Fourth of an 11-part series. Coming tomorrow: offensive linemen.
When a young Jeremy Ruckert was tailgating at Jets games and poring over their roster, there weren’t a ton of future Jeremy Ruckerts. Defensive lineman Mike Devito was born in New York. Offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was raised in Freeport.
But as the wide-eyed Jets fan, his two brothers and their dad were attending plenty of games at the old Giants Stadium, there were not many to root for who were shaped by the city.
If the Jets or Giants take a chance on the tight end from Long Island and Ohio State, that could change for the Jeremy Ruckerts of tomorrow.
“Everybody in my family is from Long Island — been here my whole life,” the Lindenhurst High School graduate said. “Take pride in never transferring to any high school, transferring to anywhere. Stayed in the same town, same city. I take it everywhere I go. I take pride in that.”
He’s a good target to catch plenty of attention locally, and he hopes he’s a good target for Zach Wilson or Daniel Jones.
Ruckert will be one of the first tight ends off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft, an enticing talent with excellent hands but not an overwhelming amount of college production largely because of the Buckeyes’ overwhelming amount of offensive talent around him.
Ruckert was a do-everything star at Lindenhurst, where he emerged as the nation’s top tight end recruit and, in 2017, lifted the Bulldogs to their first Long Island football championship. Ruckert mostly was a pass-catcher rather than blocker. He also started at linebacker and once blocked a punt to help Lindenhurst win a game.
After winning the 2017 New York State Gatorade Player of the Year, he landed at Ohio State, which was crowded at a receiver and wanted the 6-foot-5, 250-pound specimen to block more. He was thrown in against the likes of Joey Bosa in freshman practices.
He grew into the role, facing the best in the country in practice and in title games, with occasionally spectacular plays: His one-handed catch streaming down the middle of the field against Alabama in the 2021 national championship was memorable if not unique. He made a habit of one-handed catches, and if explosiveness is not a strength, his hands clearly are. He broke out in his senior season in Columbus, where he caught 26 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Both the Jets and Giants could be fits for Ruckert, whom ESPN most recently mocked to land in the fourth round. If either team stays local for its tight end of the future, Long Island would rejoice.
“Everybody would be super excited,” said Ruckert, whose favorite players growing up included Darrelle Revis and Rob Gronkowski. “Being from this area, everyone takes pride in those teams… and they would feel like they have a reason to go to the games even more.”
If he lands with the Jets, no one would be more excited than his father. In January, Bill Ruckert, who now transports heavy equipment on a tractor-trailer, saw that former Jet and now ESPN analyst Damien Woody tweeted that his son would be a “helluva fit” for the Jets. Bill replied with a picture of young Jeremy sporting some Jets face paint.
“He just wants the best fit for me,” Jeremy said. “Make sure I’m in a good situation with good people surrounding me, and he’s a fan of me first.”
Ruckert has met with almost every team, including the Giants and Jets, and he has visited the latter’s facilities. He’s also a big fan of Jets tight end coach Ron Middleton, who coached him during Senior Bowl week. The two talked when he visited the Jets and at the combine, too.
“I just think that the way I approach the game with integrity, with a sense of energy, I feel like he had that same vibe,” Ruckert said by phone Saturday. “You can tell how much he loves what he does. He that’s just someone you want to play for.”
By this point, the Jets should know him well, which is important for a player who finished with just 54 collegiate catches but did not participate at the combine because of plantar fasciitis.
There is a bit of an unknown because of its usage at Ohio State. Coming out of high school, colleges knew he could catch. Coming out of college, NFL teams know he can block. Can he be a next-level difference-maker?
To some New York kids, absolutely.
“That’s what I always take pride in, being that [New York] guy,” Ruckert said, “because I didn’t have many of them growing up that I could really look up to.”