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Jeremy Ruckert: Deep Dive
What a fine morning it is if you're a New York Rangers fan! Another game 7 victory and now onto the Eastern Conference Finals! LGR!
Whenever I schedule a deep dive post, there is a sense of trepidation. It’s always a long piece of work and it always relies on available information. For some, I can contact high school coaches and college coaches, but for others, I have to rely on what’s already out there, and sometimes it really isn’t a lot.
Today I’m turning my attention to Tight End Jeremy Ruckert, leaving just Max Mitchell left to cover. If you’ve missed any of the previous deep dives you can head to the TJW website to find all deep dives and all 144 previous editions.
The Jets took Ruckert with the 101st pick in the third round of the NFL Draft. The last TE to be drafted by the Jets was H-Back Trevon Wesco out of West Virginia in the 4th round of the 2019 draft, and the highest-drafted TE by the Jets since Jace Amaro was taken in the 2nd round back in 2014.
Amaro didn’t have a bad rookie season catching 38 passes for 345 yards and 2 TDs, but a torn labrum forced him to miss the 2015 season and he never played for the Jets again. That selection was a huge disappointment and the Jets will be hoping that Jeremy Ruckert will fare much better.
The last time the Jets selected a tight end in the third round was back in 2002 when they took Chris Baker #88 overall out of Michigan State. Baker spent 7 years with the Jets catching 145 passes for 1505 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Ruckert was born in Lindenhurst New York on August 11th, 2000 to parents Jamie and Bill Ruckert. You’ll probably know by now that Bill Ruckert is a huge Jets fan and Jeremy grew up following Gang Green, although he once said that he modeled his game after Rob Gronkowski.
If you want to know where all his sports loyalties lie I found an interview from 2018 where he named his teams as the Yankees, Knicks, Jets, and Islanders.
Residing on the southern shore of Long Island, Ruckert attended Lindenhurst Senior High School where he excelled on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
He led the Bulldogs to the school’s first-ever Long Island Class I championship while earning the Hansen Award as Suffolk’s top player, he was also named New York’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017.
“Jeremy Ruckert is one of the best players I’ve ever coached against,” said Paul Longo, the head coach at William Floyd for the past 23 years. “He’s been dominant in all three aspects of the game. From the kicking game to defense to offense. I don’t think I’ve ever faced that before. He has an impact on every play. I think he’ll be playing on Sunday afternoons one day.”1
Over the course of his high school career, he recorded 222 receptions for 3,133 yards and 37 touchdowns, but it was that senior year that really made a lot of people sit up and take notice. He caught 61 passes for 1,094 yards with 13 touchdowns and had 61 tackles, 13 sacks, and two interceptions on defense, which outlines what William Flloyd coach Paul Longo said about him having an impact all over the field.
He lined up mostly as a receiver on the offensive side of the ball and at defensive end/linebacker on the defensive side of the ball, in truth he was probably good enough to play either at the collegiate level, but he was recruited as an offensive skill position player and considered one of the best TEs in the class. At 6’5 and 220lbs he had the ideal size and frame to grow into once he got into a college strength program.
247 gave him the following ratings
Ruckert was invited to take part in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2018 and was named the #1 TE in the country by 247 Sports. He was heavily recruited receiving 29 offers and Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame went head-to-head in trying to secure his commitment, in the end, the recruitment pitch of Greg Schiano won out and Ruckert signed with the Buckeyes, that OSU recruitment class landed Schiano the title of 247Sports Recruiter of the Year in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s TE coach Kevin Wilson also played a huge part.
"I like what he's doing out here, he brings a lot of energy. I like what he's doing with the position. I feel like I'm the best tight end in the country, so wherever I go they'll give me the ball. He definitely feels the same way about that, and he was a big part of my decision."2
Choosing Ohio State wasn’t an easy choice, there was a reputation around college football that OSU ignored the TE position and that Ruckert would never reach his potential in a program that hadn’t had a recent history of developing good TEs. It could be argued now that the arguments were actually spot on, Ruckert never dominated college football in a way that many thought he would. Part of that was his usage which we’ll go on to. But Ruckert backed himself to change that narrative and that’s something you have to respect.
"What's exciting for me is they haven't had a guy as versatile as I am," Ruckert said. "They're excited to get me off the ball, in the backfield, they think I can do all of it. Once I get here we're gonna go to work, and hopefully, I can make an impact early."
When Ruckert enrolled at Ohio State in 2018 he was joining an unproven tight end room. OSU had lost its starter from 2017 when Marcus Baugh, exhausted his eligibility, Kierre Hawkins transferred and A.J. Alexander was given a medical scholarship, which meant he had a great opportunity for some early reps. But even when he did arrive on campus he was 4th on the depth chart behind Luke Farrell, Rashod Berry, and Jake Hausmann.
Transitioning from a high school wide receiver to a tight end in one of the biggest programs in the country isn’t as straightforward as some would think. Especially for a guy who was still developing his body, remember he was 220lbs coming out of high school. Wilson explained this before the season even started
“It will be interesting because he’s very talented, but very much so in a skill setting as a big receiver and great in the passing game,” tight ends coach Kevin Wilson said last April. “Right now we’re talking weekly when we visit about what did you really do in workouts. I know you lifted, but what’s your body weight like? How many times are you benching 225? How strong are you getting? He has a body that I don’t want him to try to work so hard on getting strong because he’s kind of a long guy that I don’t want to have a high school young kid with a bad back”3
Ruckert played in 10 games and caught one pass for 13 yards during his freshman year, but he was getting more and more time as the season progressed and had advanced his run-blocking considerably by the time the curtain fell on the 2018-19 season.
Urban Meyer called Ruckert the best tight end he’d ever scouted, so it was only a matter of time before Jeremy received more playing time, and that came in 2019 when he played in 14 games and received 3 starts. Ruckert did a lot of blocking, but not a lot of catching. 14 receptions for 142 yards was deemed a slight disappointment, but he did record 4 touchdowns.
When the Big-10 season was originally postponed due to the COVID pandemic, Ruckert returned home to continue his preparation, just in case the season got reinstated which it did
"I went home and built a squat rack with my dad to work out at home with my brothers," he said. "It took a day to build and then we added some cable rows. I’ll remember how special these times were spent with my family which we usually wouldn’t get because we’re at school."
Here’s the kicker in all of this, before he joined OSU Ruckert was told that within their offensive philosophy they didn’t value the receiving tight end as much as other programs, and if he wanted to really fulfill his potential he should go to somewhere that did, like Michigan or Notre Dame.
The 14 receptions in 2019 led all Ohio State TEs, the presumed starter Luke Farrell had just 11 targets all year. In 2020 Ruckert led all OSU TEs again with 13 catches and the same again in 2021. The simple fact is that with all the receiving talent that the Buckeyes have, the TE was used more for their blocking than their receiving.
Here’s the good news for the Jets, all that work made Ruckert one of the better blocking tight ends in football and his receiving potential wasn’t even close to being maxed out. Ever since Ruckert was drafted by the Jets I’ve said that he’ll be a much better pro player than he was a college player and it’s because his main asset in terms of his receiving ability wasn’t utilized half as much as it should have been in college.
Some of it came down to play speed according to Wilson who said this before the 2020 season got going in relation to questions around the lack of targets for the tight ends:
“When I watched us play last year, I thought we played well, but I didn't think we played as fast as they all can,” Wilson said. “I'm watching these guys play, and I go, ‘I know how fast these guys are. You're as fast or faster than them. I want to see this on tape more.’ So our goal these first two days without pads is we wanted to play faster and feel speed and feel size,” Wilson said. “It'll be interesting. If we get the ball, as big as we are, if we start playing fast, I think you'll see the ball in their hands. That's just a confidence, knowledge deal. Sometimes it's physical development. But sometimes it's just more knowledge and cutting it loose and rolling.”4
12 touchdowns on 54 receptions say to me that you should have targeted him more, but like so many people have said there are a lot of mouths to feed in that OSU offense. Had Ruckert gone to a Notre Dame, maybe he’s a first-round pick and maybe the Jets don’t draft him.
That’s not to say that he didn’t have his moments, his one-handed grab in the National Title game against Alabama was outstanding, it was his only catch of the night but it left a lasting impression. He also said that his strength coach at OSU said that “some players slow down and some players speed up into contact” and that stuck with him in relation to the physicality he plays with in the running game.
Following his most productive season in 2021, Ruckert decided to enter the NFL draft stating:
“As a Buckeye player, the number one priority I had was doing everything I could to help the team be successful,” Ruckert said in a note posted to Twitter. “The most important things for me were to be a great teammate and to develop different skills that I may not have been able to at other places. I am grateful and can’t wait to continue to grow using the tools I learned in Columbus.”
Ruckert may not have had the kind of receiving influence he had hoped when he signed on at Ohio State, but he did so many other things that maybe don’t get appreciated watching the game but Ryan Day made sure to outline that when he spoke about Ruckert following a win over Indiana:
“We have so many weapons, and that’s a great thing to have. But at the same time, guys have to be unselfish,” head coach Ryan Day said after the win over the Hoosiers. “That’s part of the game, and he’s done a lot of the dirty work blocking inside.
“There’s times where the ball hasn’t come his way, but when you stay positive and stay at it, things work out. We talked this week about, ‘What are you willing to sacrifice to be great and make this run?’ Sometimes, it means sacrificing touches. But eventually it’s going to come back to you, and it did for Jeremy tonight.”5
Let’s just quickly take a look at some of the advanced stats in relation to Ruckert’s time in Columbus.
Spent 56.8% of the time lined up in-line, 34.6% of the time in the slot, 7.8% out wide.
Had 259 yards after the catch and 4.8 yards after the catch per reception.
Had 2 drops over 73 targets.
Caught 74% of balls thrown his way
Finished with 11.4 yards per reception.
Caught 54.5% of all of his contested catches (6/11)
QBs had a 132.7 NFL rating when throwing to him.
Spent 70% of his run-blocking snaps in a zone system.
Had 731 snaps of run-blocking action in his career.
Allowed 6 pressures over 136 pass-blocking snaps
Following the 2021-22 season Jeremy Ruckert was invited to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama…a game in which the Jets coaching staff was led by TEs coach Ron Middleton, it’s safe to say that Ruckert made an impression on the staff, and Ron during the week of practice. I watched a fair amount of the practice sessions from Alabama and Ruckert looked outstanding in the pass-catching drills.
“Especially at the Senior Bowl, it was my first real chance to meet the staff. I feel I built a pretty big relationship with them, Immediately after working with them for a week I felt that was a staff I wanted to be a part of that team, love the way they coach and their approach to coaching” - Jeremy Ruckert
“It’s a dream come true, I’ve dreamed of this since I was a little kid. I grew up a Jets fan, my whole family grew up as Jets fans”
Toughness + YAC - Ruckert’s overall numbers weren’t overly special but that’s largely down to his usage. When he was targeted he was a tough opponent to bring down and he will play with a physicality that not a lot of safeties will enjoy taking on. This is just one of a number of plays where he fought through the first tackle for extra yardage.
Move Blocking - Who doesn’t love a player who blocks with speed and physicality, here he absolutely pancakes the linebacker trying to come up and make a tackle opening up a lane for his running back. This is 250lbs coming at you with purpose, not fun to deal with.
Sealing + Second level - One thing I noticed when looking at Ruckert was his level of comfort and feel for zone blocking. Here he gives a little elbow to David Ojabo before moving on and taking a second-level player out of the game to open up a huge hole for his RB to gallop through.
Hands - The receiving numbers are absolutely pedestrian, but again that’s down to usage. When he was targeted he caught the ball at a seriously high rate (over 70%). Not only does he make the routine catches but he flashes some circus one-handed catches as well. His hands are a huge asset, they just weren’t used enough at OSU.