Will Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette breakout in 2021?
If Mike Mayock was known for one thing prior to being hired as general manager of the Raiders, it would have been his proficiency in draft preparation and prospect evaluation. Therefore, it is understandable that Mayock’s having to answer for an underwhelming season by Las Vegas’s 2020 rookie class.
If nothing else, talking about the 2020 class will temporarily distract people away from talking about the 2019 class.
Mayock’s second rookie class featured Henry Ruggs as the first wide receiver selected and Damon Arnette coming off the board at 19th overall. Ruggs finished 11th in receiving yards among rookies. Arnette, the fourth cornerback selected, only had six games all year in which he played in more than 25% of the team’s defensive snaps. Mayock told the media this week that he was “disappointed in the productivity” of LV’s rookie class and that Ruggs and Arnette need to “get better” and “take care of business” in 2021.
“I was disappointed in the productivity of our rookies, I’ll be the first person to admit that,” the Raiders general manager said, via the team’s official website. “You can make excuses, you can have a conversation why. Henry Ruggs, I think is who he is, I’m not disappointed in Henry; I think Henry has to get better. We knew how fast he is, but he has to get stronger, and he has to get in and out of his breaks better. You got to feel him coming out his breaks more for him to get to the next level, and I think he will, but we have a long-term view on Henry Ruggs.
“(Damon) Arnette was the other first-rounder. In training camp prior to injury, he was playing really well. We were really excited about Damon Arnette. He’s instinctive, tough and fast, but concussions, a broken hand, COVID – he’s got to take care of business in the offseason. Nutrition, strength coach, consistency of a day-to-day program.”
Though Ruggs’ rookie season underwhelms in comparison to some of his rookie counterparts, I find it difficult to watch Tyreek Hill make another Super Bowl without also sympathizing with Mayock’s decision to draft Ruggs ahead of every other receiver. Hill’s rookie season was marginally better than Ruggs’, but not dramatically so; Hill had 61 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 37.1 receiving yards per game.
Ruggs averaged 34.8 receiving yards per game and his yards per catch and yards per target numbers were significantly higher than Hill’s in 2016. Hill was also a year older than Ruggs during their rookie campaigns and it’s far too early to worry about the former Alabama standout.
Similarly, now would not be a time to worry about Arnette. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley worked with Richard Sherman, Jalen Ramsey, and Casey Hayward early in their careers, often getting their best out of them.
What about the rest of the class?
If the Raiders can find one key starter out of this group — Bryan Edwards, Tanner Muse, John Simpson, Amik Robertson — that alone will be enough of a coup to consider it a “successful” haul from rounds three and four. Las Vegas immediately cut ties with third rounder Lynn Bowden, but at least Mayock was able to move a 2021 sixth for a 2021 fourth in the process.
But as alluded to earlier, the bigger challenge for Mayock may come in justifying some of his and Jon Gruden’s 2019 draft decisions. Maybe none of those loom larger than budding star linebacker Devin White, who went one pick behind Clelin Ferrell and who also serves as a nice sleeper pick for Super Bowl MVP next Sunday.
Furthermore, it’s hard to ignore the 2019 wide receiver class — AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson among them — and to not think about the number of times that the Raiders bypassed those names and then still had to draft three “receivers” in the top-90 one year later.
Mayock’s focus won’t be on the players he doesn’t have, however. Only the ones that he does and the ones that he will soon be drafting in a few months. There’s plenty of hope left in the tank, but Mayock knows that hope doesn’t win games. Positive results do. The Raiders need more positive results from their draft picks moving forward or “draft proficiency” won’t be what Mayock is known for anymore.