In this year’s NFL draft, the Jets selected former Penn State and Old Dominion tight end Zack Kuntz in the seventh round with their final selection. Today, we break down Kuntz in detail.
The 23-year old Kuntz is listed at 6’8” and 251 pounds and was a first-team all-Conference USA selection with the Monarchs in 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury early in the 2022 season. He had previously played for Penn State but caught just three passes in three years with the Nittany Lions.
Kuntz was a four-star recruit who also ran track in high school and earned a scholarship at Penn State. In 2018, he played in just one game, catching an eight-yard pass, but was then granted a redshirt.
In 2019, he still didn’t get many opportunities to play on offense, catching just two passes for 18 yards. He was hoping for a bigger role in 2020 behind Pat Freiermuth, but ended up playing in seven games with no catches.
Kuntz opted instead to transfer to Old Dominion where he immediately broke out with 73 catches for 692 yards and five scores. He was off to a good start in 2022 as well, but then suffered a season-ending injury and ended the season with 12 catches for 144 yards and two scores.
He dramatically improved his chances of being drafted with a terrific workout at the scouting combine during the pre-draft process.
The Jets opted to select Kuntz with the 220th overall pick and he has already signed his rookie contract.
Now let’s take a look at what Kuntz brings to the table, divided into categories.
Kuntz is listed at 6’8” and has a massive catch radius and big hands. His wingspan was longer than 43 of the 51 tackles at the scouting combine.
He is up over 250 pounds now, having been just 201 as a freshman in high school and 221 when he committed to Penn State. He struggled to put that weight on which was one of the things that kept him off the field.
Kuntz had a spectacular performance during his combine workout as he posted elite numbers in every discipline. He ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash, posted excellent agility numbers and racked up 23 reps in the bench press. However, his most impressive number was perhaps his 40-inch vertical. He was the tallest player to post a 40-inch vertical since 2003.
Kuntz has been used both inline, mostly in a two-point stance and off the line of scrimmage, and in the slot, along with occasional reps in the backfield or out wide. However, the majority of his pass catching production (over three-quarters) came when he was in the slot.
Some scouting reports indicate that Kuntz is not much of a downfield threat but he has shown on a handful of occasions that he is a guy you can throw it up to or use to stretch the field going down the seam, even if he might not be capable of getting behind defensive backs.
On this play, he basically gets half a step and then has so much size that the defensive back is never going to be able to recover and the quarterback can just drop it in the bucket.
With that said, Kuntz didn’t have a very good success rate on downfield throws in his college career, coming up with fewer than 25 percent of them.
Kuntz takes big lumbering strides but covers a lot of ground and is surprisingly smooth into and out of his breaks. He releases well off the line and can use deception to shake or head-fake at the top of his route stem and create separation.
As encouraging as that is, he’s not quite mastered the art of using his size to box out defenders yet and can be re-routed too easily going downfield.
Despite ramping up his production in the last two years, Kuntz doesn’t make a lot of highlight reel grabs and doesn’t always look natural when catching the ball.
He’s obviously going to be a tough cover when you throw the ball up to him, but he doesn’t come up with as many contested catches as you’d like because his timing can be inconsistent.
He only had five drops in his college career, but there were some other balls that fell incomplete which you’d like to see him come up with.
Kuntz only had seven touchdowns in college and not all of these were from in the red zone. However, he’s shown that he can be a potential weapon, either by taking a short pass and getting to the end zone or by being a guy you can throw it up to.
The above play came after ODU had roared back from a 35-7 deficit but unfortunately one of his teammates came off the sideline to join the celebration and the resulting penalty led to a missed extra point and a 35-34 loss.
Yards after the catch
Kuntz didn’t put up particularly impressive numbers for yards after the catch or forcing missed tackles, but anyone with his size and athleticism is going to be able to break an arm tackle and fall forward at the end of a run and he is adept at this.
On one of his catches for Penn State, he slipped a tackle and then unsuccessfully attempted to hurdle a defensive back down the field.
Some of Kuntz’s production came on screen passes, although he wasn’t all that effective on these, averaging less than five yards on 14 catches with ODU.
Kuntz has a reputation as someone who is a work in progress as a blocker, but there are actually plenty of encouraging signs from him on film.
Scouting reports indicate he can be too tentative as a blocker and you can see examples of this in his film, even on some of his more successful blocks.
Nevertheless, he had some success both blocking on the move and moving people at the line of scrimmage when he moved to ODU. He obviously learnt some fundamentals at Penn State which served him well at the Conference USA level.
There are still some areas where he needs to improve though. Being as tall as he is, pad level into contact is always going to be an issue. He would be more effective if he would block with a wider base from time to time.
Kuntz didn’t get to pass protect very often in his career and had a few issues when he did. This may have been one of the main things that kept him off the field when he was at Penn State.
While he hasn’t given up a sack in limited pass block attempts during his career, he did get beaten for a few pressures while at Penn State.
On screen passes, he has similar issues to those he faces as a run blocker. Tentativeness and pad level can reduce his effectiveness on such plays.
Kuntz played a variety of roles on special teams, including on the punt coverage unit where he had three special teams tackles in his career.
He was also used as a blocker in punt protection, on field goals and on the kickoff return unit, including on a couple of plays where he made his block and the kick was returned for a touchdown.
Kuntz also saw some reps rushing punts from the defensive line on the punt return unit.
Kuntz displays good abilities to find open areas underneath in the passing game but may need to work at his vision and awareness in blocking assignments. He had a couple of pre-snap penalties in college.
He has freely admitted that he was more of a glorified wide receiver in high school, so came to Penn State with a lot to learn.
Kuntz has said that he learned to be humble at Penn State, but still has a chip on his shoulder having felt he didn’t get as many opportunities there as he deserved and from seeing some of the players drafted ahead of him.
The Jets have said that one of the things that impressed them about Kuntz was that he loved football. He’s already displaying a good mentality, accepting that he’s the new guy in a deep position group and that he’s here to learn.
Kuntz suffered a dislocated kneecap in the fifth game of the season last year and probably wasn’t 100 percent by the time he did his combine workout, despite his impressive numbers. He’s fully recovered now, though, and has been participating during the offseason program.
Kuntz has compared himself to Mike Gesicki, who also attended Penn State. Gesicki is arguably more of a wide receiver than a tight end and not regarded as much of a blocker, but they are similarly athletic.
Could Kuntz have a similar role to Gesicki in future? While Gesicki was with the Dolphins, they typically had five tight ends and one fewer wide receiver than usual on their roster with Gesicki contributing to both groups.
The immediate challenge for Kuntz will be getting any playing time. The Jets still have CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin earning good money and offensive reps for the third tight end were few and far between last year and not something Nathaniel Hackett would typically use more than Mike LaFleur did.
The Jets could certainly have four tight ends active with Kuntz and Jeremy Ruckert, last year’s third round pick, being the favorites to fill those reserve roles, but they may not see much more than garbage time on offense barring injuries.
Kuntz is an awesome athlete with high-end potential and some of his route running makes him look like he’s going to be a match-up nightmare. He still has some work to do in terms of his physicality and how he uses his frame if he’s going to be an effective target at the pro level though.
In fact, that aspect of his game probably needs more work than his run blocking, which seems to be further along than advertised. As a pass blocker, though, he lacks experience and again will need to work on his physicality to be effective.
This might prove to be a redshirt year for Kuntz with all the players ahead of him and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If he can learn enough to start realizing his potential by the time the Jets are ready to move on from Uzomah and/or Conklin, he could provide them with a useful low-cost alternative for a few years.
As for how good he could potentially be, the sky’s the limit. However, he has work to do if even to just become a contributor at this level.