The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Henry Ruggs
Henry Ruggs may be one of the best all-around athletes in the NFL, but that didn’t translate to much on-field success during his rookie season. He plays on a team with plenty of receiving opportunity available and one of the more accurate quarterbacks of recent years. Let’s take a look at the path required for Ruggs to have a second-year breakout and join the WR1 ranks in 2021.
Ruggs was the first receiver off the board in the 2020 draft, which would have been surprising if, well, it was any team other than the Raiders that made the pick. Of course, they fell in love with his blazing speed and ridiculous athleticism. Who could blame them? Just look at how full those green bars are on his player profile page.
That elite athleticism, however, didn’t lead to elite production. He started the season fine, leading Las Vegas with 55(!) receiving yards in Week 1. He also left the game briefly with a leg injury and would ultimately miss two games early in the season. He also spent a week on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
He did flash huge potential at times during the season. He finished as the WR9 in the shocking Week 5 victory over the Chiefs and WR24 after catching the game-winning bomb against the Jets in Week 13. Overall, however, it was a disappointing rookie campaign in which he totaled just 452 receiving yards and two touchdowns to finish as the WR89 on the season.
The Path for 2021
As mentioned during the AFC West breakdown show, the Raiders offense was surprisingly effective in 2020. Derek Carr remains at the helm but the receiving corps has been revamped with the departure of Nelson Agholor and the arrival of John Brown. If Ruggs can take over as a dominant receiver in a productive Las Vegas offense, it could lead to him jumping into WR1 territory. Let’s examine what that would entail.
Targets are the pathway to fantasy success and Ruggs was severely lacking in the category as a rookie. He saw just 43 targets in 2020. That’s two fewer than teammate Josh Jacobs, the running back that was bemoaned by fantasy managers for his lack of usage in the passing game.
Darren Waller, who had 145 targets in 2020, is likely to repeat as the top target in Las Vegas but Derek Carr has supported multiple fantasy pass-catchers in the past. In 2016 Michael Crabtree finished as WR11 on 145 targets while Amari Cooper finished as WR13 on 131 targets. A similar split between Waller and Ruggs is possible in 2021.
The opportunity will be there, as the departure of Nelson Agholor and his 82 targets from last season will be replaced somehow. Ruggs is the top candidate to soak up a good portion of those targets, especially considering the first-round draft capital the Raiders used to select him in 2020. The Raiders brass, and specifically head coach John Gruden, have heard the criticism associated with the disappointment in last year’s twelfth overall pick. Gruden was recently discussed his desire to get Ruggs more involved.
“We don’t want Ruggs to just be threat. We’d like him to be on the receiving end of a lot of those threats. So, we’re trying to get him more and more involved in the pass offense, and so far, so good.”
It may be coach speak, but when it’s backed up by opportunity and talent, it shouldn’t be ignored. A triple-digit target total is well within the realm of possibilities for Ruggs in 2021.
Targets aren’t as useful if they don’t turn into receptions. Ruggs’ 60.5% catch rate was respectable enough, especially considering the way he was targeted last year. Still, it has room to improve and should only get better as he builds chemistry with Derek Carr. Despite Carr rating out as the second-best deep-ball passer by NFL Next Gen Stats, he and Ruggs didn’t connect as consistently as you’d like to see on 20+ yard targets.
Oh, this? Just every 20+ yard target Henry Ruggs III saw in 2020 🏈📽️
After watching all 15 of these, what are your takeaways? Open discussion and it's ok to not have arrived at an opinion… the sample size is small. pic.twitter.com/5dIpg2NB2T
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) March 29, 2021
His catch rate will also go up if Las Vegas gets the ball in his hands closer to the line of scrimmage, as opposed to being the vertical decoy that he often was in 2020. Derek Carr has the third-best completion percentage among all quarterbacks since 2018, so Ruggs has the potential to compile plenty of catches if short and intermediate routes are mixed in more often in his second season.
The yards category is where Ruggs can explode in 2021. Last season there were only eight wideouts to average at least 10.5 yards/target (minimum 40 targets). Two of them were Ruggs and former Raider Nelson Agholor. An increase in targets for Ruggs, as discussed above, can lead to a massive yardage total.
While some chunk yardage is likely to come from deep passes, he can also rack up play of yards after the catch. Ruggs averaged 6.0 yards after catch/reception as a rookie. For some context, other players in that range last season included William Fuller V (5.9 YAC/rec) and D.J. Moore (6.1 YAC/rec). With his world-class speed, Ruggs can make any short pass into a big gain.
Ruggs only found the end zone twice last season, which is better than it looks considering his meager target total. While Ruggs doesn’t profile as a big red zone threat, we’ve seen double-digit touchdown seasons from smaller speedy wideouts like Tyreek Hill and Tyler Lockett. Ruggs isn’t in their class yet, but he has a similar athletic profile and he absolutely has a double-digit touchdown ceiling.
There’s no guarantee that Ruggs becomes a WR1 in 2021, but there is a clear path. The combination of talent and opportunity on a good offensive team can be enough to get him there if all the pieces come together. While the chances of that happening may be slim, it’s a shot worth taking when he’s available to draft in the double-digit rounds.