Raiders owner Mark Davis on Henry Ruggs III: 'the only person I wanted in this draft'

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Mark Davis admits he was "fixated" on the combination of speed and power Henry Ruggs III brought to the NFL draft last spring.

A blazing 40 time? Oh, indeed. Explosive power to stop, start and re-start? Check. A throwback to a more vintage Raiders player? Stay tuned.

"He was," the Las Vegas Raiders' owner said of Ruggs, "the only person I wanted in this draft."

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden concurred and Ruggs was selected No. 12 overall.

A month later, though, Ruggs had what he called a "mishap." And reports of Ruggs suffering a thigh injury in May -- when his leg was caught between a trailer and a truck while helping a friend move -- certainly caused consternation in the front office.

But some two months later, the speedster who blazed to a 4.27-second 40 at the combine says all is well as he begins his first professional training camp.

Even if said "mishap" scared him.

"Of course, at first you think of the worst," Ruggs said. "But after I went and saw the doctors and things like that, they told me what was going on. They gave me the breakdown and told me, pretty much, that I'll be back to 100 percent in no time. And actually, kind of being a hard head, I tried to do more than the doctors said I could do or what I should do, and that only helped speed up the process."

Speed. There's that word again.

"I feel totally like myself, if not better [now]," he added. "I'm doing everything to the best of my ability. Haven't felt any pain. Haven't felt any discomfort in anything, so I feel like I'm back and ready to go."

The Raiders made Ruggs the somewhat surprising first receiver taken in a historically deep draft at that position.

Sure, he was fast, the fastest player in the draft. And yes, the Raiders, who have been seemingly searching for the next Cliff Branch since he retired following the 1985 season, needed some speed to establish a vertical threat, their efforts most recently torpedoed by Antonio Brown's hijinks last summer.

But Ruggs, who had 40 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns last fall, was widely rated as the No. 3 receiver in draft rankings, behind Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy (who went No. 15 to the Denver Broncos) and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb (No. 17, Dallas Cowboys).

The Raiders hope they found another Crimson Tide diamond in the rough, a year after using a first-round pick to make Josh Jacobs the first running back drafted ... despite Jacobs not being the lead back for his Alabama team.

"A lot, for me, is to be seen," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "We drafted Josh Jacobs out of Alabama; he wasn't their feature back. We drafted Ruggs; he wasn't their feature receiver. We have to prove that we made the right pick, and to do it today is not really responsible on my behalf.

"We like Ruggs ... we didn't take him in the first round to block. That wasn't going to be his primary role, but it is an ingredient that he has. His toughness, his every-down competitiveness, that has a chance to make him a great player in this league."

Jacobs turned in an all-rookie season with 1,150 rushing yards and seven TDs, despite missing three of the last four games with a shoulder fracture he suffered in Week 7.

"That was my boy from the time I got [to Alabama]," Ruggs said of Jacobs. "He just kept it real with me always, told me what I needed to do and the mindset to have. Even when he got here, we had contact and ... he pretty much just said, 'Come in with the same mindset.'

"Keep your head down and just work."

Ruggs is not expected to take over the offense so much as add a certain playmaking element. Besides, the Raiders have had only one receiver in franchise history with a 1,000-yard receiving rookie season -- Amari Cooper, with 1,070 yards in 2015 (James Jett went for 771 yards in 1993).

Consider: three of his six catches on go-routes last fall went for a touchdown, while three of his four receptions on slants went for scores as he averaged 31.8 yards after catch per reception on those plays.

It all has Davis nodding in approval and being asked about his late best friend Branch, who passed away suddenly on Aug. 3, 2019.

"You don't just come in and be Cliff Branch," Davis said. "You've got to earn that tag. But he does have that ability to change the game.

"Watching Henry, I see the speed, the power. And his basketball [YouTube] videos. He's just a powerful guy. He has a power that you just don't see in guys that fast."

Ruggs' leg "mishap" forced him to miss most of quarterback Derek Carr's players-only workouts in Las Vegas this summer, so they have made fast friends after being cleared to enter the team facility for camp.

This after using his offseason to stay in shape.

"Constant running," said the 6-foot, 190-pound Ruggs. "One thing I worked on was my strength. I'm one of the smaller guys, so constant weightlifting. Just running and trying to stay in shape. Then, like I said, I had a mishap, so just rehabbing and doing anything to get my leg back to 100 percent."

And now, flipping the switch from personal workouts to installing the offense with teammates?

"I'm going over the plays, walk through them on the field, running routes, lifting weights, getting some conditioning in," Ruggs said. "Everything that I need to do to stay in shape, stay ahead of the game and make sure I'm ready when my number is up.

"Like I said, I'm back feeling 100 percent. I feel like I'm behind in no way."