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The Ultimate Argument for why Broncos Need to Land WR Henry Ruggs III in Draft

The Broncos need Henry Ruggs III. Here's why he makes perfect sense.

The Denver Broncos have a problem scoring points. This isn’t a new issue but one that has hampered the organization for the better part of the past decade. 

Even when arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time Peyton Manning donned the Orange and Blue, the Broncos' offense began to show cracks in their foundation that would only exacerbate over time as the Sheriff rode off into the sunset after winning one final championship.

While it was the Broncos’ defense of 2015 that deserves a majority of the credit for their Super Bowl 50 victory, the offense still was somewhat formidable. Pairing a duo of not one but two WR1-caliber receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, along with the unmatched cerebral game of Manning, was just enough to secure the lead and allow the elite defense to choke out opposing offenses’ dreams.

That 2015 defense was elite but as the following seasons showed, elite defenses are nearly impossible to sustain over multiple seasons. As the defense regressed from one of the best units in the history of the game to simply really really good and the offense remained placid, the Broncos sank into the realm of ineptitude.

The post-Manning era of Broncos football has been plagued with a sub-standard offense. However, the Broncos entering the 2020 season illicit more hope than in recent years. 

Like a bed of flowers starting to poke out and reach towards the sky after a long dreary winter, the Broncos have a young core of offensive players that are beginning to emerge that soon may begin to blossom, thanks to John Elway's emphasis on that side of the ball in the last two drafts. 

The Broncos stand with the No. 15 overall pick in the draft and there are three WRs who could warrant the selection in Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Alabama's duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. While all three bring a unique skill-set to the table that could easily be integrated into the Broncos’ offense and complement what this team already has in place, it has long been rumored that the player the Broncos have their eyes on is speed demon Ruggs.

This to some has been controversial but taking a deeper look into Ruggs, the Broncos, and the current NFL it really makes a lot of sense. Today, I'm going to lay out why a wideout like Ruggs should be coveted by the Broncos and how his presence in the offense could open up and unlock everyone else. First, I must set the stage. 

A Solid Core

Heading into the 2020 offseason, the Broncos possessed one of the youngest and cheapest offenses in all of football. With a majority of their offensive contributors coming out of the last two draft classes like Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay from 2018 and Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, and Drew Lock from 2019, the Broncos’ offense has been as predicated on potential as production.

Jump-Starting Offense 

Even standing pat, the Broncos’ offense would have shown improvement in 2020 due to the probable improvement and growth of players already on the team, but with cash to spend Elway jump-started the offensive growth by signing OL Graham Glasgow and RB Melvin Gordon. 

The Broncos' offense is just about ready to crawl out of the ‘world of suck’. However, Elway cannot be done just yet.

Franchise Quarterback? Too Early to Say

The Broncos hope to have the one thing that matters most in a franchise quarterback. Through five games last year, Lock dripped the tools and charisma needed to lead such a football-crazed fanbase accustomed to historically great quarterbacks in Denver. It’s too early to dub him ‘the guy’ but anyone less than cautiously optimistic is simply a party pooper.

An at Least Average O-Line

Despite the chorus of venom on social media, the offensive line is also far from an issue and very well may be a strength of the offense in 2020. After moving on from the pocket statue Joe Flacco, the Broncos’ O-line improved by leaps and bounds despite suffering a plethora of injuries.

Entering the second year under renowned O-Line Coach Mike Munchak and sporting a concoction of upside, youth, and experience, there is plenty of evidence to support Pro Football Focus and Mike Clay both ranking the Broncos’ unit as the 12th-best in the NFL. This likely is as much an indictment of poor O-line play across the NFL landscape as it is a credit to the Broncos, but Denver is far from dead in the water when it comes to its O-line. It may not be elite but it easily can be good enough.

RB Duo to Grind it Out

To complement the O-line further, the Broncos house one of the best one-two punches on paper at running back this season. Signing Gordon to a two-year deal will amplify the passing game and help shoulder some of the run load from Lindsay, Denver will no doubt be able to take some of the onus off of Lock and grind games out when the situation calls for it.

Sutton, Fant and..

The Broncos also possess one of the most promising WR/TE duos in football in Sutton and Fant. Both providing size and athleticism, if Sutton can keep up his level of play from 2019 and Fant can take the traditional sophomore TE leap, the Broncos have two weapons.

However, in today’s NFL, which emphasizes spread concepts and the passing game more than ever, is the monumental drop-off after those two pass weapons a problem? Given new OC Pat Shurmur’s heavy reliance on 3WR sets and just how much defensive attention was given to Sutton after Sanders was traded last fall, another WR opposite Sutton isn’t simply a luxury but a necessity.

Speed, Speed & More Speed

If there is one area that the Denver Broncos have sorely lacked in the post-Sanders landscape, it is the element of speed at the WR position. Rostering the likes of Sutton, Hamilton, and Tim Patrick as their top-3 WRs, the Broncos simply lack speed at the position. 

With the evolving landscape of the league, speed has become a necessity to dictate matchups in coverage and create space for not only the passing game but also the running game. The variable that most impacts running game efficiency? It’s defenders in the box.

A team does not need to only have speed at WR to create explosive pass plays as Sutton showed just last season, but not having a single WR that possesses speed limits the offense in a multitude of ways. From Vic Fangio and Elway in their end-of-season press conference repeating how much the offense needs to become more explosive, to pundits like Daniel Jeremiah harping on the need for speed, the Broncos simply do not have it on offense in the passing game and no player could bring it like Ruggs.

Yes, the Broncos have speedster special teams returner Diontae Spencer, but his total of 14 snaps out wide or in the slot over the final five weeks should say more than enough in regards to how Denver views him in the offense. It takes more than speed by itself to see the field.

Ruggs Brings More Than Speed

One thing that is absolutely infuriating this offseason has been the diminishing of Ruggs’ ability on the field with the refrain of 'all he brings is speed.' From the comparisons to one-trick pony and screen or go-route guy John Ross (who had injuries as well that has derailed his career) to comparing Ruggs to gadget weapon Tavon Austin, nobody tells on themselves faster than someone comparing Ruggs to those previous two WR busts.

Over his time at Alabama, Ruggs ran one of the most diverse route trees of any of the top receivers in the upcoming draft class according to Pro Football Focus. Playing a vast majority of his snaps as the boundary on the offensive left side of the field, Ruggs was far from a one-trick gadget player in how he was deployed. 

He ran screens, go routes, in routes, crossing routes, and slant routes at least 10% of the time.

PFF

PFF

However, while Ruggs ran a very diverse route tree, he was still accumulating much of his yardage on go routes, indicating that when he was targeted and coming down with the ball, it was often when he was able to use his speed and blow by receivers. 

However, given Shurmur’s propensity to use crossing routes in his West Coast passing attack, Ruggs’ ability and success in crossing routes, in routes, and slants (again almost all as a boundary receiver on the left side of the field), is compelling.

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PFF

PFF

Out of some of the best receivers in the NFL, the player Rugg’s yardage distribution most mimics? None other than Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill.

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Don’t be a Box Score Scout

One argument against Ruggs that has continually come up in Broncos Country is that of his statistical output. Yes, Ruggs did not put up statistics like historically great receivers coming into the NFL. 

If Ruggs succeeds, his collegiate statistical output will have been an outlier. However, looking at his stats without the context of his situation is simply intellectual neglect. Over the last two seasons at Alabama, Ruggs’ output suffered from a ‘Too Many Mouths to Feed’ situation.

Rostering three other future starting NFL WRs at Alabama along with Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Waddle, and Devonta Smith, Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide offense could simply change who they wanted to highlight week-by-week basis. Not only did Alabama have a massive amount of receiving talent, but many weeks the game would be well in hand at the start of the second half, further limiting the volume of the pass game and necessity to push the ball down the field. 

Also while Tua is a very accurate deep ball thrower, in the Crimson Tide offense he would often settle for higher percentage throws with lower average depth of target and over the middle of the field, a likely reason for Jerry Jeudy’s statistical output in comparison to Ruggs.

Good Hands? For a Speed WR? What Sorcery is this?

Typically one of the biggest issues with players that possess speed like Ruggs is that they come with blazing feet and butter hands. That is not the case for Ruggs. 

While it would be nice if Ruggs had a larger catch radius having just 30.5-inch arm length (13th percentile for WRs), he has massive mitts for his size at 10-1/8 inches (90th percentile). Ruggs puts those hands to good use as well showing off an incredible catch rate at college with just a 2.4% drop rate last season (in comparison to 8.3% for Jeudy and 4.5% for Lamb).

Unlike someone who is incredibly explosive vertically and can get open only to drop the ball like Houston's Will Fuller, if the ball is any bit catchable, Ruggs will likely come down with it.

Speed Helps Unlock Everything 

Speaking of Fuller, his impact on the Texans’ offense last season is perhaps the prefect example as to why drafting another WR, even though a team already has a dominant one, can further amplify not only the passing game, but the entire offense (yes, it even helps the offensive line).

ESPN

ESPN

Despite already having arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins on their roster, Fuller was a catalyst for the entire Texans’ offense last season. Fuller, who has injury issues and a career plagued with drops, was not a better prospect coming out of Notre Dame than Ruggs is, and Sutton, despite his flashes, is not yet Hopkins.

But the stark difference Fuller made on the Texans' offense can easily be extrapolated to Denver with the addition of Ruggs and without it. The NFL offense is about creating explosive plays and putting a defense in conflict via mismatches and spacing, perhaps no receiver is better at that than Ruggs in the 2020 class.

So what?

One argument that has circulated against Ruggs and his fit in Denver is that the Broncos do not need to allocate a first-round resource on a receiver because of Sutton. While Sutton is an emerging WR1 and one of the best young X receivers in the NFL, this argument makes no sense at all — just like it doesn’t make sense for other positions.

In the 2014 offseason, the Broncos already had a cornerback one in Chris Harris, Jr. and yet they went out and signed Aqib Talib. After signing Talib, Elway was still not done addressing the cornerback position and drafted Bradley Roby in the first round. 

The additions of Talib and Roby did not take away from how good Harris was but rather amplified him and made it that much harder for opponents. A few seasons later, despite having one of the best pass rushers in all of football in Von Miller, the Broncos used the fifth overall pick in 2018 to select Bradley Chubb to rush the passer opposite him. 

Building a competitive NFL roster isn’t just about finding players to patch weaknesses, but also and finding players that can amplify a strength. Adding another WR that can’t be contained in one-on-one matchups and can be isolated while creating a pick your poison situation for opposing defenses is what today’s NFL is all about!

Henry Ruggs, the Best WR2 in the Class

What makes Ruggs such a unique player for the Broncos is that while he may not be the best WR1 in the 2020 class given he does not have the statistical output of the other ‘big three’ receivers in Lamb or Jeudy, it’s an easy argument to make that he is the best fit in Denver playing the Z and the WR2 across from the X WR1 in Sutton.

While fantasy football folks and their models may never appreciate Ruggs’ ability because of statistical output, his impact on the game goes well beyond the stat line. His speed changes everything. It changes how defenses can shade safeties, it limits an opponent's ability to double Sutton or Fant, it changes an opponent’s ability to stack the box against the run or send blitzers.

Bottom Line

Ruggs is explosive as any WR in the 2020 class and can help the Broncos with their biggest issue over the past half-decade; scoring points. Averaging a touchdown on every fourth catch while averaging 29.8 yards per touchdown reception is exactly what this Broncos’ offense is currently lacking.

Drafting Ruggs to play as the Z opposite Sutton makes life easier for the run game, the O-line, Fant, and Lock. If Ruggs is there at 15, he is an absolute no-brainer for the Broncos. 

He would have a synergistic effect on the entirety of the offense and make every single player on offense better simply by taking the field. Will he be there at 15, though? 

There's a chance but probably not. Would Elway be willing move up for Ruggs? And at what cost? Now therein lies the question.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH and @MileHighHuddle