Brian Westerholt / Associated Press
Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 | 2 a.m.
When the Raiders used the No. 11 overall draft pick to select Henry Ruggs, they did it because they believed he could change the team’s offensive identity with his big-play ability. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have to be feeling good about the selection after Las Vegas’ Week 1 win at Carolina, as it didn’t take long for the wide receiver to display his knack for creating long gains.
Less than 10 minutes into the contest, the Raiders lined up Ruggs in the slot and unleashed him on a deep crossing route against Panthers’ safety Tre Boston. The veteran defensive back was no match for Ruggs’ 4.20 speed, as the rookie quickly cut across the field and pulled away into open space. Quarterback Derek Carr recognized the mismatch right away and lofted the pass into Ruggs’ waiting arms.
Ruggs made the easy catch and turned upfield, eventually getting knocked out of bounds at the 1:
The play went for 45 yards, and there was nothing special about the design. Boston was in a deep zone and backpedaled at the snap, respecting Ruggs’ deep speed. But when Ruggs cut across the field, he accelerated and left the coverage in the dust.
According to Next Gen Stats, Ruggs was able to create 9.1 yards of separation at the point of the catch (which was 35 yards downfield). In a league of tight windows, that much separation that far downfield is basically a cheat code for the offense.
What does 9.1 yards of separation look like on an NFL field? It looks like this:
When a receiver is capable of getting open to that degree, he stands to quickly become his quarterback’s favorite target.
Ruggs said it was satisfying to break off a long gainer to begin his NFL career.
“It was big for my first catch to be a big play and to pretty much get the game started for the offense,” Ruggs said. “That was big for me because I feel like I want to be one of the guys that can be the spark whenever we need it. That’s exactly what it was.”
Ruggs finished the game with a team-high 55 receiving yards, with the bulk of it coming on that deep route. His production was limited by an ankle injury, which sidelined him for a couple drives, and while he only caught three passes, he was targeted five times, most among Las Vegas receivers and trailing only tight end Darren Waller (eight targets) and running back Josh Jacobs (six). Add in Ruggs’ two touches in the running game — he took two end-around handoffs for 11 yards — and Gruden clearly made Ruggs an integral part of the game plan in Week 1.
Expect that to continue in Week 2, when the Raiders host the New Orleans Saints in the first home game at Allegiant Stadium. Ruggs was drafted to be a big-play guy, and he delivered in his debut.