The first pick made by the Las Vegas Raiders would have made late owner Al Davis proud.
The Raiders selected the fastest player available when they took Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs 12th overall Thursday night in the NFL draft and followed that up by taking Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette 19th.
”We feel like the Las Vegas Raiders got faster, we got tougher and we go more competitive tonight,” general manager Mike Mayock said.
The move to take Ruggs gives the Raiders the dynamic receiver they had hoped they had acquired a year ago when they traded for Antonio Brown, only to cut him before he ever played a game for the team.
Coach Jon Gruden and Mayock had their choice of receivers and went for the fastest one instead of players who were more prolific in college, like Ruggs’ teammate at Alabama, Jerry Jeudy, or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
”When we took the fastest wideout in the draft, (owner Mark) Davis said his father was looking down and smiling,” Mayock said.
Ruggs is the type of speedster that Al Davis would have coveted as evidenced by his 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He drafted the fastest player at the combine in his final three drafts in 2009-11, according to ESPN.
But Ruggs is a much more refined receiver than Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom Davis took seventh overall in 2009 because of his speed but who never developed into a top wideout in the NFL.
Ruggs dropped only one pass last season at Alabama and averaged more than 10 yards after catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. But he only caught four deep passes and had 86 catches for 1,481 yards the past two seasons on a team that featured several standout receivers, including Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
”It definitely kind of held me back,” Ruggs said. ”Those guys have to make their plays, too. We have to share the ball and share the love. Everyone has the goods to make the plays. With that group of guys, it only makes you better.”
The Raiders had one of the NFL’s least productive receiver groups last season after releasing Brown two days before the opener after a summer full of public turmoil.
The team’s wideouts ranked 30th in the league in receptions (145) and 29th in yards receiving (1,858) with fifth-round rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow catching the most passes with 49.
Tyrell Williams is also back after struggling most of last season with injured feet, along with free agent acquisition Nelson Agholor. There are no other proven receivers on the roster, leaving a major void at the No. 1 receiver spot.
”When you’re in the division we’re in and you look at Kansas City and you look at what they have on offense and what their explosion looks like, we needed to get faster,” Mayock said. ”We think that his addition opens up our entire offense.”
Picking a cornerback with the second first-round pick was expected but the player was a bit of a surprise as many analysts had Arnette going on the second day.
Arnette played four seasons at Ohio State, intercepting only five passes. But he excelled in coverage this past year, allowing completions on only 38% of his targets, according to SportsInfo Solutions.
”I consider myself one of the best players in the draft,” Arnette said. ”I feel like the best players go in the first round. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised.”
Mayock said he considered some offers to move down but didn’t want to risk losing Arnette.
”He can play inside, he can play outside, he can play left, he can play right. We feel like this is one of the most competitive football players in the entire draft,” Mayock said. ”We don’t feel at all like it was a reach.”
The Raiders spent much of free agency bolstering a defense that has been one of the NFL’s worst in recent years by adding linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski; safeties Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath; and defensive linemen Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins.
The Raiders didn’t address the cornerback spot as a deal with Eli Apple fell through after a failed physical, leading to the urgency to get Arnette in the draft.
The Raiders currently have eight cornerbacks on their roster, but only Nevin Lawson and Ken Crawley have started more than 10 games in the NFL and neither are proven options.
The Raiders are high on second-year player Trayvon Mullen, who showed some flashes in starting the final 10 games last season after being drafted in the second round. Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon played only sparingly as rookies but also could contribute this year.
Arnette will team with Mullen to try to end the revolving door at the position over the past decade. The Raiders have started 33 cornerbacks over the past nine seasons with only T.J. Carrie (37 starts) and David Amerson (30) starting more than 25 games in that span.
The Raiders have three third-round picks Friday.
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