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Does Jeremy Ruckert deserve to be NY Jets’ surefire TE2?

Jeremy Ruckert
Jeremy Ruckert

The New York Jets finally elevated Ruckert to the No. 2 spot this season

Tight end likely won’t rate in the top five positions of need for the New York Jets this offseason. But should it?

The answer to that question lies largely on the shoulders of Jeremy Ruckert. The Jets’ 2022 third-round pick took over as the team’s No. 2 tight end midway through the season. With all the chaos in the offense, though, Ruckert mostly got lost in the shuffle. It was easy enough to criticize the woeful offensive line and receiving corps but harder to identify and evaluate the tight ends.

How did Ruckert perform in 2023? More importantly, does he deserve to be penciled into the No. 2 tight end role entering 2024?

Blocking

Ruckert played 313 total offensive snaps: 147 run-blocking, 142 route-running, and 24 pass-blocking. Considering that he had just 21 targets, most of his game was run-blocking.

Among 68 tight ends with at least 140 run-blocking snaps, Ruckert ranked 33rd with a 55.0 run-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus. In other words, compared to other tight ends, PFF ranked Ruckert’s run-blocking as roughly average. 55.0 is still considered a below-average grade in their system, though.

Ruckert graded somewhat better as a zone blocker (61.9) and worse as a gap blocker (46.9), although according to PFF, he actually did more gap blocking (39.5% vs. 46.9%).

On film, Ruckert showed some flashes early in the season but struggled consistently after the first few weeks. He had his good moments in space but did a poor job as an in-line blocker. When cutting across the formation as the lead blocker, he often threw his weight at the linebacker and was easily shed, leading to a run stuff.

As a pass-blocker, Ruckert garnered the third-lowest PFF grade among tight ends at 36.3. The film backs this grade up. Despite playing only 24 pass-blocking snaps all season, there are quite a few shaky reps to be found on his film. These were often hard to notice live, as he had a few plays where he was lucky the ball was out quickly or that a teammate was there to bail him out.

Receiving

As a receiver, Ruckert caught 16 of 21 targets (76.2%) for 151 yards, garnering 9.4 yards per reception. He played 30.9% of his snaps in the slot and 59% in-line. He averaged just 3.1 YAC per reception, ranking 54th out of 59 tight ends with at least 20 targets. His 1.10 yards per route run ranked 37th.

The Jets used Ruckert somewhat oddly in that 30.8% of his routes were vertical, the sixth-highest mark among 59 tight ends (min. 130 routes run), including 20.3% go routes, the fifth-highest. His other top route was the crossing pattern, which he ran 17.3% of the time. The go and vertical rates are very similar to Tyler Conklin’s, but he ran crossers at nearly double the rate of Conklin.

Because Ruckert had just 21 targets, it’s hard to evaluate his route efficiency. He caught 2 of 3 go balls for 34 yards with a catch rate over expected of 23.6%, primarily because of a leaping back-shoulder grab against Kansas City.

Ruckert showcased some intriguing route-running awareness on this play. He started with a slower route pace on an outside stem, then took a quick inside step before speeding up his pacing and stacking the defender. The leaping grab showed that he can help his quarterback by catching a well-placed ball, even in a relatively narrow window.

He showed other flashes of being able to make some moves to get open, but he needs to develop consistency in that area.

Ruckert needs to learn how to defeat a defender’s hands more effectively (although this particular example may be illegal contact and is also a poor play design).

So can he be TE2?

The real issue with having Ruckert as the second tight end is his run-blocking. He must learn to gain better leverage on defenders when blocking instead of throwing his body weight into a block from high leverage.

Ruckert’s route-running is decent enough to be the second tight end, but his uneven run-blocking may warrant competition. The Jets are likely to bring in a cheap third tight end, perhaps someone who is a better run-blocker than Ruckert. In that way, the third-year man will need to prove that he can keep getting better and become a more reliable lead blocker for Breece Hall. He showed potential in that area and as a receiver but must take significant steps forward in 2024.

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

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Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago

The short answer is no, not at this point. I think he’s talented enough and still has plenty of room to improve but he’s got to earn it at this point. This is one of those players Jets’ fans fell in love with, and is being overrated mostly out of dissatisfaction with Uzomah.

It reminds me of Bryce Hall, when he did better than expected but still wasn’t good, so everybody was happy with his play. I like Ruckert but I could totally see them brining in another TE, by FA or draft. That being said the have NEEDS on the OL and WR so if it’s a choice of leaving a position group status quo, then I’m fine with the TE’s they have.

No team has EVERYTHING, so there will be some choices to be made.

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