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2020 NFL Draft profile: How Alabama's Henry Ruggs would fit on 49ers

2020 NFL Draft profile: How Alabama's Henry Ruggs would fit on 49ers

Editors Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment we profile Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.

The one trait that cannot be coached or taught is speed, and that’s exactly what Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs will bring to the team that selects him in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

There’s no argument that a speedy wide receiver can spread out an opposing defense and open up opportunities underneath in the midfield and short game. The 49ers had that in Marquise Goodwin, who arguably is one of the fastest players in the league. 

Goodwin was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 10, 2019 with what coach Kyle Shanahan described as chronic knee and ankle issues. His health and future with the 49ers could be in question heading into the 2020 season. 

Ruggs would be a perfect complement to a receiving room that already has Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne slated to return. The Crimson Tide receiver is known for not only being fast but for rarely dropping the football. He is versatile with the ability to line up on the outside and inside. 

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Like Samuel, Ruggs successfully has been utilized in jet sweep, reverses and bubble screen situations. Ruggs also has been effective as a kick returner with an average of 21.0 yards per return in two college seasons.

Michael Locksley, Jeudy’s coach and offensive coordinator during the receiver's first two seasons with Alabama, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco on The 49ers Insider Podcast about the receiver’s unique talents.

“The first thing that jumps out is what everybody seems to see -- speed,” Locksley said. “But the one thing that jumped out to me, having coached him and worked with him for two years, Henry is such a tough player. 

“He’s one of those guys that maybe doesn’t fit the receiver mold of the prima donna. He’s a guy who plays hurt, who plays through pain. He plays physical without the football.”

That could speak to Shanahan, who has said what players do without the ball in their hands is what he will scrutinize on film. It is one of the reasons that All-Pro tight end George Kittle's film from Iowa stood out to the head coach.

[RELATED: Multiple mock drafts have 49ers taking Jeudy, Ruggs or Lamb]

While Ruggs has been compared to other track and football crossover athletes like Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill and Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross, Locksley says the Crimson Tide receiver's mentality is different.

“He’s not a track guy that plays football, he’s a football player that runs track.” 

NFL draft profile: Henry Ruggs

Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 188 pounds
College: Alabama
Career stats: 98 catches for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.27 seconds (fastest among wide receivers)
Vertical jump: 42.0 inches
Broad jump: 131.0 inches

What experts are saying
Todd McShay, ESPN: “I love Ruggs because he’s physical, he loves playing special teams, he’ll block for you." 
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: “He has a different gear. What Ruggs brings to the table is speed and it is real and it plays. It’s freaky the speed that he brings. And with that, you get a guy who catches the football. He only had one drop this year and he’s extremely tough.”  
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: “The best way to explain how he can be used in the NFL is to look at Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, but Ruggs is a more developed route-runner than Hill was when he came into the league in 2016.”
Greg Cosell, NFL Films: "Ruggs is as explosive a WR as I have seen in on tape with his combination of short area burst and instant effortless acceleration. He can line up in multiple positions and effectively work all three levels of coverage." 

Draft projection: First round (top 20 overall)

Akiem Hicks shades Mike Glennon to argue Colin Kaepernick blackballed

Akiem Hicks shades Mike Glennon to argue Colin Kaepernick blackballed

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks needed just four words to sum up why he thought former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL.

"We signed Mike Glennon."

Hicks said as much in a video press conference with reporters Wednesday, referring to Chicago's decision to sign Glennon to a contract worth $18.5 million guaranteed in 2017. Kaepernick, who had kneeled during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and institutional racism throughout the 2016 season, went unsigned that entire offseason and since then.

Kaepernick's protest has received renewed attention as protestors demonstrate around the world against the same societal issues the QB sought to highlight. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died last Monday in Minneapolis police custody after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. Floyd's death also occurred within months of Louisville police fatally shooting a 26-year-old African American woman named Breonna Taylor, and nearly four months after two white men allegedly followed and shot Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man, as he jogged in his Georgia neighborhood.

Kaepernick argued his protest against police brutality cost him his job as part of a collusion lawsuit he ultimately settled with the NFL last February, and he has been a free agent since opting out of his contract with the 49ers -- after they said they would release him otherwise -- in 2017. Former 49ers teammate Alex Smith said last month it's "absurd" Kaepernick, who led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance and an NFC Championship Game berth in back-to-back seasons, has not been employed by an NFL team since then.

“I think he would have gotten a good deal if he had not protested,” Hicks said. “Does he have all the qualifications that we seem to be looking for in NFL quarterbacks? Athletic. He can get the ball down the field. I think that he fits a lot of those categories. Do I know if he would have gotten a huge deal and gone onto be a Hall of Fame quarterback? I don’t know these things. I just know that when he took a knee, he was silenced -- or they attempted to silence him.”

Some of Kaepernick's critics argued he played his way out of a job. Yes, the 49ers went just 1-10 after a healthy Kaepernick regained the starting job from Blaine Gabbert in 2016. But the QB posted a 90.1 passer rating and 16 touchdowns (to four interceptions), all while playing on a team that current general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan couldn't wait to strip for spare parts the following offseason.

Nine 49ers caught at least 10 passes from Kaepernick in 2016, and seven didn't return to San Francisco the following season. Only one of those nine players, depth tight end Garrett Celek, was on the 49ers' roster in 2019. Three haven't played in an NFL game since then, and another (Rod Streater) has only played in three games -- all in 2018 -- during that time.

[RELATED: Shanahan believes Jimmy G has ability to be "all-time" great]

Of course, the Bears might have seen enough when Kaepernick completed just one of five passes for 4 yards against Chicago in the middle of a December snowstorm. Kaepernick's 45 snaps in that game could've been plenty, considering Glennon played all of 15 snaps in 2016 before the Bears signed him to a three-year contract worth up to $45 million.

But Glennon didn't last a season as the Bears' starter, losing his job to Mitchell Trubisky -- who the Bears selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft following a trade with the 49ers -- after just four games. The Bears eventually cut Glennon in 2018.

Glennon has played for three teams since then, and Kaepernick hasn't played for one.

“What I will say is this, though: It’s not a Chicago problem, it’s an entire-league problem," Hicks said of Kaepernick remaining unsigned. "There’s 31 other teams.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why 49ers' George Kittle 'loves' playing for head coach Kyle Shanahan

Why 49ers' George Kittle 'loves' playing for head coach Kyle Shanahan

George Kittle has rapidly ascended during his three NFL seasons. Originally a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Kittle has become one of the league's best tight ends playing in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

When asked what it's like to play for the young head coach, Kittle couldn't be more thrilled about having Shanahan at the helm in San Francisco.

"Awesome, Kyle is the man, I love playing for him," Kittle told Will Compton and Taylor Lewan on this week's episode of the "Bussin' With The Boys" podcast. "One of my favorite things about him is he just loves football so much. And when you have a guy that loves football and its not work for him, it makes it pretty easy to play for the guy. He doesn't have to give a pump-up speech, you can just tell how much it means to him."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kittle also appreciates that Shanahan doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to communicating with his players.

"He's just straight up with everybody," Kittle said. "We were 4-12 (in 2018), and he still got up in front of the team and didn't bulls--t us or anything like, he's like, 'This is why we're not good, this is what we have to do to be better, we just have to work hard and practice better.' So he's always straight up with us."

[RELATED: Steve Young wants 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to challenge Jimmy Garoppolo]

He certainly has evoked a similar reaction from many of his players, as Shanahan's passion helped players gravitate towards the head coach.

Shanahan, Kittle and the rest of the 49ers' roster will come to training camp hungry, looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.