round picks for no reason; Ruggs is definitely worth a top-15 pick, and if his team wants to use him to his full potential, they’ll get him the ball a lot more than Alabama did.
Finally, Ruggs’ greatest asset at the NFL level is not his athleticism; in fact, his most powerful weapon is the consistency of his hands. According to Eat Sleep Fantasy owner John Chapman, Henry Ruggs only had 1 drop in 139 college targets. For reference, his teammate Jerry Jeudy had 7 drops in 234 targets and Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb had 3 drops in 245 targets. Ruggs’ hands are incredibly secure, no doubt about it. However, what takes his hands to the next level is his ability to make circus catches. Watch this catch from Ruggs’ 2018 matchup against LSU.
Let’s just take a second to acknowledge the difficulty level on this catch by Henry Ruggs:
– Insane vertical
– Running full speed
– One handed grab thrown behind him
– Beat out nationally recognized DB Greedy Williams
— AJ Spurr (@SpurrFM) June 23, 2019
The tweet quite honestly says it all. In 2018, against a future 2nd-round pick, Ruggs ran a slant at full speed and had to adjust to a bad ball from Tua. Watch how he just leaps to snag this pass with one hand in the air. While making circus catches on poorly-thrown balls like this doesn’t usually get talked about when it comes to Ruggs, there’s no reason as to why this can’t be another asset for him at the next level. He doesn’t drop anything, and quite honestly, at the NFL level, that’s more important than having top-notch athleticism or refined route-running. Once again, it doesn’t matter how open you get if you can’t catch the ball and believe me, Ruggs can easily do both at an elite level.
When I said Ruggs could win against NFL-level defensive backs in every way possible, I may have left something out. There is one overarching limitation Ruggs has, and SEC teams didn’t use it against him enough at Alabama. However, I can guarantee NFL teams won’t make the same mistake. Henry Ruggs III is not a physical receiver at all. Can he run elite routes? Yes. Can he manipulate coverage? Yes. Can he jump out of the building? Yes. Can he accelerate in an instant? Yes. The one thing he cannot do is play with physicality and through contact. In the few reps where teams played press coverage against Ruggs, he really couldn’t gain as much separation as he did against off-man and bail. Watch this montage of Ruggs against press coverage.
All of Henry Ruggs snaps vs. press coverage (with a liberal definition of "press") against Tennessee, Ole Miss and South Carolina. pic.twitter.com/dJXf6fh3P6
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) February 28, 2020
Ruggs gets little to no separation through all of these plays. No matter what he’s running, when defensive backs put their hands on him, he cannot play through contact. Creating that vertical and lateral separation isn’t as easy for someone his size when DBs aren’t letting him breathe. One more thing to keep in mind here is this isn’t how NFL corners play press. If this is Ruggs’ performance against SEC corners playing “liberal” press, he’ll most likely have difficulty with it at the NFL level. Jaire Alexander and Jalen Ramsey pack a mean punch at the line of scrimmage, and if Ruggs doesn’t learn to play with that physicality, the play’s over.
However, one way to compensate for this is by playing Ruggs primarily as a Z-receiver, where he’d be several yards off the line of scrimmage with more distance and time to build up his momentum. He can create all the separation he wants when the defender isn’t all over him, but if that’s the case, he’s not doing anything on that play. By playing Z-receiver, he’ll mostly be facing off-man and zone coverage, which he consistently won against at a collegiate level.
Ruggs also has a tendency to be a body catcher rather than attacking the ball with his hands. Watch these 2 plays back-to-back. The first one is that deep curl against Auburn shown earlier in the report (5:18 timestamp), and the other is a touchdown against Auburn in 2018. Watch how Ruggs plays these balls.
What’s going on conceptually in either play doesn’t matter here. Just watch what happens when the ball is in the air. On the first play, rather than attacking it with his hands, Ruggs lets the ball hit his chest and then secures it, also known as body catching. On the second play, the ball is poorly-thrown (notice a theme here?), so Ruggs needs to adjust his body to make a play on it. However, notice how he goes up with his hands to bring it in, rather than just letting come to him. Ruggs can definitely make hands-catches, but being a body-catcher is a very fixable tendency at the NFL level as long as he commits to working away from the bad habit.
John Ross III and Tyreek Hill are the two most commonly-referenced players when it comes to evaluating Ruggs’ skillset. However, both comparisons are incredibly lazy and thus wrong. Does Ruggs have elements from both playstyles? Yes, but those elements are the same across multiple receivers with this very skillset. The John Ross comparison fails because unlike Ross, Ruggs has secure hands and catches almost everything, which Ross still cannot do to this day.
They’re both incredible athletes, but Ross’s lack of success in the NFL has come down to being a drops machine as well as catching the injury bug almost every season. Ruggs hasn’t missed that many games in his college career and his injuries have mostly been concussions.
The Tyreek Hill comparison doesn’t work because Tyreek plays with a lot more physicality than Ruggs does. Playing press against him is asking for disaster, which is what makes him one of the most dangerous receivers in the entire league. Ruggs can’t do anything against press coverage, so that limits his skillset a little, but that’s fine. Not everyone is Tyreek Hill coming out of college. However, Ruggs does have a pro comparison who was very successful in the NFL.
DeSean Jackson is a much better pro comparison for Ruggs because like Ruggs, he struggles with physicality and excels at almost everything else. Prime D-Jax was almost impossible to cover and could stretch the field like few others could. His injuries have only mounted with age, but that happens to almost every NFL player. One way or another, at the NFL level, Jackson matches everything Ruggs can and can’t do at the collegiate level, making this the perfect pro comparison.
Projected Pick and Best Fit
Ruggs’ best fit is with an offensive coordinator who knows how to best deploy him. Get him the ball underneath on short passes and screens, and let him fight for yards after the catch. Run the ball over and over again to set this up, and finally, when defenses overcommit, send Ruggs on a play-action double move to stretch the field and it’s 6 points. He would be a fantastic Z-receiver in a balanced offense, as he can create separation at all depths as long as he’s not fighting press coverage.
Another variable that would play a large role in his NFL career is his quarterback. Someone who can make any throw at any depth with pinpoint accuracy while avoiding mistakes as much as humanly possible. The fewer mistakes said quarterback makes and the more Ruggs can mix up his underneath game and his over-the-top game, the stronger those two will grow as a tandem. Gee, I wonder which team just hired an elite offensive mind to pair with a young phenom at quarterback after signing a Pro Bowl running back.
The Denver Broncos are by far Ruggs’ best fit. Drew Lock has unbelievable arm talent and looked like the 2nd best rookie quarterback in 2019, even though he only played 6 games. Denver looked like a totally different team and I’d expect John Elway and Vic Fangio to go all-in on surrounding him with as much talent as possible. Courtland Sutton is the true #1 (X) receiver for this team, so Ruggs wouldn’t have to be the guy in Denver. Instead, he would be a dynamic weapon in new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme. Adding him to their already-deep stack of vertical threats would make Denver’s offense unstoppable, and with Drew Lock having one of the best arms in the league, it’s gonna be bombs away.
However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruggs is the first receiver taken off the board to the Las Vegas Raiders, and this is in fact where I project him to go. Would this be a doomsday for Denver? Most likely. Is it a certainty? Not at all, as LV has been rumored to be trading out of the 12th overall pick, and there’s next to no chance he’s still there at 19 when they pick again. If they stay at 12 and draft Ruggs, I highly doubt Derek Carr will be the quarterback for much longer in LV. Ruggs would start at the Z-receiver opposite Tyrell Williams as the X, with either Hunter Renfrow or Zay Jones starting the slot.
However, if LV wants to make the most of this pick, move on from Derek Carr and draft a quarterback with better arm talent (Jordan Love at 19 wouldn’t be a bad idea). Even if it takes an extra year to develop that quarterback, that’s an extra year to build around Ruggs, Tyrell, Josh Jacobs, and their defensive pieces acquired this offseason. If Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock pass on Ruggs for literally anyone, that pick would be well out of left field. Ruggs provides the speed that the Raiders desperately need, and he stretches the field better than any receiver in this class. If Mayock and Gruden want to light up Las Vegas, the best way to do so would be to draft Henry Ruggs III. Speed kills, and 3’s up.