Safe Pick: Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III hopes to buck trend of sub-4.30 wide receivers

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Henry Ruggs III

Alabama junior Henry Ruggs III doesn’t have to do much to become the king of the sub-4.30 wide receivers.

Nine wide receivers have run a 4.30 second 40-yard dash at the Combine since 1999, and none of them have gone on to NFL greatness. One went to a Pro Bowl as a rookie – as a kick returner – but was then out of the league after his third season. The two first-rounders, meanwhile, would be considered draft busts by most standards.

A look back at the 10 fastest times by a receiver, and how they fared in the NFL:

  • John Ross (5-11, 190), Washington, 4.22 second 40-yard dash, No. 9 pick in 2017: Missed most of his rookie season due to various injuries … best season was in 2019, when he caught 28 passes for 506 games while starting in all eight games he appeared in … has only played 24 out of a possible 48 games due to injury or ineffectiveness.
  • Rondel Menendez (5-9, 192), Eastern Kentucky, 4.24, No. 247 pick by Atlanta in 1999: Suffered an injury in preseason, later released, never appeared in an NFL game.
  • Jerome Mathis (5-11, 184), Hampton, 4.26, No. 114 pick in 2005 by Houston: Went to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner his rookie year after appearing in 12 games … fractured his foot in 2006 and would only play five more games the rest of his career after that.
  • Henry Ruggs III (5-11, 188), Alabama, 4.27; TBD
  • Marquise Goodwin (5-10, 181), Texas, 4.27, no. 78 pick in 2013 by Buffalo: Played in 10 games his rookie year … played in only 12 out of the next 32 games after that due to various injuries … productive when healthy, he’s only had two relatively healthy seasons.
  • Jacoby Ford (5-9, 190), Clemson, 4.28, No. 108 pick in 2010 by Oakland: Played in all 16 games his rookie year, his best season … out of the league after the 2013 season as his playing time continued to diminish.
  • J.J. Nelson (5-10, 156), UAB, 4.28, No. 159 pick in 2015 by Arizona: Was relatively healthy for Arizona, appearing in 56 out of a possible 64 games … released last season with the Raiders due to various injuries after appearing in only two games.
  • Yamon Figurs (5-11, 174), Kansas State, 4.30, No. 74 in 2007 by Baltimore: Stayed relatively healthy but bounced around the league after he was cut by Baltimore following the 2008 season … 5 career receptions, was mostly a punt and kick returner.
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey (6-2, 210), Maryland, 4.30, No. 7 in 2008 by Raiders: Other than a 2016 foot injury that sidelined him for six games, Heyward-Bey remained relatively healthy, but he never quite lived up to his billing as  the No. 7 overall pick … had stops in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh from 2013 to 2018 … didn’t play last season.


While it’s a small sample size, there are a few important items to take note of, including:

  • Including Ruggs, all but one player – Heyward-Bey – was 5-foot-11 or shorter, and all by Heyward-Bey weighed over 200 pounds.’
  • Excluding Ruggs, all but three missed significant time at some point due to injuries. (Ruggs, by the way, tweaked his hamstring during his second 40-yard dash run at the Combine.)

That’s not to say that Ruggs won’t go on to burn NFL defenses for the next decade. The hope by whoever drafts him is that he turns into another Tyreek Hill of Kansas City, another small-but-blazing-fast wide receiver.

And, to be fair, Ruggs is a higher-ranked prospect than either Ross or Heyward-Bey were at the time they were drafted. Ross came with questions about his health and play strength, while Heyward-Bey was somewhat of a surprise pick at No. 7, as receivers Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin were generally seen by analysts as the top two receivers in that draft.

Plus, Ruggs has put up solid numbers in his three years at Alabama, missing just two games while fighting for playing time with future NFL receivers.

From’s Lance Zierlein:

“Ruggs’ speed alone helps both the running and passing games because it forces safeties into more passive positioning. He can work all three levels and his ability to turn slants and crossing routes into big gainers could make him the favorite gift under the tree for a quarterback and offense in need of an explosive weapon. He has quick, sure hands to handle off-target throws, but learning to release, separate and catch against physical NFL cornerbacks could require an adjustment period. He won’t rack up the targets, but has explosive speed and talent to imprint on games with regularity.”

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2017 Alabama SEC FR WR 14 12 229 19.1 6 0 0 0 12 229 19.1 6
*2018 Alabama SEC SO WR 14 46 741 16.1 11 0 0 0 46 741 16.1 11
*2019 Alabama SEC JR WR 12 40 746 18.7 7 2 75 37.5 1 42 821 19.5 8
Career Alabama 98 1716 17.5 24 2 75 37.5 1 100 1791 17.9 25

Ruggs isn’t a ‘safe’ pick, but…

It’s hard to call Ruggs a “safe’ pick given the injury history over the years to players with comparable speed. And the fact he’s never had a 1,000 yard season despite playing with good-to-great quarterbacks is a bit alarming.

But, as the saying goes, “speed kills,” and Ruggs is an elite athlete who played at a high level for three years for one of the top teams in the country. If he can stay healthy, analysts say Ruggs could be one of the most explosive players in the draft – all reasons to take a gamble on him in the first round.


Jake Rigdon ( covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.

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