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Style and speed: Henry Ruggs was a natural first pick for Las Vegas Raiders

Ruggs excited for first trip to Las Vegas, reunion with close friend Josh Jacobs

Ruggs

Butch Dill / AP

Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) caries the ball against Auburn during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.

Updated Thursday, April 23, 2020 | 10:22 p.m.

NFL Draft First Round

Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) salutes the fans against LSU during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. LSU won 46-41. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt) Launch slideshow »

Of all the shots of first-round picks reacting to teams selecting them from their living rooms during the virtual NFL Draft on Thursday night, Henry Ruggs’ stood out as among the most memorable.

The Alabama wide receiver slid on one of the first-ever Las Vegas Raiders hats after the team selected him 12th overall pick to complete an outfit that had social media buzzing. Ruggs was already sporting an Old Spice bathrobe to bring attention to his sponsor’s charity initiative.

“It was something that came about and I was like, ‘Let’s go for it. Why not? I’m at home. It’s comfortable,'” Ruggs said.

Ruggs’ attire matched his profile as a player. He’s an attention-grabber, almost certainly not the most heralded member of this year’s receiver class but perhaps the most explosive and arguably the player with the highest-end potential.

The 5-foot-11, 188-pound 21-year-old only started playing football five years ago at Montgomery, Ala., powerhouse Robert E. Lee High School, but took to the game immediately. He went on to Alabama where he scored touchdowns almost one out of every four times he touched the ball — racking up a career stat line of 98 catches for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns before declaring for the draft following his junior season.

Ruggs recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time of any player at February’s NFL Draft combine with a scorching 4.27. He operates with the type of electricity the Raiders’ franchise has been drawn to for decades, one they couldn’t ignore as they sought to add a playmaker to star at the nearly completed Allegiant Stadium.

“The distinguishing factor was really his speed, his explosion and his work ethic,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said.

Ruggs has never visited Las Vegas before, but says he welcomes the pressure that comes with being the first pick since the Raiders’ official relocation. Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette joined Ruggs as Las Vegas' second first-round pick when the team selected him No. 19 later in the night

Not many mock drafts had Ruggs being selected ahead of Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy, who ultimately went to the Broncos with the 15th pick, or Oklahoma star CeeDee Lamb, who wound up going No. 17 to the Cowboys.

Ruggs appreciated the vote of confidence.

“It means a lot that they go and use that pick on me for the first wide receiver and their first draft pick ever in Las Vegas,” Ruggs said. “That’s big with me. I’m excited and ready to go.”

But Ruggs wasn’t all that shocked it was the Raiders that selected him. He’s close friends with Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, a former Alabama teammate, and spoke with him leading up to the draft.

Ruggs hinted that Jacobs tipped him off that the two former Crimson Tide stars could be reunited on the professional level.

“He kept telling me to be ready and what he told me came true,” Ruggs said.

It was a bit more of a surprise in Las Vegas, where Jeudy and Lamb had long been favorites to go No. 12 to the Raiders at sports books with Ruggs a distant third choice. When no wide receiver went in the first 11 picks, it appeared more certain than ever that the Raiders would take Jeudy or Lamb.

But Las Vegas used less than half of its allotted 10 minutes on the clock before submitting the Ruggs selection. In addition to speed, Ruggs’ versatility stood out to Mayock.

“We think his addition opens up our entire offense,” Mayock said. “He can run the deep routes. He can also get the manufactured touches, the bubble sweeps, the jet sweeps. It forces the defense into all coverages, it opens up our run game. You respect our deep routes to open up Darren Waller. I just think it does a lot of things for us offensively.”  

Ruggs welcomes lining up both on the outside and in the slot, and hopes he’ll have the opportunity to do both with the Raiders. He’s not shy about his speed, especially considering he stated he wanted to set the fastest 40 time in history of the combine in February before ending up just short and tied for sixth all-time.

But he also wants to be known for more than that.

“I know once I get on the field, I can do anything,” Ruggs said. “I’m not afraid to show that. I’m not going to shy away from any challenge or any competition.”

With the coronavirus continuing to delay teams interacting with their players in person, it’s uncertain when Ruggs will be able to visit Las Vegas. Ruggs, however, is preparing for when the day comes and told fans in a Twitter Q&A session that he’s already purchased an upgrade from his robe.

He bought three suits and wanted suggestions on whether he should sport the all-black or black-and-silver ensemble in his Las Vegas introduction.  

“When it’s time to see me,” Ruggs said, “y’all will be seeing me in my suit.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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