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Ohio State Draft Profile: Jeremy Ruckert brings everything a team needs in an NFL tight end

Ruckert wasn’t a high volume pass-catcher, but he still brings the skill set and experience NFL teams are looking for

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Each and every year Ohio State is one of the leaders in total players drafted to the NFL. In this series, I am going to be profiling the former Ohio State Buckeyes who have declared for the NFL Draft.

Ohio State fans were adamant that Jeremy Ruckert was going to be the player that recreated the mold of what an Ohio State tight end could be. Ruckert was a talented pass catcher and solid blocker for the Buckeyes, but was never a high volume option in the passing attack. When it comes to his NFL future, though, that doesn’t matter, as NFL teams are looking for distinct physical traits, blocking ability, and a natural-pass catcher in their tight ends.

Although he never received a lot of volume, he was able to average 11.9 yards per reception, which shows he can be a downfield passing threat. In a league that values the position more — and not sharing the field with three first round draft picks who were always open — Ruckert will be a player that can have a more successful pro career than college. His draft ceiling is affected by his position, so Ruckert probably falls in the NFL Draft Day 2 range, and after he tests at the combine he can possibly solidify his place in either Round 2 or Round 3.

Jeremy Ruckert Draft Round Projection: 3rd Round Pick


NFL Traits

Jeremy Ruckert enters the draft with ideal size for an NFL tight end, measuring in at the Senior Bowl at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. NFL coaches and general managers will look at his size first and foremost, and Ruckert carries his weight incredibly well. As the draft gets closer and we see how he performs at the NFL Combine, we will be able to really project where Ruckert might end up in the draft. His athleticism has been his major selling point since he got to Ohio State, so the former Buckeye will really be looking to show that at the beginning of March. Teams will look for a moldable player, and having plus athleticism is a significant part of teams finding value in drafting a tight end.

The next aspect NFL decision makers will be looking at his ability to be physical in the run game. Ruckert was inconsistent in this area in 2021, but has shown flashes of being able to handle edge defenders. How much his blocking is weighted will depend on the team, but there are quite a few who will see his size and jump at the opportunity to bring him into the fold. As a solid, reliable pass catcher no one will really question his ability in that regard.


Physical Run Blocking

When decision makers turn on the film, they will be looking at Ruckert’s willingness to get his hands dirty in the trenches. In the play below, we get to see Ruckert get to the second level with some authority.

Ohio State is playing Tulsa and in a 3rd-and-Short situation, signalling this is more than likely going to be run play. Ruckert lines up as an offset tight end, giving him the ability to do a variety of different techniques from a blocking perspective. In this play, Ruckert’s responsibility is lead through the gap and clear out the first man he sees. Ruckert makes incredible contact, keeps his feet moving, and has a great block in spite of the play not being successful.

When Ruckert sticks to his fundamentals he is a physical blocker, but too many times – especially late in the season – Ruckert struggled in this category. Finding consistency here will define his success at the next level.


Natural Pass Catching

Ruckert has shown he can make the spectacular catch, but being a reliable target has been how he’s earned his keep in the scarlet and gray. Being able to transition from catch to being a ball carrier is a skill a lot of tight ends struggle with. Ruckert has always been a reliable pass catcher, which was a huge reason Ohio State fans had such high hopes for him as a receiving option in 2021.

In the play below, we’re going to see Ruckert run a simple shallow out route as a check-down option on 3rd-and-short again. Ruckert runs across the formation, escapes to the flat, and the two receivers clear out the area, leading to Ruckert being by himself in space. Stroud gets the ball to him and he catches the pass in stride. As pedestrian as this play looks, a lot of tight ends struggle to do this in a smooth manner. Ruckert catches and tucks the ball down extremely fluidly, which allows him to turn this play into a nice gain.


Athleticism

In the NFL, tight ends are tasked to do much more, and this requires high level athleticism. Ruckert has shown he can outrun defenders and has incredible range to catch the football. We have two plays here that both show exactly what we’re talking about.

The first play takes us to the Indiana game, which was arguably Ruckert’s most productive game of the season. Ruckert has two defenders occupying him pre-snap. The first is the defensive end who gets his hands on Ruckert at the snap on his way to the flats. Ruckert fights through the contact easily, and then has to clear the linebacker. Ruckert beats the linebacker up the seam and is wide open, but Stroud under throws this pass. Ruckert makes a great adjustment on the ball and makes an athletic contested catch.

The second play we’re going to look at is the play that built the reputation of Jeremy Ruckert. Ohio State is in the Big Ten Championship game taking on Wisconsin. The Buckeyes are in the red zone and they run a great concept. The Buckeyes are in 12-personnel, meaning there are two tight ends on the field. Ruckert aligns in the offset wing position. After the tight end clears out on his corner, Ruckert gets past the linebackers and has great leverage on the safety guarding him. He uses this well and breaks inside with the whole middle of the field to himself. Justin Fields leaves a little too much on this throw, and Ruckert does the spectacular, making an incredible one handed grab.


Scheme and Team Fits

For Ruckert to be successful in the NFL, he will need to be drafted to a team that utilizes a lot of two tight end personnel packages. This will give him ample opportunity to excel in a role where they can use him to his strengths. When it comes to him as a blocker, Ohio State has given him a ton of experience in a zone-run scheme. As NFL teams continue to move towards this, it opens up a ton of potential fits. Overall, if Ruckert can get drafted to a team where he can be a second option while he continues to develop, he can become a starter over the next couple seasons.

Minnesota Vikings (Round 3): The Vikings are under an entirely new regime, and this makes their projection a little bit more of a gamble. Over the last decade they have been one of the heavier 12-personnel users, and that means they’re always looking to add to this position. With a young player in Irv Smith Jr. breaking out last season before an injury derailed it, the Vikings can get a legitimate back up in Ruckert and a more versatile second option than what they currently have.

New York Giants (Round 4): Ruckert gives the Giants a future starter, and with Evan Engram hitting free agency potentially leaving New York, this can be a landing spot for the Buckeye tight end. New York is bringing in a new coaching staff, but the need for a reliable tight end in the NFL would make this an ideal fit as the Giants try to see what they have in quarterback Daniel Jones. It was also be a homecoming for the Long Island native.

Tennessee Titans (Round 4): With the heavy run oriented scheme in Tennessee, Ruckert brings a ton of experience blocking, which makes him a great fit on a roster that needs to upgrade at this position. The Titans have an extremely talented receiving group, but lacked consistency at tight end.

Chicago Bears (Round 5): Seeing it being too hard to take Ruckert in the third round with the heavy needs on the offensive line, if Ruckert experiences a draft day slide, expect a Buckeye reunion pairing him with Justin Fields. The need here isn’t a priority, but he can add great value to this position room for the Bears.


Player Comparisons

Jesse James (Chicago Bears): The former Penn State tight end saw a similar amount of usage when he was in school. After a promising start with the Pittsburgh Steelers, James has struggled to find consistency. That being said, in Pittsburgh he was a reliable target in the passing game like Ruckert, and has been a plus run-blocker.

Robert Tonyan (Green Bay Packers): Tonyan has the exact same build as Ruckert, which gives Ruckert a blueprint to follow. The Packers tight end has been a crucial part of the blocking scheme in front of Aaron Jones, and has provided a reliable security blanket for Aaron Rodgers. If Ruckert can use his athleticism and establish himself as a versatile blocker, he can find similar success.


Scouting Takes

In the name of fairness, here are some other evaluations from “NFL Draft Experts”:

Kyle Crabbs (The Draft Network): “Ruckert’s hands are terrific—he hasn’t been given very many targets but he certainly made the most of them. There are a number of eye-popping one-handed receptions on his resume in traffic and in tight congestion and those plays, along with good concentration on tight-window throws (Clemson, 2020) showcase how impactful he can be when the field is congested.”

Rich Cimini (ESPN NFL): Cimini tweeted about the buzz Ruckert was creating at the Senior Bowl.

Justin Fried (The Jets Press): “At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Ruckert is a plus athlete with excellent size and mobility. He has the catch radius to make some truly spectacular catches and the play strength to be a force as an in-line blocker.”


Final Analysis

Jeremy Ruckert comes out of Ohio State without flashy production numbers, but he’s entering a league that heavily values the tight end position. Even with his blocking struggles at the end of 2021, Ruckert has put enough on film in that regard to warrant a Day 2 draft selection. The former Ohio State tight end has also flashed the ability to be a reliable target if a passing attack that utilizes tight ends.

Ruckert will be drafted and will provide immediate value to the team that takes him. If he can become a more consistent run blocker he can give himself a long career and follow in the path of other Buckeyes like Nick Vannett, Jake Stoneburner, and many others. Ruckert’s athleticism and skill set will allow him to consistently find a role, but his potential ceiling is a true No. 1 tight end.

Despite never becoming a consistent weapon, Ruckert will have the opportunity to get drafted and has the makings to be long time contributor in the NFL.