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Scouting Jets rookie tight end Jeremy Ruckert

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game - Ohio State v Utah Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the next few months, we’ll be breaking down every Jets rookie, including the undrafted free agents. Today we break down Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert, selected by the Jets with the 101st overall pick, in detail.

The 21-year old Ruckert is listed at 6’5” and 250 pounds and was a two-time honorable mention in the Big Ten Conference. Despite being primarily a blocker for much of his four-year career, Ruckert caught 54 passes for 615 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Background

Ruckert, who grew up a Jets fan, was a four-star recruit out of high school and was regarded as a top tight end prospect despite having mostly played as a wide receiver. He headed to Ohio State and saw rotational action in his true freshman season, albeit almost exclusively in a blocking role. He was thrown to just once, catching a pass over the middle for 13 yards.

Over the next two seasons, his playing time increased and although he only caught 27 passes, nine of these went for a touchdown. This included some big postseason plays.

Having been a Big Ten honorable mention in his junior year after catching five touchdown passes, he was an honorable mention again as a senior. His role in the passing game increased and he caught 26 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns.

Ruckert played in the Senior Bowl, but was limited at the combine and in his pro day workouts. The Jets eventually selected him near the end of the third round.

Now let’s take a look at what Ruckert brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Ruckert was unable to work out at the combine or his pro day but is regarded as a solid athlete with explosive traits. He just did the bench press at the combine and then again at his pro day, where he improved his total by three reps to 22.

In high school, Ruckert was clocked at 4.76 in the 40-yard dash and claimed to have run sub-4.7 in 2019. He also posted an impressive 35-inch vertical.

Usage

While Ruckert has primarily played as an inline tight end, his role increased in 2021 and he played almost 200 snaps in the slot. Prior to that he had just seven catches from the slot in his first three years, albeit that two of them were touchdowns.

He’s also been employed as a move tight end and lined up in the backfield or out wide at times.

In high school, he barely played any tight end at all. Instead he was a wide receiver and linebacker.

Downfield threat

Ruckert isn’t really a deep threat although he can stretch the field down the seam. This was the only play of his college career that went for more than 30 yards.

The only real deep target he had over the top was almost completed but he juggled the catch and had it knocked away at the last minute.

Routes

Ruckert operated mainly as a safety valve so didn’t get many chances to show off his route running until his final season. From what he’s shown so far, he lacks explosiveness and flexibility in his route running and doesn’t show much burst coming out of his routes. However, some scouts feel he has the potential to improve in this area.

He showed a few good things in his last season, including some decent out-breaking routes to the sideline.

Here’s one play where Ruckert shows good technique, setting up with an outside release and then crossing the defensive player’s face to get inside leverage down the seam.

Hands

Ruckert has a decent catch radius and made a bit of a name for himself with a couple of outstanding one-handed catches.

He had a 74 percent catch rate in college and only dropped two passes in his career, including this one:

However, there are times where he juggles easy catches or uses his body to secure the ball rather than plucking it cleanly.

Red zone

Ruckert has established himself as a decent red zone target with one in three of his catches in his sophomore and junior year going for a touchdown and all of his career-high five touchdown catches in 2020 coming from in the red zone.

He possesses the size, ability and strong hands to go up over a defender if you throw the ball up to him.

Yards after the catch

Ruckert is not particularly elusive with the ball in his hands, but you can flip a short pass to him and he’ll turn it upfield and fight for yardage. He doesn’t break many tackles but can run over smaller defenders and once tried to hurdle a defender in the open field.

On this play, he bounces off a tackle and battles to get to the marker, but doesn’t protect the ball and it gets stripped away.

Run blocking

Ruckert saw plenty of action as a blocker and contributed on some productive offenses with the Buckeyes. He gets into his man at the snap with an aggressive surge and can set the edge or drive his man off the line.

On this play, he shows he can be effective on the move as they ran a lot of traps like this running behind him.

There are some areas which need work in the running game, though. His consistency can be poor as he can lunge into blocks or get his angles wrong and his hand placement is often too wide.

Ruckert has been called for a couple of holding penalties on running plays during his career.

Pass protection

Ruckert has had plenty of experience of staying in to pass protect, with mixed results. He has improved over the course of his career and only gave up one pressure in 44 pass block snaps in 2021, although he did also have a holding penalty.

He gave up two sacks and had one other holding penalty while pass protecting in his career. On this play, he struggles to stay in front of the speed rusher off the edge.

However, on this play he gives a good effort and keeps his feet moving to stay on top of his man well.

Here’s an example of where Ruckert’s technique needs work as he repels the initial rush but doesn’t engage his man and allows him to get separation and outside leverage to get upfield.

Special teams

Ruckert contributed in various roles on special teams with the Buckeyes, including as a blocker on the placekicking unit and in punt protection. He also did some good work as a blocker on the kick return unit.

As his role on offense increased in 2021, his only special teams role was on the punt protection unit.

Instincts

Ruckert is regarded as highly intelligent and is good at finding soft spots in coverage and moving from one assignment to another when blocking.

Here’s a play where he smartly made himself available for the little dump-off pass and turned it upfield for a first down.

Ruckert didn’t have a single pre-snap penalty in his entire college career while he was with the Buckeyes.

Attitude

Ruckert is another Jets rookie who has impressed with his character, not just in college but also in high school. He was apparently a big-time leader in high school, directing the receiver group into weight and conditioning programs.

He also showed some good character at Ohio State, where he was named as a captain and displayed a team-first attitude with his willingness to do the dirty work.

On the field, Ruckert will play with aggression, finishing blocks hard and often driving his man well out of the play or to the ground. Despite this, his on-field discipline has been solid with just five penalties in four years. All of these were for holding apart from one which was for a late hit on the sideline after an interception.

Injuries

Ruckert is currently dealing with a foot issue because he had a plantar fasciitis injury after the Senior Bowl, which affected his pre-draft preparation.

He otherwise didn’t miss any games in college, displaying toughness to overcome a big hit that appeared to have knocked him out in one game. He also had a sprained ankle during the recruitment process coming out of high school.

Scheme fit

The Jets got a good chance to work with Ruckert in Senior Bowl practices so will be confident he’s a good fit in their system with enough versatility to complement either of the Jets’ other main tight end options in two-tight end sets.

Ruckert was a teammate of his fellow rookie Garrett Wilson for three years while the pair were at Ohio State.

Conclusions

This is another selection where the Jets have the luxury of not needing the player to immediately contribute as a rookie. He’ll have a good chance to learn from CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin over the next few years but can still play a role in three-tight end sets, on special teams and if there are any injuries.

The best case scenario for this pick is that Ruckert could turn into the Jets’ version of George Kittle, who himself was a blocking specialist in college with unrealized potential as a pass catcher and actually dropped to the fifth round. That’s highly optimistic though, because Kittle was a better blocker and better athlete than Ruckert coming out.

On the other hand, Ruckert’s situation is reminiscent of Trevon Wesco, who was a fourth round pick with blocking credentials but similarly yet to break out as a pass catcher. Wesco has never established himself as anything more than a rotational blocking specialist.

It’s clearly not too much of a jump to conclude that Ruckert will ultimately fall somewhere between the two. The Jets will hope they can develop him so he’s closer to Kittle than Wesco.