I mean real fast.
It’s only natural that most people would associate his name with speed at this point because my dude has some serious wheels. As evident as it was at the combine — where he posted a blazing 4.27 seconds in the 40-yard dash, one of the best times ever for a receiver — it was even more obvious on tape.
Ruggs knows he’s got more pewnnnn than the average cat, and he plays the game that way. In the four games of his I watched, I didn’t see him wasting any time chopping his feet or slowing down to try to make a juke move in the open field. Rather, he would just mash the gas and run right by them.
Which isn’t to say he couldn’t make guys miss in the open field. He was pretty good at that at Alabama, as well. It’s just that most of the time he was so fast he didn’t even have to break stride to get by the defender.
What Ruggs does well: He’s fast *everywhere*
When they say speed kills, they had guys exactly like Ruggs in mind. He has the potential to take it to the house from anywhere because angles mean nothing when you have that internal NOS button that nobody else on the field has.
Ruggs has the kind of speed that puts defenses on alert every single play, and can potentially open things up for other players underneath. Even if you roll your coverage to him, however, that may not stop him from beating all of your guys deep. And the wild thing is he never looks like he is running that hard. He just glides down the field, and before you know it he’s gone.
Even in the red zone, Ruggs can make a difference. From the 15- or 20-yard line, he can smoke anybody on a fade route who tries to press him at the line. When defenders back off, he can hit them with a quick slant so fast Ruggs will be celebrating in the end zone before the corner has even planted his foot in the ground.
What Ruggs does well: He plays physical
You know what, though? Ruggs isn’t “just” a speed receiver by any means.
First of all, he’s 5’11 and almost 190 pounds — not exactly the kind of receiver his speed is usually associated with, DK Metcalf excepted. Ruggs is not a small guy at all, and he plays even bigger than his measurements. In addition to all of those deep routes, he also ran a ton of shallow crossers and other short-to-intermediate routes. I also loved the way he finished off plays when he had the ball in his hands.
No, Ruggs won’t truck stick guys like A.J. Brown or Deebo Samuel do, but he will lower his shoulder on contact so he can get an extra couple yards at the end of every play. As I always say, those hidden yards can really add up over the course of a game, too.
Ruggs doesn’t go down too easy, either. He is a strong runner with the football in his hands, and one missed tackle can turn into six points in a hurry with him. That also means he is a good candidate to run jet sweeps and end-arounds. He did a little of that in the games I watched, but not nearly enough in my opinion. Even in those limited opportunities, I watched the guy break ankles on the way to getting around the edge.
No, it wasn’t a huge gain, but that play should’ve gone for zero yards or a loss. You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to have the “right” defense called and still lose on a play because their guy is faster than all of yours. What are you supposed to do in that situation?
You better have somebody who can tackle covering him, too, because when Ruggs breaks away, you might as well strike up the band.
What Ruggs does well: He can make smart catches
But wait, I’m not done.
In addition to being fast and physical, Ruggs also has good hands. Technically, he was targeted 24 times combined in the four games I watched, but four of them weren’t really catchable. He caught all 20 of the ones that were.
Oh, and seven of those 20 catches went for 20 yards or more, including two that were more than went more than 74 yards. Oh and he also had five total touchdowns in those four games.
In fairness, he didn’t have to make a lot of “tough” catches, but that’s another advantage of being so fast. You don’t have to worry about trying to make many contested catches if the defender can’t catch up to you.
Regardless, no drops is no drops and that has been rare for me to see since I started doing these breakdowns. If nothing else, it shows he didn’t lose concentration on any of those (easy) catches while looking to run before he had secured it, as I’ve seen even some of the best receiver prospects do over the years.
There was still one more thing that impressed the hell out of me about Ruggs’ tape. It was even enough for me to put him at the top of the wide receivers I’ve broken down so far.
To be precise, it was two plays against Auburn that did it for me.
On both plays, the corner pressed Ruggs at the line (which I didn’t see often); then on the snap, the defensive back would turn and bail to try to stay in front of Ruggs and kind of ride him to the sideline to curtail his ability to get down the field. I’m sure that sounds like a smart tactic when facing a receiver who is probably faster, straight-line speed wise, than that defensive back.
But then Ruggs did something I wasn’t expecting.
He pushed down the field like he was running a go route, but then at about 10 yards he was about to quickly throttle down, swat the corner by, and catch what amounted to a back-shoulder fade that happened to be thrown more like a regular out route. Ruggs didn’t have to jump to get the ball, but functionally it worked in the same way a back-shoulder fade would. He got the DB upfield, where he couldn’t make a play on the ball then stopped, made the catch, and got a few extra yards after the catch on both plays.
I should note here that if Ruggs had actually needed to jump to catch that pass, I have no doubt that he would’ve been able to do it after watching him post a 42-inch vertical at the combine.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Where Ruggs needs to improve: A crisper release, I guess?
Now, here is the part where I would normally go through my concerns about a prospect, but … I just don’t really have many for Ruggs.
I suppose there were a few times where his release off the line of scrimmage wasn’t as crisp as it could’ve been, but I sincerely doubt that will be a problem for him in the NFL. There are just so many ways offensive coordinators can move guys around now so they don’t even have to see much press coverage.
Combine that with the fact there aren’t many corners who are actually good at it now that you can’t contact the receiver after five yards, and I just don’t see that being an issue for him on the next level.
I just don’t know what else I could nitpick, though.
Ruggs’ NFL future: No. 1 WR
Ruggs can line up inside, outside, or in the backfield and make big plays from all those spots the NFL. He has the kind of talent that has to be accounted for every week. He also has the potential to improve whichever team takes him, not only through his own contributions, but also by making life easier for everyone else on offense, including his quarterback.
Just about the only way to keep Ruggs from gaining yards was to tackle him as soon as the ball got to him, as happened a few times in the games I watched. Other than that, however, he could make something happen when there didn’t seem to be much there. That’s when a guy is elite.
Of course, I haven’t seen every wide receiver in this draft yet, so it’s impossible for me to say for sure that Ruggs should be the first one selected this year, but I will say it’s hard for me to imagine another receiver being any more worthy than his tape says he is. I was sold on both Ruggs’ teammate, Jerry Jeudy, and CeeDee Lamb, but Ruggs is on another level from those guys, in my book.
I don’t know if I would call him the “perfect” receiver prospect, but I can’t really come up with any major weaknesses in his game. He has all the characteristics I’d want in my No. 1 receiver. Now I get to sit back and see if NFL general managers agree with me.
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Ruggs play against Duke, New Mexico State, South Carolina, and Auburn.