The Las Vegas Raiders had high hopes for the addition of wide receiver Henry Ruggs as a new weapon for quarterback Derek Carr in the passing game.
Ruggs became the first wideout off the board in a historically deep class thanks to his blazing speed. Although this has made him a valuable commodity on EA Sports’ Madden video game series, the Raiders have not found a way to make it translate to the next level.
The former No. 12 pick struggled to fit the billing after hauling in a mere 26 receptions for 452 yards and two touchdowns. His development this offseason has since been a major storyline leading up to the 2021 NFL season.
Fortunately, early reports out of OTAs and training camp indicate that Ruggs has made some strides going into Year 2. Carr admitted that while it is still early, he has noticed a more comfortable approach from the young speedster.
“Yeah, I think so,” Carr said. “It’s hard because without the pads and without the live reps, it’s hard. But from where we’re at right now I would say, absolutely. The one thing that’s different about this, it’s not high school where I’m like, ‘Man, I’m just going to throw to my favorite guy. I don’t care what the play is, we’ll make it work.’ This, a lot of it has to do with we have a guy in Darren Waller. If you’re calling the plays, it’s hard to not call his number every time. I think that Henry is getting into that place where I think the feeling is he wants it. He’s going to not ask for it, he’s just going to show you. Hopefully I made that picture correct. It’s exciting. I think everyone has seen him, he looks bigger. Hopefully I get him to roll his sleeves up a little bit and show his guns off. You can tell the mindset was I’m going to go work to be better at what I think I need to be better at. When he showed back up, the violence in which he was running his routes with, the speed he was coming off the ball with made you go, ‘OK!’ You could feel it, as Mr. Mayock would say, you can feel his speed. You could feel his presence. I think the more he gets comfortable in this offense. He’s definitely comfortable around me. He’s comfortable around the rest of the team. He’s hugging them, joking with them. Those are all good signs. I wish everyone could catch 100 balls, I really do. But again, it’s hard to take some away from Darren when he’s been so productive and good for us. If Darren had ‘WR’ next to his name in the depth chart, no one would care. The fact that it’s a tight end it’s, ‘well why don’t we…’ It just is what it is. If Henry can show when we put the pads on and all of that, which I’m fully confident that he will, then yeah, absolutely. I can see that happening.”
Carr’s comments are telling of just how different things work at the next level. While plugging Ruggs in as a deep threat seems like an easy solution for the offense, the passing game is much more nuanced than simply throwing the ball downfield until it works.
This is especially true when they already have a versatile option like Darren Waller in the mix. Waller established himself as one of the best pass-catchers in the NFL over the last two seasons and it has led to plenty of success on offense for the Raiders.
The chemistry between Carr and Waller is something that head coach Jon Gruden is going to continue taking advantage of. Ruggs will first need to do what he can to earn the same trust by taking advantage of whatever opportunities come his way on a weekly basis.