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Henry Ruggs III: The Original Las Vegas Raider

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The 2020 NFL Draft was the most viewed draft in recorded history.

 

The 2020 NFL Draft was held remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was initially set to be held in Las Vegas, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders. This necessitated a change in the traditional draft where the draftees are hidden backstage in the “green room,” waiting to hear their name called. In true Las Vegas fashion, they were going to have the draftees arrive by boat to the main stage that would be located in front of the Bellagio fountains. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass. 

The Raiders facilities have been shut down since March 16th forcing coaching staff, scouts, and General Manager Mike Mayock to adapt to a new way of preparing for the draft. All NFL teams were under the same predicament. They had to be confident that all their preliminary work done at the combines and pro-days with the draftees would carry them over until April 23rd

 

The Raiders have been unable to clinch a playoff spot since 2016, and that needs to change this season.  

 

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, in January 2018, sought to remedy this situation by bringing back former Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Eleven months later, he followed this move by hiring Mike Mayock. Mayock, who is widely regarded as a draft guru, and his incredible research into the college ranks. He and Gruden go way back, having most recently worked as analysts for ESPN and the NFL Network. 

Photo Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Going into this year’s draft, the Raiders knew they needed help at wide receiver. They drafted Amari Cooper with the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft. After a few seasons, his production declined, and he was sent to the Dallas Cowboys in mid-2018. The incredibly talented Antonio Brown was brought over in a trade with the Pittsburg Steelers in March 2019. Hindsight is 20/20, and he was not the cure that the Raiders were looking for after his bizarre and public mental collapse. 

 

Come draft day; the Raiders looked to alleviate their wide receiver needs. They drafted wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, from Alabama, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine. Ruggs III becomes the original Las Vegas Raider since he is the first player drafted by the team since the move.

This was clearly in keeping with the tradition of Al Davis, who wanted opponents to fear the Raiders’ speed like the old days of the franchise. His notable picks included burners, Bo Jackson, Cliff Branch, and Willie Gault. The last pick Mr. Davis made was a quarterback with 4.36 speed, Terrelle Pryor. Ruggs III fits this mold, but it goes beyond just his speed.

 

Last season, Ruggs III caught 40 balls for 746 yards and 7 touchdowns while being in a very talented and crowded Alabama receiving group. 

 

The Raiders had two picks in the first round, acquired from the Bears in the Khalil Mack trade. Damon Arnett is a defensive back from Ohio State who was picked number 19. With his size, he will be able to get physical with opponents and should not have a problem checking receivers at the line of scrimmage. Some experts had him going later in the draft, but the Raiders needed a dependable corner and had no further picks until number 80. They did not want to lose a valuable corner. 

In interviews after the draft, Mike Mayock noted the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic had on all NFL teams. The Raiders only drafted seven players and none after pick 139.  No doubt, this affected their reluctance to trade for lower draft picks, even trading away their 159th pick. In summary, Mayock said the uncertainty about the pandemic meant that teams might not be able to work out their rookies before camp. Their first look at them would be in training camp. 

 

For that reason, the Raiders were extra careful in this draft to pick players who in his words were “smart, hardworking, and accountable.” 

 

Henry Ruggs III embodies all of that in the Las Vegas Raiders’ eyes. He gives the Raiders offense something that they sorely lacked since Jon Gruden took over, speed. Ruggs III ran a 4.27 forty yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and yet he came away disappointed because he thought he could have run faster. Ruggs wanted to challenge for the NFL Combine forty-yard dash record (4.24, officially held by former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson). Ruggs III is not just a speed receiver; he also has excellent hands and the ability to run the complete route tree.

He dropped just one ball over the past two seasons and made acrobatic catches look routine. Ruggs III turned short slant routes into long touchdowns. He is a tenacious blocker that also will return kicks and punts, something that the Raiders needed to upgrade this offseason.

In a division that includes the Kansas City Chiefs Tyreek Hill and Denver Bronco wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, the Raiders wanted to make sure they didn’t miss out on a player that strikes fear into opposing defenses. AFC West defensive coordinators can not scheme for speed, and it becomes “pick your poison” when defending the Raiders offense. They can choose to try and stop Ruggs III by keeping a safety over the top, which will allow his Alabama and current teammate Josh Jacobs to face seven “in the box” and stop the passing attack.

Conversely, those same defensive coordinators can try to stop the powerful Jacobs and deal with Ruggs III game-changing speed. Or have tight end Darren Waller, and second-year receiver Hunter Renfrow underneath to allow Derek Carr and the Raiders passing attack to carve them up.

 

For the first time since taking over the Raiders Jon Gruden has the type of weapons for his offense he needs in order to make it become special.

 

Ruggs III is extremely explosive, and a lot of this can be credited to being an outstanding high school basketball player. He was a human highlight reel on the court. One scout said he would “put him in the dunk contest right now.” Ruggs III, at one point, considered basketball over football, but then Nick Saban and Alabama came calling, and it changed his perspective, kind of.

He was on the FS1 showSpeak for Yourself” with Jason Whitlock and Marcellus Wiley, saying that he was “tricked into playing football.” “My coach told me I could just come out and do kick returns, and then while I was out there, I was doing receiver drills, so I wasn’t just standing around, and eventually, I got into to it.”

Ruggs III starred in football, basketball, and of course, track while attending high school at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama. He had become a High School Army All-American by the time he ended his high school football career and a vital member of the Crimson Tide.

Photo Credit: RollTide.com

I think it’s a matter of personal preference, choice, whatever you want to call it,” Saban told NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano on NFL Now. “I think receivers are a little bit like a basketball team, you got the point guard, you got a two-guard, you got a swing forward, you got a power forward, they’re all different, but they’re all very critical to being successful as a team.

So, if your personal preference was to have a speed receiver, then Henry Ruggs is probably as good as it gets. If you wanted somebody whose a little more of a finesse type player, great slot receiver, good option route runner than you probably would favor Jerry Jeudy.”

The relationship between Ruggs III and Saban is a close one. Before every practice, Ruggs III would walk by Saban, and the coach would line up as a cornerback and try to defend him. Ruggs III told Sirus XM NFL Radio that “He (Saban) would cheat! He held me and grabbed me so I couldn’t get around him, but it was cool to have our own little thing daily.” Ruggs III also said that “Saban would compete and helped me learn to get off press coverage and gave me the advice to become a successful wide receiver in the NFL.”

 

The original Los Angels Raider, Marcus Allen, became the face of the team while they played in the City of Angels.

 

Photo Credit: RaidersWire

The Los Angeles Raiders drafted the Heisman Trophy-winning USC running back Marcus Allen with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft. The pick kept the Trojans running back home running wild in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, his college stadium.

Though the NFL strike shortened his rookie season, Allen rushed for 697 yards and led the Raiders to the best record in the AFC at 8-1. He was voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Raiders lost to the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Playoffs that year. The next season, Allen broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time, an accomplishment he would repeat the two following years. During the 1985 season, he rushed for 1,759 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 380 carries, leading the Raiders to a 12-4 record and the AFC West Division Championship. Also, Allen was named the NFL MVP.

In Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984, Allen ran for 191 yards, caught two passes for 18 yards, and scored two touchdowns in the Raiders’ 38–9 victory over the Washington Redskins. Included in his stats was a 74-yard touchdown run, a feat that remained the longest run in Super Bowl history until Willie Parker’s 75-yard run in Super Bowl XL. Allen’s 191 rushing yards were also a Super Bowl record, which stood until Timmy Smith of the Redskins topped it with 204 yards in Super Bowl XXII. Upon winning the game, Allen joined a small group of players to win both the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP (Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, and later Desmond Howard).

 

Marcus Allen and Henry Ruggs III, two Raiders draft picks, thirty-eight years apart. Both originals in the Raiders’ new home cities. Allen had an incredible Hall of Fame career, and the Raiders are hoping for the same for Ruggs III.

 

It’s too early to know whether or not Henry Ruggs III will have the type of impact for the Las Vegas Raiders that Marcus Allen did for the Los Angles Raiders. If history is any indication, he will be an impact player for Jon Gruden. The Raiders have drafted seven wide receivers in the first round of the NFL Draft. Five are in the NFL Hall of Famers, one is not (Darius Heyward-Bay), and the other is still playing (Amari Cooper).

Ruggs III is going to have every opportunity to be a playmaker for the Raiders, the same way he was in high school and at Alabama. Gruden is going to make sure he gets the ball in his hands and the space to make things happen. If it all plays out the way Mike Mayock and Gruden hope it does, the Raiders have got themselves a 2020 version of the late great Raiders legend, Cliff Branch in the original Las Vegas Raider, Henry Ruggs III.

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-Ashly Dickinson – Franchise Sports Media

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