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Need for Speed: Is Henry Ruggs what the 49ers offense is missing?

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Could Ruggs be the key that unlocks the 49ers’ offensive potential in 2020?

Southern Miss v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that this 49ers team - fresh off their second Super Bowl appearance in eight years - has many needs. And technically they don’t. Some areas could use improvement or depth - every team has those -but most fans would agree that one area that needs to be addressed is the 49ers wide receiving corps.

The good news is that the 49ers have the 13th pick in the upcoming draft, and should have an opportunity to address that need if they choose to. And John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan may decide to use that pick on Henry Ruggs, the speedy wide receiver out of Alabama.

So the question is, should they? Let’s take a look.

Speed

If you’re looking for a wide receiver in this draft that is heads and tails ahead of the competition athletically, look no further than Henry Ruggs. He recorded an official 4.27 in the 40-yard dash, tied for fifth all-time, and posted a 42 inch vertical, which was tied for 2nd best overall.

So what can that kind of speed do? Well, it can turn a simple swing pass behind the line of scrimmage into a 75 yard TD.

Then, this quick slant in traffic that turns into an 81-yard TD.

Here Ruggs runs a curl route past the first down marker, secures the catch, and uses his speed to turn the corner on two defensive backs up the sideline and to the house.

Of course, speed isn’t everything. The three wideouts ahead of Ruggs on the all-time 40-yard dash list are John Ross, Rondel Menendez, and Jerome Mathis - not exactly murderers row. But the fact is that adding elite speed to Kyle Shanahan’s tool belt would open up the 49ers offense, creating space not just for Ruggs but for Kittle and Deebo as well.

Toughness

Often when we see a receiver that relies on speed, they are considered more of a finesse player, conjuring up images of stepping out of bounds rather than turning upfield to fight for the tough yards. That description does not apply to Henry Ruggs.

On this play, Ruggs heads to the sideline with the first down already assured; rather than step out, he lowers his head, absorbs the hit, regains his balance, and collects and gains additional yardage. These are the types of plays that will get Shanahan’s attention.

Another strong finish by Ruggs here, taking this wide receiver screen the distance and punishing Ole Miss safety C.J. Moore at the goal line, adding insult to injury.

Strength

You probably weren’t expecting to see strength listed as one of Ruggs top attributes, but after watching the tape, it’s more than evident why he’s drawing comparisons to Tyreke Hill. Jordan Reid over at the Draft Network had this to say: “Smaller stature, but Ruggs III body strength is vastly underrated. This trait also shows up in contested catch situations. Oncoming tacklers often bounce off of his body without impeding his running process as a result.”

Here’s an example of that. The first defender has two hands around his waist; the second defender wraps his leg, the third defender delivers a square blow to the upper body. All three end up on the ground, and Ruggs walks in unscathed.

Now I will say this. Tyreke Hill was a running back at Oklahoma St, and I’ve seen some of the tape. I don’t think Ruggs is that strong, but if someone wanted to sell him as Tyreke Hill lite, I think that would be a fair comparison.

Hands

Hands have never been an issue for Ruggs, which obviously is an excellent trait for a wide receiver. I didn’t watch every one of his games over the past three years, but in all of the games that I did watch, I can’t remember a single drop. Of course, in this day and age, no resume for a wide receiver is complete without a one-handed grab, and while this one isn’t entirely one-handed, it’s still pretty impressive.

The Bad

There are a couple of common knocks that you’ll see against Ruggs. One is production. Compared to CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy, his numbers for reception and yardage are a little low. In his three years at Alabama, he totaled 98 receptions for 1,716 yards. For comparison, in that same three-year span, Lamb totaled 173/3292, and Jeudy 159/2742.

He’s also not an entirely polished route runner. He’s shown the ability to run solid routes, but he’s not consistent and can struggle at times in press coverage, especially against better competition.

Of course, it’s also possible that the lack of production could be a result of sharing targets with an elite wide receiving group at Alabama, and his route running can absolutely be improved at the next level with better effort and coaching.

More Bad?

If you’re all set to draft Ruggs at 13, you’ll at least need to prepare yourself for the possibility that he won’t be available. Several teams in the top 12 need wide receiver help, including the Jets at 11 who according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini have “had their eye on him for a while.”, and the Raiders at 12 who have been looking for a big play wide receiver since the departure of Amari Cooper in 2018.

Final Word

The first round of the NFL Draft can be a crapshoot at times, especially when it comes to wide receivers. But the 49ers clearly need the position, and with Marquise Goodwin seemingly on the outs, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add a burner like Ruggs to the 49ers inconsistent receiving corps. The real question is whether or not he’s the type of receiver that Kyle Shanahan is looking for, and we might not know the answer to that question until the pick is in.