'I'm my own worst critic': Las Vegas Raiders' Henry Ruggs III ready for fresh start

After being used as a type of decoy for much of last season, the Raiders hope to unleash Henry Ruggs III fully in 2021. John Locher/AP

"He was the only person I wanted in this draft." -- Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, on receiver Henry Ruggs III, to ESPN.com in 2020.

HENDERSON, Nev. -- This, Henry Ruggs III inferred, feels different. It feels, well, right.

A year after being the surprising first receiver drafted in what was seen as an historically-deep draft for the position (and putting up pedestrian numbers), Ruggs, like every other rookie in 2020, is finally experiencing a true, in-person offseason workout program.

"So, we're building chemistry and we're working around each other," Ruggs said. "We know what guys like and what guys want to do and things like that. So I'll say that's the biggest thing -- chemistry, just learning the ins and outs of the offense and just learning the guys and knowing who to put in what situation.

"Now that I'm here and a part of it, I definitely feel like it's a necessity. Just being around the guys, building chemistry and just being around the coaches and just getting that hands-on work just makes things that much easier and makes it make sense."

Not only did Ruggs -- who was seen as some sort of Cliff Branch-James Jett hybrid -- have no hands-on work with Raiders coaches after being the No. 12 overall draft pick, he was dealing with a thigh injury after cutting it in a moving mishap.

His 26 catches for 452 yards ranked 14th and 11th, respectively, among rookie wideouts who caught at least 25 passes, per ESPN Stats & Information, though his 17.4 yards per catch average led the first-year receivers.

"I mean, of course you want more," Ruggs said. "I think everybody wants more than what they had last season, but I look at it as being a team player, fulfilling my role and doing what I'm asked to do.

"Last year, last year is in the past. I guess it was probably frustrating at times, but like I said, that's in the past and we build on it. It's a fresh start now and we're going to work to make it better."

Then there's this ...

"Y'all didn't get to see all the things that he did for everyone else, opening up the field for everyone else," slot receiver Hunter Renfrow said. "What he's doing, you can't put a stat on. And what he did last year, you can't put a stat on."

Ruggs, a first-round pick, mere decoy?

Depends upon your perspective.

Because as Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock said, the "sky is the limit for this kid" going forward.

"We knew exactly what he was and that's who he is," Mayock said earlier this spring. "We had no surprises last year on Ruggs. Now, he needs to take it to Level 2 now, the next level up -- stronger, better route runner, finish, get both feet down. All those things. And we think he will."

Besides, coach Jon Gruden's passing offense tends to favor the intermediate routes and the Raiders have one of the most dynamic tight ends in the game in Pro Bowler Darren Waller, who set a franchise record with 107 catches last season.

"With Henry, it's tough when you're in this game and you have so many expectations of him from outside people and the media," Waller said. "Anybody that's watching football, they have high expectations for him, just from where he got drafted.

"If he can just get to a place where he ... just goes out there to prove to himself that he is the player he is now and the player that he's going to become, I feel like that will take a lot of weight off of his shoulders and allow him to just go out there and have fun. I used to worry about a whole lot of things, but if you make the game as simple as possible and just focus on your craft and having fun with your teammates, you can do a lot of great things."

Plus, the Raiders added a pair of veteran speedsters to the receiver room in John Brown and Willie Snead IV to join Ruggs, Renfrow, Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones.

But keep in mind, most eyes will be on Ruggs, who looks bulkier without sacrificing any of his 4.27-seconds-in-the-40 speed.

And Ruggs is more than fine with being under that microscope. Or did you miss the team owner saying he was the "only" player he wanted in the 2020 draft?

"Honestly, I don't think anybody's expectations for me are higher than myself," Ruggs said. "If I'm frustrated with anything, it's because I didn't do what I feel like I can do, or I am able to achieve. It's not critics or what other coaches or what the fans around the league may say about me; that doesn't really do too much for me because I know what I can do, and I am my biggest critic. So, no one else can make me feel bad about that.

"I mean, I can always develop in all areas -- adding strength, adding versatility, moving around in different positions, running different routes, expanding my route tree, doing different things, finding different ways to try and help the team out. That's pretty much me. I'm open to all of it and I'm excited going forward to learn and do new things for the team."

Especially with the benefit of an in-person offseason program.