There aren’t too many novel things happening in a league as long in the tooth as the NFL. Former Alabama receivers Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy managed one of those rare moments in this year’s NFL draft. They made history as the first time two receivers from the same NCAA team were drafted among the first 15 picks.
It wasn’t always obvious. Ruggs wasn’t thought of as a prospect for a top draft pick, despite his outsized role in Alabama’s success. A head-turning appearance at the NFL Combine changed that in a flash. Now, the two close friends are both in the NFL. The catch is, they won’t just have to learn to play without each other. They’re going to regularly play against each other.
Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy’s college days together
According to Clutchpoints, Jeudy was built more for football of the two receivers, giving him some level of hype going into Alabama. Meanwhile, Ruggs was an over performer for his 5-foot-11, 188-pound frame. At 6-foot-1, 193-pounds, Jeudy was the main attention-grabber on a historically stacked core of receivers.
That earned Jeudy far more time on the field to prove himself, landing at 2,478 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns with the Crimson Tide. But Ruggs had a late breakout as he earned more playing time.
His 746 yards and seven touchdowns were bolstered heavily by his last season in Alabama. The two became obvious NFL favorites, but even after all that late college work, Ruggs wasn’t considered a top 15 receiving prospect.
Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy must transition from college teammates to NFL rivals
It was clear Jeudy had both the physicality and the toolset to go early in the NFL draft. Bleacher Report’s scouting report tagged him as the fifth-best overall prospect due to his incredibly well-rounded abilities. He hits top-end speeds quickly, but also demonstrates the presence of mind to vary his approach. He’s hard to block, and harder to read — that’s a good recipe for NFL success. The Denver Broncos snapped him up 15th overall, to no one’s surprise.
So why did the shorter, lighter Ruggs go first? His rare, awe-inspiring combine performance covers most of it. SB Nation’s coverage of the combine points out that his 4.27-second time in the 40-yard dash was the best among all prospects.
Not only that, but among the six best times ever — and they project he’ll be the best to transition that to being useful in the pros of any of those speedsters. The Las Vegas Raiders have something potentially explosive on their hands.
Which will emerge as the better receiver in the NFL?
It’s a fool’s errand to try to pin down these two unique college receivers before they’ve played more than a few NFL games. There’s even the chance that these divisional rivals will have to prove themselves to the world against each other, in the same game! But as for which will garner the most attention in the short term, there’s actually an easy answer: Ruggs.
The diminutive speedster has the edge over his old Crimson Tide pal because the Raiders have more need at his position. The Broncos have Courtland Sutton, coming off a breakout year, in line before Jeudy. There simply won’t be as many opportunities for Jeudy to prove his ability in a statistically significant way until the season is nearly wrapped.
Meanwhile, Ruggs is blessed with a Raiders receiving core that needs help, fast. He’ll get room to play more and make the mistakes required to become a fully-formed NFL WR. Even if it takes time, he’ll undoubtedly plug up his resume with some highlight-worthy plays thanks to his speed and noted crafty movement.
In the long run, he might still come out on top, but certainly for the 2020 season, we’re all probably going to hear more about the small but gifted receiver in Las Vegas.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference