There are few draft traditions more inevitable than the Oakland Raiders selecting the fastest player available in the early rounds, regardless of their football ability. With the franchise no longer based in Oakland, Raiders fans must have thought this trend was a thing of the past as their new team based in Las Vegas appeared set on drafting a far more balanced team. Then with the 12th overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, the fastest player in the draft.
Wide receiver was undoubtedly an area of need for the Raiders and this year’s draft class contained an unprecedented abundance of talent. Throughout the draft process, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb separated themselves from the rest of the field and it appeared that either player would be the first receiver selected. At least it seemed that way until Ruggs III, also from Alabama, ran a blazing 4.27 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine and shot up draft boards around the league.
When the Raiders selected Ruggs III as the first receiver in the draft, it still came as somewhat a surprise. Many believed that Jeudy’s elite route running or Lamb’s big play ability would result in teams fighting over their services but ultimately speed overshadowed both players. Whilst Ruggs’ speed has never been questioned, his production in college is concerning as he failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving in each of his three seasons playing for the Crimson Tide. Despite this, Ruggs III arguably possesses the highest ceiling amongst all rookie receivers as true deep threat ability is hard to come by.
What you have to love about Ruggs III is how smooth he is as an athlete. When he has the ball in his hands, he appears to effortlessly glide by chasing defenders and is not afraid of contact when catching passes over the middle. Combine this with his quick feet and experience of running complex deep routes, he is a legitimate threat to score from anywhere on the field. His speed alone should at least give the Raiders a receiver who can stretch the field and begin to open up some room for running back Josh Jacobs who seems set to receive an increased workload after a successful rookie campaign last season.
Of course, every team in the NFL would love to have their own version of Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill but speed does not always translate into consistent deep threat ability. There are areas where Ruggs III will need to improve particularly when faced against press coverage. Standing at just 5’11, physical corners have had success neutralizing his speed when they have been able to get their hands on him at the line of scrimmage and force him off his route. His size will also likely limit his ability to consistently win contested catches but then again, the Raiders did not draft him to be a jump-ball receiver; they drafted him for speed.
Unfortunately for Raider fans, speed is an area they know all too well. During their tenure in both Oakland and Los Angeles, former GM/owner Al Davis made it no secret about his affinity for fast players. In the history of their franchise, there have been names such as Bo Jackson and Cliff Branch whose speed has worked out in the NFL despite the latter catching just 13 passes in the season prior to being drafted. However, since the turn of the century, the team’s obsession for speed has not paid off. A host of names including Fabian Washington, Demarcus Van-Dyke, Stanford Routt and Darren Mcfadden all failed to live up to their respective 40-yard dash times and ended having, at best, modest careers despite being early draft picks. With Mike Mayock now at GM and Davis’ son Mark taking over ownership from his late father, fans will hope history is not about to repeat itself once again.
For current Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, speed in the form of Ruggs III has to pay off as his career with the team likely depends on it. After being a second-round selection back in 2014, Carr appeared to cement his position as the franchise quarterback following three trips to the Pro-Bowl but after a lacklustre couple of seasons, his name will almost certainly be on the hot seat for the upcoming year.
The selection of Ruggs III is not the only weapon Carr will have at his disposal as the team signed Nelson Agholor to compete with Hunter Renfrow in the slot and signed veteran Jason Witten to support tight end Darren Waller after last season’s breakout campaign. The team also selected 6’3 wide receiver Bryan Edwards in the third round of this year’s draft to provide depth and competition for the other outside receiver role opposite Ruggs III currently being held by Tyrell Williams. With a strong ground game in the form of Josh Jacobs and the receiving group outlined, Ruggs III should immediately be in a position to make an impact for his new team. Carr has shown to favour receivers such as Amari Cooper in the past so fans will hope the two can form a strong rapport from the onset despite the possibility of a reduced off-season.
It seems somewhat fitting for the Raiders first draft in Las Vegas to focus around speed giving the team’s history. Mark Davis reportedly told Mike Mayock following the selection of Ruggs III that his “father was looking down and smiling”. Sentiment aside, fans are going to expecting results especially after the drama at wide receiver last season caused by Antonio Brown. Al Davis infamously said “you can’t teach speed” but for the sake of a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002, Ruggs III must break the team’s curse of drafting fast players that fail to succeed in the NFL.