Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 16: Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III

Yahoo Sports


16. Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III

5-foot-11, 188 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.10 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Blurring speed is Ruggs’ calling card, but his competitive football demeanor is what sets him apart from track stars.

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (and top 125 nationally), Ruggs chose the Crimson Tide over Florida State, Auburn, Penn State and other schools. He saw the field as a true freshman in 2017 for the Tide, catching 12 passes for 229 yards and a team-high six TDs and was featured as a returner (13 kick returns for 239 yards, eight punt returns for 46 yards) in 14 games.

As a sophomore in 2018, Ruggs caught 46 passes for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns (second in the SEC) in starting all 15 games. In 2019, Ruggs caught 40 passes for 746 yards and seven TDs, ran for a 75-yard touchdown and returned 12 kickoffs for 286 yards in 12 starts.

Ruggs, who turned 21 in January, opted to declare early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash, one of the 10 fastest times recorded since 1999. But he suffered a groin injury that ended his day after his second 40 attempt.

Upside: Rolls out of bed able to run a 4.3 — rare football speed. Reportedly was timed running a 4.21 40 at Alabama. Can crib it from almost anywhere on the field. Many of his longest plays in college were actually short passes that he ran almost the entire distance of the field. Instant burst out of the gates — and possesses a second and third gear most players dream of. Provided breathtaking plays on a nearly weekly basis.

Forget that this play was against New Mexico State for a moment and just look at the jets Ruggs cranks up on this 75-yard touchdown (which went down as a rushing play because it was a backward pass):

Ruggs just moves at a different speed than anyone else on the field.
Ruggs just moves at a different speed than anyone else on the field.

Same deal on this simple drag route against South Carolina, where Ruggs simply outruns the entire Gamecocks defense to the end zone:

This looks like a video game.
This looks like a video game.

Coverage nightmare who demands safety attention. Better get him at the line on press coverage or he’ll blow right past you. Could have a “Where’s Waldo?” effect on an NFL offense. Lined up as inside and outside receiver — even in the backfield and in-line on occasion.

Able to stop and start effectively. Can throw on the brakes and pivot without losing momentum. Glider in the open field but has shown some nice wiggle in tighter quarters. Makes sharp cuts on his routes — great ankle strength and flexion to carve off sharp angles and tightrope the sideline at max velocity.

True home-run power — averaged nearly 30 yards on his 25 career touchdowns. Outstanding efficiency — averaged a touchdown every four times he touched the ball from scrimmage.

Massive mitts (10 1/8 inches) and reliable hands — only five drops on 139 career targets. Only two drops in a 35-game span over three seasons. Didn’t fumble over his final 24 college games. More than just a track guy. Intense competitor who desires to be great. Plays with passion and effort as a blocker and makes impact felt even when he’s not getting the ball.

This was one of our favorite plays of the 2019 college football season. Watch on this bad interception by Tua Tagovailoa where Ruggs is when the pick is made — 7 yards deep in the end zone. Tennessee’s Nigel Warrior (the son of former Pro Bowl corner Dale Carter) picks it and appears off to the races. But Ruggs races about 60 yards down the field and makes the TD-saving tackle:

The speed is jaw-dropping. The effort is tremendous.
The speed is jaw-dropping. The effort is tremendous.

Strong personal and football character. Possesses NFL-ready competitive makeup. Appears to understand the details of the position and takes his craft seriously. Great special-teams potential as a returner (dabbled in punt and kick return), gunner and jammer — made 14 special-teams tackles over three seasons.

Downside: Below-average height, mass and length. Short arms (30 1/2 inches) and lean frame that likely can’t support a ton more weight (but could use some bulk added). Durability concerns could increase over time. Missed time in two games late last season with a rib injury and a concussion in the Citrus Bowl.

Limited production — only 98 receptions in three seasons. Lot of his touches were manufactured. Played alongside elite talent across Bama’s offense and rarely saw true bracket coverage. Last year’s team likely featured at least three and possibly four eventual first-rounders (along with Jerry Jeudy in 2020, and DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle down the road). 

Didn’t seem to be Tagovailoa’s first look or most trusted option in tight, gotta-have-it situations. Wasn’t a volume receiver in college — never targeted more than eight times and never topped six receptions in a game. Gets chopped down before he can start on some swing and screen passes.

Route-running refinement isn’t a huge concern, but it still needs refinement — cuts are wicked, but finding soft spots vs. zone and beating press-man coverage remain areas of development. Will give up his chest against press (which he didn’t face a ton anyway). Rushes his process and gets impatient. Might be best served as a slot-heavy receiver in the NFL, but he caught only 10 passes last season from inside.

Here’s a rep against LSU CB Kristian Fulton (at the top of your screen) where Ruggs’ release gets slowed for a minute while trying to beat the handwork of Fulton. Ruggs might have spun Fulton around on a few plays with his quickness in this game, but Fulton gets him here by winning at the line and with Ruggs not creating enough space for himself on the quick slant:

Ruggs can sometimes struggle a bit with technique against press-coverage.
Ruggs can sometimes struggle a bit with technique against press-coverage.

Blocking isn’t as good as it needs to be — effort is there, but effectiveness is scattershot. Breaks tackles with quickness not with force. Ball skills are good but not elite. Can mistime his jumps and let defenders gain body position when he hasn’t beaten them vertically.

Underclassman advisory committee, which tends to err on the side of caution with player evaluations, gave Ruggs a second-round grade when he entered his name. Only limited effectiveness as a returner.

Best-suited destination: If you’re of the belief that elite speed is always going to be a game changer in the NFL, then Ruggs is the type of playmaker almost any offense could use. He might never quite reach Tyreek Hill’s level of impact, but Ruggs can change the DNA of the NFL offense he joins. 

Among the teams we believe could be interested in his services include the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.

Did you know: When Ruggs scores a touchdown, he often can be seen holding up three fingers. It’s a tribute to his high school friend, Roderic Scott, who died in a car accident on his way to a basketball game in 2016.

Ruggs was supposed to go with him to watch their high school’s girls basketball team compete in the state tourney in Birmingham. But Ruggs got sick and stayed behind. Getting sick might have saved his life.

Scott had told Ruggs before that he needed to focus on football and not basketball, the sport the two played together. Ruggs took up the sport and became a star — even while he became a pretty good hoops player as well.

Scott helped Ruggs find his football passion and even presaged years before that Ruggs would end up playing for the Crimson Tide. He earned his first scholarship offer after only five football games his freshman year. Meanwhile, Scott was getting recruiting attention for basketball at the same time.

But after Scott died, Ruggs found a way to honor his fallen friend — with a simple three-fingered salute. That was Scott’s number on the basketball team.

They said it: “I think the biggest thing is my confidence in the game. I know I’m not the biggest guy, but I’m not afraid to throw my body in with anybody.” 

— Ruggs at the combine, on what makes him ready to contribute right away in the NFL 

Player comp: He reminds me a lot of two Steelers receivers whose statistics don’t quite reflect how good they were: Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace. Another comp we liked from one NFL team: Santana Moss.

Expected draft range: Top-15 pick, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see him be the first receiver taken.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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