DeVonta Smith caught the game winner and Jerry Jeudy looks like an NFL receiver, but Henry Ruggs III may emerge as the go-to target for Alabama this season – with a potential disclaimer.
This could largely depend upon who is playing quarterback for the Crimson Tide.
Tua Tagovailoa will forever be remembered for connecting with Smith to give Alabama an epic 26-23 overtime win over Georgia on the final play of the College Football Playoff title game, but he found Ruggs III for three straight completions capped by a 6-yard touchdown to start the comeback.
As a true freshman, Ruggs III led the Tide in touchdown catches last season with six, one more than Calvin Ridley caught, but had 51 fewer receptions (63 to 12) than the 2018 NFL first-round pick.
Tagovailoa and Ruggs III connected four times for scores with three coming during garbage time. With neither being starters, they developed chemistry in practice and that came shining through in Atlanta.
Jalen Hurts showed he can get the ball to Ruggs III, too, but Tagovailoa dialed him up when it really mattered.
Ruggs III has the speed and footwork to create separation off the line of scrimmage. He can work the slot as well go down field. The Montgomery, Ala., native is stronger and has had a spring practice to improve. With Tagovailoa missing most of spring with an injury to his throwing hand and Jeudy being out with a knee injury, Ruggs III saw more action in spring with Hurts at quarterback.
Those two should be on a better page.
Whoever takes the snaps, he’ll have an explosive target in Ruggs III capable of changing the game on any play. Ruggs III could make an impact in the return game, but the sophomore has a chance to be a special receiver – and that begins with earning Nick Saban’s trust.
At Alabama, that means block downfield in the running game. From there, Ruggs III needs to excel in yards after the catch because that fits his skill set of speed, quick feet and explosiveness.
He’ll work mostly inside with Jeudy and Smith on the outside, but Ruggs III will have to show some toughness working the middle of the field. With his speed, he can stretch the field, but Ruggs III can also flourish on those 3rd-and-5 and 3rd-and-6 situations by finding the hole on the zone or beating his man.
Alabama will figure out its quarterback situation in the fall, but should be comfortable with the receiver targets starting with Ruggs III.
(Duane Rankin is an award-winning columnist/videographer for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser whose work also can be found in USA TODAY. You can follow him on Twitter @DuaneRankin)
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.