Henry Ruggs III growing as Raiders' deep threat, with Nelson Agholor's help

Henry Ruggs III has provided some excitement but doesn't have the eye-popping stats of other rookie receivers in the 2020 class. Brynn Anderson/AP

HENDERSON, Nev. -- "I don't know how many times I've said this -- I'm not really a personal stat guy. I don't care. I mean, when my opportunities come, I make my plays. But in a game like this, there's not much to celebrate about. We're not clicking on all cylinders. A personal play, to celebrate? That would be selfish. And I'm not that type of guy." -- Las Vegas Raiders rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III, after Las Vegas' 43-6 loss at Atlanta on Sunday.

Indeed, a quick glance at the stat sheet following the Raiders' abomination at the Atlanta Falcons would show a highlight, or three, next to Ruggs' name. But Ruggs’ long-awaited play did nothing to stem the Falcons' tide in said abomination.

Consider: the five targets that came Ruggs' way tied a season high, matching the five he had in the season opener. Same with his three catches, which he had in the opener at the Carolina Panthers and against the Denver Broncos in Week 10. His 56 receiving yards were the second-most Ruggs has had in a game, behind the 118 yards he had (on two catches) at Kansas City on Oct. 11.

Thing is, many want more. Much more. Enough to validate Ruggs being the (surprising) first receiver drafted, at No. 12 overall, in what promised to be an historically-deep draft for receivers.

Sure, Ruggs was the fastest player taken -- his 4.27-second 40 time at the combine blew many away -- and he was a throwback, not a throwaway, pick for Las Vegas. Even Raiders owner Mark Davis said his late father Al Davis, who fancied speed and the vertical game almost as much as he did being a maverick, was smiling.

But his 17 catches rank just tied for 14th among rookie receivers (CeeDee Lamb leads with 53), his 31 targets are 14th (Lamb leads with 81), his 312 receiving yards are 11th (Justin Jefferson has 918), his one touchdown catch is tied for 11th (Chase Claypool has 8) and Ruggs’ 2.87 average separation on target, per NFL Next Gen Stats, is just 24th (Isaiah Wright averages 4.76).

A Silver (and Black) lining? Ruggs' 18.4 yards per catch average is tops among rookies, and when he was drafted, many longtime Raiders fans saw him as a hybrid of the late Cliff Branch and James Jett.

It's just ... where is the production befitting the first receiver drafted in a deep receiver draft?

Yeah, the speedy Ruggs' mere presence opens up opportunities underneath for others. But that's an expensive decoy, no? No wonder Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden bristled recently when asked if there was a way to "quantify" what Ruggs brings to the field.

"I don't know how to quantify it," Gruden said. "You'd have to ask the other teams' coaches. We're not being defended like we've been defended in the past. Stats are important to some people, winning is more important to others. We're more interested in winning. I'm not sure how many passes Cliff Branch caught when he was a rookie, but that'd be a good story for you guys to look into."

For the record, Branch, Hall of Famer in waiting, had three catches for 41 yards as a rookie in 1972.

For the further record, Branch was a fourth-round pick, No. 98 overall, a project as a converted track star out of Colorado.

And for the furthest record, Branch became a bonafide star in his third season, starting a run of four straight Pro Bowl seasons, with three All-Pro nods.

"The threat of Ruggs III is prevalent when he's on the grass," Gruden added. "We're going to get him the ball more, but right now we're more interested in trying to find ways to win than trying to fuel somebody's stats. We're really pleased with Ruggs III and excited about him being here."

With that bar set, Ruggs is essentially playing with house money. And the way he sees it, he wants to improve on, well, everything.

But particularly getting both feet in bounds on sideline catches.

"I'm not in college anymore,” he said, emphasizing being more fluid and consistent. "I'm not used to operating out of the huddle. Just hearing the playcalls, verbally, and not really using the signals all of the time."

Remember, the Raiders' wide receiver corps was not supposed to look like this. Last year, Antonio Brown imploded and essentially took the Raiders with him.

Tyrell Williams was lost for this season with a shoulder injury in training camp and Ruggs' learning curve was steepened. Enter sixth-year vet Nelson Agholor.

Essentially picked up off a Philadelphia curb, Agholor has been a bright spot for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ... even if Agholor's much-discussed case of the dropsies rears its head on occasion.

Because while Agholor's five drops are tied for the third-most in the NFL (behind DJ Moore's eight and Evan Engram's six), and his drop percentage of 11.4% is the fourth-highest in the league (Mecole Hardman is at 12.8%, Ronald Jones II 12.2% and Kareem Hunt 11.8%), six of Agholor's 29 catches have been for touchdowns.

Plus, Agholor's 17.1 yards per catch average ranks fifth in the NFL among qualified receivers, behind Marquez Valdes-Scantling (20.7), Moore (18.5), DK Metcalf (17.9) and Jefferson (17.65).

And Agholor is doing it in traffic.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Agholor is given just 5.2 average yards of cushion per route, eighth-fewest among 70 wide receivers with at least 40 targets. Only Mike Evans (5.0), John Brown (5.0), Odell Beckham Jr. (5.0), Terry McLaurin (5.1), Davante Adams (5.1), Metcalf (5.2) and Moore (5.2) have seen less.

Still, Agholor travels an average of 26.7 yards per route run (Brown averages 26.9 yards).

His most important role, though, might be mentoring Ruggs.

"He's been a big brother ever since I got here," said Ruggs, who missed Weeks 3 and 4 with knee and hamstring injuries. "He's always telling me the ins and the outs of, not only just the team but the league and being a receiver in the league and what to expect, what not to expect. Just how to go about things every day."

Ruggs is averaging 7.0 yards after the catch per reception, third-best among qualified rookies (Devin Duvernay averages 7.47 while Michael Pittman Jr. averages 7.23) and 35% of Ruggs' catches have gained at least 20 yards, second only to teammate Bryan Edwards' 37.5% among rookies.

The trick, then, is to not only rebound from a horrible loss at Atlanta, but to keep the winless New York Jets winless this weekend (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS).

“Frustrating. It was bad," Ruggs said after the loss to the Falcons. "It was bad on our part. Too many turnovers. Shot ourself in the foot too many times. We didn’t come away with any touchdowns as many times as we were in the red zone. So, it's, it's, it's bad."

With a chance to make it better going forward.