Henry Ruggs

Why Panthers signing Robby Anderson is bad for Raiders, 49ers' draft plans

Why Panthers signing Robby Anderson is bad for Raiders, 49ers' draft plans

Another big free-agent domino fell Tuesday when the Carolina Panthers agreed to sign wide receiver Robby Anderson to a two-year, $20 million contract. 

The Panthers, who supposedly are entering a full rebuild under new head coach Matt Rhule, added to one of their most glaring needs, giving new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a No. 1 receiver. The Panthers' signing of Anderson was bad news for the New York Jets, who were hoping to bring the receiver back, and tangentially for the Raiders and 49ers. 

As we head toward the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders (No. 12 overall pick) and the 49ers (No. 13 overall pick) both are looking to draft an elite wide receiver from a loaded class. Over the last few months, it has looked like both Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy could be available when the Raiders go on the clock at No. 12, giving Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock their pick of the litter and leaving the 49ers to take the best receiver left on the board. 

That all assumed that the Jets, who pick at No. 11, would draft an offensive tackle to keep Sam Darnold from getting beaten up for the third season in a row. This draft is as tackle heavy as it is receiver heavy at the top, with Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Georgia's Andrew Thomas all expected to be top-20 picks. 

But, Anderson leaving the Big Apple to team up with his old college coach in Carolina gives the Jets a need that is as pressing as the one at left tackle. With Anderson gone, the Jets' only receivers are Breshad Perriman -- who they agreed to a one-year contract with Tuesday -- Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Braxton Berrios and Quincy Enuwa, along with assorted special teams and practice squad players. 

If you thought the Raiders' receiving corps last year was bad, this group is a whole lot worse. 

The Jets now will have to choose which position they think is more valuable to the development of their franchise quarterback -- wide receiver or left tackle?

In NBC Sports Bay Area's current mock draft, Dalton Johnson and I have the Jets taking Lamb, and that was before the Anderson signing. That had more to do with our infatuation for the Oklahoma receiver than the Jets' need at the position. But with Anderson and his 52 catches, 779 yards and five touchdowns now gone, the Jets have to get Darnold some playmakers on the outside or else he will be doomed to fail. 

If Jets head coach Adam Gase elects to take Lamb or Jeudy, that would give the Raiders the one left standing and have the 49ers choose between drafting Alabama's Henry Ruggs or trading down.

Make no mistake, Ruggs, who ran a 4.27 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, is a prize unto himself. He's a dynamic downfield threat and a versatile weapon who can strike from anywhere. But he is just a tick below Lamb and Jeudy in my eyes. 

Another thing pushing the Jets the way of receiver and not left tackle is that Gang Green agreed to sign former Seattle Seahawks tackle George Fant in free agency. Fant, 27, was used as the sixth offensive lineman in Seattle, but he told KNJR in Seattle that he is coming to New York to play left tackle

“I made it very clear that I wanted to play that position at the end of the season,” Fant said, via Newsday. “That was a huge part of me making this decision to go there. I feel like that’s home for me. I feel like left tackle is the best position for me. Now it’s to the point where I’m ready to go out there and prove it and just go out there and do my job and try to help this team win games.”

[RELATED: How free-agent signings impact Raiders' draft plan]

Of course, the Jets still could take Wills or Thomas and put Fant at right tackle and address receiver later on in the draft. That might be the smarter choice in the long run. But, this is the Jets we are talking about. 

Anderson's departure appears to make it all the more likely the Jets go wideout at No. 11. That will leave the Raiders and 49ers hoping no other team in the top 10 goes wide receiver and they can still gobble up the remaining two of Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs. 

Why PFF loved 49ers' DeForest Buckner trade for first-round draft pick

Why PFF loved 49ers' DeForest Buckner trade for first-round draft pick

The news was shocking at the time. Hours after agreeing to a five-year, $85 million contract with Arik Armstead, the 49ers traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Buckner was voted as the team MVP last season. He is regarded as a better player than Armstead and seemed in line for a huge payday. Well, that payday came, but from the Colts instead of the 49ers. Indianapolis signed Buckner to a four-year, $84 million contract extension upon agreeing to the trade. 

While many 49ers fans shook their head at losing Buckner, analytics site Pro Football Focus loved the deal for San Francisco.

"With Emmanuel Sanders departing, the Niners are now in the market for a wide receiver, and by trading for Indy’s 13th overall pick, they are in a prime location to snag one of the elite receiving prospects in Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III," PFF writes.

In our latest mock draft between myself and Josh Schrock, the 49ers select Ruggs at No. 13 overall with Lamb and Jeudy both off the board. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave them Jeudy in his most recent mock draft after the first week of free agency.

All three of Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs rank in PFF's top-10 draft prospects this year. The 49ers need a No. 1 receiver to complement Deebo Samuel and now are in prime position to do so through the draft on a cheap contract.

[RELATED: 49ers, Colts approached Buckner trade with opposite logic]

General manager John Lynch saved money he now can use on a George Kittle extension and didn't have to hand top dollars to Buckner, which PFF believes is way too much for a defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald. Coach Kyle Shanahan surely will miss Buckner, but has to be smiling at the thought of adding a young star as a weapon for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The 49ers' biggest strength took a hit by losing Buckner. One of their biggest weaknesses, however, soon could receive a significant upgrade.

NFL Draft 2020: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb both great options for 49ers

NFL Draft 2020: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb both great options for 49ers

With one move, the 2020 NFL Draft went from a small affair for the 49ers to one that could greatly impact their run back to the Super Bowl. 

The 49ers entered the start of the new league year with only the No. 31 pick in the first round and zero second- and third-round picks. Most assumed the 49ers would trade out of the first round to recoup draft assets. But the 49ers made a surprising move Monday, trading star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick. 

With that move, the 49ers now are in position to select one of the top three wide receivers in a loaded class. The only question is: Should they be gunning for Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, or one of Alabama's stars in Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs?

That's a lot like asking someone if they'd rather have pizza or chicken wings after seven beers. The answer is yes. But let's see if we can (try) to rank these three dynamic wideouts. 

1. CeeDee Lamb

My love of Lamb has been well-documented for quite some time. He's been stuck behind Jeudy on most big boards due to what is a perceived weakness as a route-runner. But that skill was cleaned up during his final year in Norman, Okla., and he now should be the first wide receiver taken off the board. 

Lamb has superior hands to Jeudy and is tenacious after the catch. He has great body control, ball skills and instincts. He doesn't have the straight speed of Ruggs, but his natural gifts should allow him to be the focal point of an offense at the NFL level. If all goes according to plan, Lamb has DeAndre Hopkins-type upside. 

Pairing him with Deebo Samuel and letting Kyle Shanahan find ways to get him in space to make people miss would be a sight to see. 

I mean this is ridiculous. 

There's little chance Lamb falls past the Raiders at No. 12, but the 49ers can dare to dream. 

2. Jerry Jeudy

Jeudy was viewed as a top-four pick entering the season, but he's been the victim of over-analysis. 

Make no mistake, Jeudy is an elite receiver. While he did damage all over the field at Alabama, Jeudy likely will settle into the slot role in the NFL. 

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Jeudy has great footwork, is an elite route-runner and has the top-end speed to be a consistent vertical threat at the NFL level. He's very good at beating press coverage and has uncanny stop-start ability. The hands are great, but sometimes he loses concentration and drops easy ones. 

Jeudy has all the skills to offer immediate production for whichever team calls his name in 2020. If it's the 49ers, Shanahan will be drooling. This pairing would be quick slants and big-play post catches galore. 

 [RELATED: Bucs, Raiders among big winners of NFL free agency]

3. Henry Ruggs

Speed, speed, speed and more speed. 

Ruggs will step into the NFL and immediately be the second-fastest player in the league (shoutout Tyreek Hill). Ruggs put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.27 40-yard dash to put him in the top tier along with Lamb and Jeudy. 

Alabama's scheme versatility got Ruggs the ball with room to work, allowing him to blaze past defenses. He's a good route-runner with elite burst and acceleration. He's obviously a vertical threat, but also found a lot of success on jet sweeps and tunnel screens. His ability to make contested catches also was underrated, as defenders often bounced off him without impeding his path to the ball. 

Ruggs would be a dynamic weapon for Shanahan and the 49ers. There's no telling the number of ways Shanahan could scheme up to get the speedster the ball in the open field. 

As said before, it's a choice with almost no wrong answer. If I had to put money on it, I'd say Jeudy is wearing the red and gold come fall. His route-running and versatility would be perfect or the 49ers' offense. He's not as good with the ball in his hands as Lamb is, and he doesn't have the straight-line speed that Ruggs does, but you can't go wrong if you turn in a card that says Jerry Jeudy.