In the 2019 season, Alabama had arguably the best receiving corps in college football. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s quarterback had multiple options to throw to, including first-round draft picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. While Ruggs was an unbelievable deep threat, Jeudy was clearly Tua’s “go-to” receiver.
In fact, over the 2018 and 2019 seasons (Jeudy and Ruggs’ sophomore and junior years), Jeudy compiled 145 receptions and 24 touchdowns compared to Ruggs’ 86 receptions and 18 touchdowns. By the end of the 2019 college football season, it had become clear to most fans that Jeudy was Bama’s wide receiver 1. While Ruggs was certainly NFL worthy, Jeudy was the better overall receiver.
Taking all of this into account, fans were left with this question after the 2020 NFL draft:
Why was Ruggs selected before Jeudy?
Well, one thing I did not take into account while initially comparing the wideouts was speed. Ruggs ran a 40 yard dash time of 4.27 seconds compared to Jeudy’s 4.46 seconds. Ruggs was also clearly a better deep threat. Although Jeudy was the better route runner, Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock stated that he simply could not pass up on Ruggs’ speed.
He said “There was that group of the top 3 wideouts that everyone wanted to talk about (Ceedee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs). We loved all 3 of them…At the end of the day, I think the pure speed of Henry Ruggs is kind of what changed things for us”. In the past route, running has been more important speed when looking for a wide receiver prospect, but Mike Mayock proved that recently GMs have valued speed more and more.
Over the past few years, former Chiefs GM John Dorsey gained a reputation for hitting on his draft picks. Not only has he drafted stars Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce, but he also formed one of the top receiving corps in the league. In 2016, he drafted wideout Tyreek Hill in the fifth round.
Acknowledging his previous criminal offenses and his habit of consistently getting into trouble, Tyreek Hill was considered a risky pick. One aspect of Tyreek Hill’s game, however, led the Chiefs’ front office to disregard Hill’s past. Hill’s ridiculous speed. Tyreek Hill ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash during his college pro day, only 0.04 seconds off the world record. Hill has continued to be a huge success in the NFL, considered by most a top 5 receiver.
In 2019, Brett Veach (now GM of the Chiefs) continued Dorsey’s strategy by drafting Mecole Hardman in the second round over slower receivers such as D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, and Dionte Johnson. Mecole Hardman ran a 40-yard dash of 4.33 seconds and fit perfectly into the Chiefs receiving corps. On top of being a phenomenal kick returner, he accumulated 26 catches and 6 touchdowns as Mahomes 4th option. Though it was not a crazy season, Hardman flashed his potential of becoming a top wideout in the NFL
With the speed of Hill and Hardman along with the route running of TE Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ offense was almost impossible to stop. Not only did the Chiefs win the Super Bowl in the 2019-2020 season, but their offense also scored an average of 29.9 points a game, second in the NFL to the Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs’ success may draw other GM’s to inherit their strategies.
Though they are still young, it is clear to NFL fans that speedy receivers such as Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Marquise Brown, John Ross, and Henry Ruggs are set to take over the NFL in the future. There is no doubt to NFL GMs that pure speed has a much higher reward than route running. It may not be as popular now, but teams in the future may regret not drafting a speedy receiver. It has become crystal clear that some NFL GMs value speed over route running while drafting a wideout, which is revolutionizing the position.
Photo: USA Today Sports