Why Henry Ruggs III is the Vikings' Answer to Replacing Stefon Diggs

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As the Minnesota Vikings entered the offseason, they expected to have plenty of holes on the roster. While most of those were expected with the release of Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph, there were others that were surprising including the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills.

By getting rid of Diggs, the Vikings threw out nearly one-third of Kirk Cousins‘ production last season — 31 percent of his yardage, to be exact — and sent their goal of offensive continuity out the window. With Thielen almost certain to draw double teams, the Vikings have to find a player as dynamic as Diggs to keep their passing game afloat.

The one player who can do that is Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.

In this historic draft class, Ruggs qualifies in the top tier of wide receivers including fellow Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, but those two figure to be off the board and out of reach in terms of a trade up from No. 22. With Ruggs, the Vikings have a target who can be just as dynamic, but also fits what they are looking for.

One of the theories of why Diggs was so upset with the offense was that his usage didn’t portray him as a complete receiver. A look at his 2019 route tree from Next Gen Stats shows that Diggs was rarely used across the middle of the field, but ran plenty of routes deep to help stretch the defense and keep safeties out of the box.

While Diggs wasn’t as fond as being used as a DeSean Jackson-type of receiver, the results produced a career year with 1,130 yards despite logging 55 fewer targets than he had in 2018. With the Vikings unwilling to adapt and run Diggs more underneath, his flight to Buffalo was booked a couple of months after the 2019 season concluded.

This brings us to how Ruggs can help fill that void.

During his time at Alabama, Ruggs was almost the forgotten receiver along with Jeudy and potential 2021 first-round picks Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Because of that, Ruggs never registered over 750 yards in a season, but his efficiency was off the charts with 24 touchdowns on 98 career receptions and a 151.4 passer rating when targeted per Pro Football Focus.

But his efficiency is also matched with several intangibles. Ruggs has game-breaking speed that put up a 4.27-second time in the 40-yard dash and combines that with reliable hands with just one drop during his career at Alabama. His route running isn’t on the same level as Diggs was, but there aren’t many receivers who can say that and Ruggs still gets off his releases well enough to be a viable target for Cousins.

Then there’s what he does outside of his statistics. Ruggs would be an instant favorite of the Vikings’ coaching staff because he does what’s needed to help his team win. One example is where Matt Waldman broke down a 2018 touchdown by Jeudy that was sprung by Ruggs sprinting downfield and making a block to turn him loose.

Plays like this make Ruggs a player Zimmer and his staff would welcome with open arms after the off-the-field circus that transpired around Diggs’ departure.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be challenges here. The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid points out that Ruggs benefitted from working with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who moved Ruggs around the offense to get him the best matchup. Considering this was something the Vikings didn’t do for Diggs, it’s a fair question whether the ground-and-pound, zone-read offense of Gary Kubiak would bend for a player like Ruggs.

The Vikings would also have to figure out where and how much to give in a trade up. If they wanted to trade up from the 22nd overall pick to Tampa Bays selection at 14th overall, DraftTek’s trade value chart suggests it would require also giving up their second-round pick (No. 58), which might be a steep price for a team with several holes elsewhere.

But he’s an explosive offensive weapon that a team that arguably has just one (Dalvin Cook) remaining in the wake of the Diggs trade. With a team-first burner with great hands across from Thielen, the Vikings should become even more efficient in the passing game and achieve their goal of having Cousins take another step despite ditching one of his top targets.

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