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Top Receivers in NFL Draft: Henry Ruggs

Henry Ruggs, who may or may not be the fastest person in his family, checks in at No. 2 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.
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Henry Ruggs, who may or may not be the fastest person in his family, checks in at No. 2 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.

Henry Ruggs is fast. There is no doubt of this fact, with a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.

Where there is some doubt is who is the fastest in his family. His mom, Nataki Ruggs, says she ran a 40 in 4.23 while in high school in Junction City, Kan.

“I knew you were going to say that,” he said with a laugh at the Scouting Combine. “If you ask me, she never ran that time. I knew she was pretty fast. She used to run in the neighborhood, run against guys all the time and beat them. And we used to race when I was young, but I was young. I was small, didn’t have long legs, didn’t really know too much about running. Her track background helped her out when we were racing to the car at the grocery store, stuff like that. But ultimately, she’ll tell you that she’s not faster than me. Maybe in her prime, she felt like it. But … no.”

Ruggs has game-breaking speed. In three seasons at Alabama, Ruggs caught 98 passes for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns. In 2019, when he caught 40 passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns, he had an 81-yard catch and a 75-yard run and averaged 18.7 yards per catch. He also produced on kickoff returns and on the kick-coverage units. Ruggs set an Alabama football record by reaching 23.27 mph on a screen that he took 84 yards for a touchdown. At Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Ala., he set the state meet record in the 100 meters.

Speed has always been in high demand in the NFL, but it perhaps has been amplified by the success of the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the Super Bowl with Tyreek Hill forcing defenses to play scared and Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins joining him for a track-team receiver corps.

“It puts fear into the D-coordinator and especially the DBs because they never know what to expect from a speed guy. They always think he’s going to run by them,” Ruggs said.

Ruggs is more than just a track guy playing football, though. He’s a quality route runner. He dropped only one pass in 2019 (2.4 percent) and four passes in his career, no doubt a byproduct of 10 1/8-inch hands. According to Sports Info Solutions, he caught 93 percent of catchable passes – second-best in the draft class. In three seasons, quarterbacks were rewarded with a 144.6 passer rating.

“I feel like I bring everything,” he said. “I’m a playmaker. I don’t just pride myself on just speed. I want to be a guy can do everything on the field. I get downfield to block for my teammates, just as they do the same for me. I play without the ball, and with the ball in my hands I can make a play.”

What we like

With that speed, he’s a threat to score every time. That matters beyond the obvious. Look at the Chiefs with Tyreek Hill. He averaged only 14.8 yards per catch, because defenses were so paranoid about him beating him for 70-yard touchdowns. However, that speed opened up things for everybody else. Ruggs is more than “just” a speed guy, and his brings extra value on special teams. His 42-inch vertical offsets a lack of size and length.

What we don’t like

At 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Ruggs isn’t a big guy. Because he was part of a star-studded offense with incredible receiver corps, Ruggs has never had to be “the guy.” Is he capable of carrying a receiver corps or will he never be more than an explosive second fiddle? While a great deep-ball threat he wasn’t a great deep-ball receiver; he caught only 4-of-11 last year – a bit less successful on a percentage basis than Jerry Jeudy.

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BILL'S RECEIVER PREVIEW

No. 1: Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy

No. 2: Alabama’s Henry Ruggs

No. 3: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb

No. 4: LSU’s Justin Jefferson

No. 5: Baylor’s Denzel Mims

No. 6: Clemson’s Tee Higgins

No. 7: Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk

No. 8: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault

No. 9: USC’s Michael Pittman

No. 10: Texas’ Devin Duvernay

No. 11: Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool

No. 12: TCU’s Jalen Reagor

SI.com: The New Receiver U.