Analyzing New York Jets tight end Jeremy Ruckert’s strengths and weaknesses
Twenty-six catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
That’s the stat line you’ll see if you Google “Jeremy Ruckert stats”. It’s certainly uninspiring for a third-round NFL draft prospect. Based on those numbers alone, there is little reason to believe that the New York Jets‘ young tight end has the potential to become a valuable pass-catcher in the NFL.
But you always have to dig deeper than the box-score stats. And in Ruckert’s case, when you dive beneath the surface, it becomes clear that he offers a lot more upside as a pass-catcher than his raw numbers would suggest.
Let’s analyze some of the reasons that Ruckert has a better ceiling than it may seem at first glance. After that, we’ll go into Ruckert’s overall profile as a player, breaking down some of his most notable strengths and weaknesses.
Why Jeremy Ruckert’s receiving stats undersell him
Playing in a star-studded Buckeyes offense, Ruckert was always tossed on the backburner in Ohio State’s offense. He spent the last three years competing for targets against future first-round wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. The Buckeyes also had Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a future NFL draft pick who will also likely be taken in the first round.
Ruckert only saw 73 targets throughout his entire career at Ohio State. That’s a minuscule number compared to some of his peers in the 2022 draft class. In comparison, Colorado State’s Trey McBride – the first tight end drafted in 2022 – saw 122 targets in 2021 alone.
It’s tough to stand out when you only have the ball thrown your way 73 times over 48 career games (1.5 targets per game). In fact, there were four tight ends in the 2022 draft who had more targets in 2021 than Ruckert had in his whole career (McBride, Charlie Kolar, Cole Turner, Isaiah Likely).
Ruckert was never going to put up high-volume stats in that OSU offense. However, what matters is that he made the most of the opportunities he did get.
Ruckert was efficient with his limited targets
Over his career, Ruckert caught 54 of his 73 targets (74.0%) for 615 yards (8.4 yards per target) and 12 touchdowns.
Now that’s how you maximize your chances.
Ruckert’s total of 12 touchdowns on such a small target volume is outstanding. He found the end zone on 16.4% of his targets. For perspective, that rate is more than double the 2021 FBS average for tight ends (7.8%).
Ohio State quarterbacks had a 132.7 passer rating when targeting Ruckert. The 2021 FBS average for tight ends was 102.6.
Ruckert showcased sure-handedness during his career. He had only two drops and a drop rate of 3.6%, which is less than half of the 2021 FBS average for tight ends (7.9%). Ruckert also caught six of his 11 targets that were deemed “contested”, via Pro Football Focus (54.5% contested-catch rate).
Elusiveness was not a factor in Ruckert’s game earlier in his career. In 2021, he began showing potential in this area.
Ruckert forced five missed tackles in 2021 after forcing just one over his first three seasons. His average of 0.192 missed tackles forced per reception ranked at the 74th percentile among qualified FBS tight ends (min. 30 targets).
Altogether, Ruckert’s efficiency at Ohio State suggests he could be capable of producing at a high level as a receiver if placed in a more prominent role. We’ll have to see it to believe it – not everyone maintains their low-volume efficiency over a larger volume – but the potential is certainly there.
Beating man coverage is a weakness Ruckert can improve
We can’t just entirely blame Ruckert’s lack of superstar production on outside parties. Certainly, there has to be at least something he could have done better to put up bigger numbers and propel himself upward from a third-round draft grade.
Beating man coverage seems to be the key weakness that held Ruckert back.
The majority of Ruckert’s receiving production in 2021 came against zone coverage. When covered man-to-man, he struggled.
Against man coverage, Ruckert caught 3-of-6 targets for 15 yards, zero touchdowns, and one first down. He ranked 119th out of 124 qualified FBS tight ends with a microscopic average of 0.16 yards per route run against man coverage.
To become a go-to receiving tight end in the NFL, Ruckert must prove he can consistently create his own opportunities by winning in one-on-one situations.
Ruckert was a workhorse for the Buckeyes, rarely coming off the field as he averaged 54.9 snaps per game in 2021. He ranked 16th among FBS tight ends with 714 total offensive snaps.
Prior to 2021, Ruckert’s role was very blocking-centric. His game opened up in his final season.
From 2018 to 2020, Ruckert blocked on 62.3% of his snaps and ran a route on just 37.7% of them. In 2021, his blocking frequency dipped to 43.8% while he ran a route on 56.2% of his snaps.
Ruckert offers some field-stretching ability in the passing game. His career aDOT (average depth of target) was 8.7 yards downfield. That’s a little bit higher than the 2021 FBS average for tight ends, which was 8.0. Ruckert had a career-high aDOT of 9.4 in 2021.
The Buckeyes used Ruckert in a variety of different alignments. He played 62.7% of his snaps in 2021 as an in-line tight end, but he also played 27.7% of his snaps in the slot and 7.1% lined up out wide. Ruckert even played 17 snaps in the backfield (2.4%).
Ruckert earned good grades as a blocker at Pro Football Focus. Here are his run-blocking grades at PFF over the last three seasons and where they ranked among tight ends with at least 100 run-blocking snaps:
- 2021: 68.3 run-blocking grade (77th percentile)
- 2020: 70.9 run-blocking grade (84th percentile)
- 2019: 70.3 run-blocking grade (87th percentile)
The Buckeyes asked Ruckert to pass-protect occasionally. Ruckert played 136 pass-blocking snaps in his career (2.8 per game).
Ruckert had a good season in pass protection last year. He gave up only one pressure on 44 pass-blocking snaps, an allowed pressure rate of 2.3% that ranked at the 81st percentile among FBS tight ends with at least 40 pass-blocking snaps.
The 2021 positional average for tight ends was 5.4%, a number that Ruckert fell slightly below in each of his previous two seasons. He was at 5.9% in 2020 (2/34) and 6.3% in 2019 (3/48). It’s promising to see the yearly progress from Ruckert in this area.
Ruckert only participated in the bench press at the NFL combine, and he didn’t do any further testing at his pro day, so the available data on him is limited. Here’s what we know (ranks are among all tight ends in combine history):
- Height: 6′ 5½” (79th percentile)
- Weight: 252 pounds (47th percentile)
- Wingspan: 79⅛” (51st percentile)
- Arm length: 32⅝” (31st percentile)
- Hand size: 10⅛” (73rd percentile)
- Bench press: 19 reps (42nd percentile)
Ruckert has fairly average size for the position at 252 pounds, and he’s a little lacking in arm length. His performance on the bench wasn’t inspiring.
On the positive side, Ruckert stands tall as he eclipses 6-foot-5, and he has sizable hands at just over 10 inches. These traits certainly helped him become a strong red-zone target at Ohio State.
Jeremy Ruckert is a useful role player who could be much more
Ruckert’s sure-handedness and blocking skills give him a great chance to instantly establish himself as a reliable No. 3 tight end behind C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. At the very least, he should be able to carve out a career in that role.
But there is a chance that Ruckert could be more. If he maintains the receiving efficiency he showed at Ohio State in a featured role, he will be a productive No. 1 tight end. That’s easier said than done, but it’s a realistic possibility.
With the Jets preparing to run an offense that will feature a lot of two-tight-end sets, Ruckert is one injury away from seeing a bevy of playing time. He will inevitably get his moment in the spotlight at some point. Over the next couple of years, we’ll find out if he truly was a hidden gem in Ohio State’s offense.
Even if Ruckert turns out to be a high-end backup/low-end starter, he would still be a productive usage of a low third-round pick for the Jets, who need depth at the tight end position as long as Mike LaFleur is in town.