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Broncos need playmaker: Henry Ruggs III checks all boxes

Adding a speedy receiver remains priority
Posted: 10:55 AM, Feb 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-26 13:12:20-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- It remains impossible to ignore. If you want one reason why Pat Shurmur is the Broncos' fifth offensive coordinator in five years -- though I am looking forward to the "30-for-30" on Rich Scangarello after a Philadelphia reporter's questions to coach Vic Fangio on Tuesday -- look down the field.

The Broncos posted five touchdown passes of 20-plus yards last year. The Chiefs delivered 19. The Broncos ranked 27th. The Chiefs ranked first. And therein lies one of the biggest differences between the Broncos, who haven't reached the playoffs in four years, and the Chiefs, who have beaten Denver nine straight times and are the reigning world champs.

Tuesday, Fangio admitted he needs a more aggressive offense. The Broncos are committed to quarterback Drew Lock. If they want him to blossom in his sophomore season, he needs more weapons around him. A dynamic receiver to pair with Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton is a must. Yes, it could be a proven veteran like Amari Cooper, who could become available. Or a prospect in a draft that has roughly 25 receivers with first-to-third round grades.

I talked to three strong draft candidates on Tuesday: Alabama's Henry Ruggs III, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Colorado' s Laviska Shenault. All would make the Broncos better. One player stuck out: Ruggs.

When Lock looks over the line of scrimmage, he needs to see the coverage and know, "I have an app for that." The Broncos require a burner, who is also a strong route runner. Ruggs meets the requirements. Let's start with his speed. He isn't fast. He is a blink. He hopes to set the NFL combine record in the 40-yard dash, with eyes on eclipsing John Ross' 4.22 mark. Ruggs, who has spoken with the Broncos, ran a 4.25 last spring. He once clocked in at 24.3 miles per hour in a game, per Crimson Tide analytics.

"I'm trying to hit the lowest (40) ever," Ruggs said. "I feel like speed is something I bring to the table that I can do better than the other guys."

Growing up, Ruggs gained confidence by racing his mother, a track star. He embraces the comparisons to the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill, who is a different body type, but features breathtaking speed. No one has more big plays since entering the league than Hill. Star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has called him one of the toughest players to defend. He forces defenses to make tough choices, to lose their elasticity.

Ruggs is not just a straight line blur. He stands 5-foot-11, weighs 188 pounds. He can turn slants into touchdowns, as evidenced by his team-best 18.7 yards per reception last season. He must improve in creating separation off the line. However, there were many mouths to feed at Alabama, leaving me to believe he has a vaulted ceiling.

"We had a lot of guys, a great group as as team that always made each other better. You had to take advantage of every opportunity because you could have a day with two catches and have a day with 11 catches," said Ruggs, who also returned 12 kickoffs for 286 yards in his final college season. "I feel like my best football is yet to come because I have a lot to learn to get better."

Most mocks project Ruggs to be the third or fourth receiver taken after teammate Jerry Jeudy and Lamb, creating an opportunity for the Broncos to take him at the 15th spot. They might not, deciding to wait for someone like TCU's Jalen Reagor or Ohio State's K.J. Hill in the second or third round.

Ruggs remains tempting. Lamb is legit -- all he does is make big plays. Shenault is good friends with Von Miller and Phillip Lindsay and would welcome joining the Broncos. He is more like Deebo Samuel than Hill. And as much as he drops jaws with his ability to break tackles, injuries are a concern until they are not. He admitted Tuesday that he's still not 100 percent healthy because of a core muscle issue that compromised him last season at CU.

Ruggs brings no health concerns. Denver taking him would require a change in thinking. Broncos general manager John Elway has never selected a receiver in the first round -- Sutton was a gem when he fell to the second -- or an Alabama player in any round. Ruggs has the skills and fit to change that.

"I am willing to bet if you went and polled the 32 defensive coordinators in the NFL, gave them the video of the top three receivers (Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs), and said which of these guys do you not want in your division, I would be willing to bet a lot of money that Henry Ruggs would get the most votes,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah explained during a conference call last week. “That's the guy you do not want to face. That's why I believe it's not over (regarding) who will be the first receiver (taken) – it's not a two-man race, it's a three-man race.”