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.
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.
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
Weight: 188 pounds
Career stats: 98 catches for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns
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)