During the first day of Jets' rookie minicamp, head coach Robert Saleh compared the college situation of Jeremy Ruckert, the team's third-round draft pick out of Ohio State, to San Francisco 49ers' premier tight end George Kittle.
"I say this and I'm not comparing him -- and please don't write this stuff, but I know you will -- it was the same thing with George Kittle," Saleh said. "He had no pass looks in Iowa. It's the style of offense."
Saleh added, speaking about Ruckert: "You try to look at the athleticism and how he fits and try to maximize what he has. His development is a projection. Maybe you have faith in the few plays you see, in the few plays he gets. It's not because they use him improperly."
For the record, in four seasons with the Hawkeyes, Kittle had a total of 48 receptions (including 20 as a junior, 22 as a senior) for 737 yards and 10 TDs (all in his final two seasons). Picked in the fifth round by the Niners, those college numbers would hardly indicate a potential first team All-Pro (in 2019) player. By comparison, in four years in Columbus, Ruckert made 54 catches (his 26 last season were his best) for 615 yards and 12 TDs. His overall worth, however, can't be measured in sheer numbers.
Saleh has called Ruckert a "bulldog," which by coincidence is the canine mascot of Ruckert's high school team in Lindenhurst on Long Island. Doesn't hurt that he grew up in a family dedicated to the Green & White.
"He is one of those all-around tight ends who's got the ability in the pass game," Saleh said. "He wasn't featured as much at Ohio State when you have superstars [Garrett Wilson, one of the Jets' three first-round picks; and Chris Olave] all over the place. To me what makes him a bulldog is in the run game. He has the ability to strain the defense and is willing to go to the echo of the whistle to do his job. It's a certain mentality down there, and he's got that."
Speaking after the draft, Saleh added: "When we did see the flashes, they were impressive. He made big-time plays against big-time opponents. He has a big catch radius, really dynamic athletic movement. Maybe not 100 catches, but we saw flashes. This guy can do it. This guy is made of the right stuff."
Ruckert said on Friday that he did not play tight end in high school, but was a wide receiver and "never had to block anyone." He said that he knew going in at Ohio State that his statistics might not sing in the end, but it was more important for him to learn how to read the music.
"The main reason I chose Ohio State was the development it takes to be a player there," Ruckert said. "My first time blocking was my first summer at Ohio State. I was super raw, but it's why I went there, to be developed and be a complete guy. Then to go against guys on my team like Nick Bosa and Chase Young, I was getting killed. I couldn't touch those guys. But I wanted to learn what it takes to be a tight end, to be that guy to play every down at tight end.
"I knew I'd only get a few opportunities and I wanted to make them count. It goes back to your training and who you are as a competitor. When the ball is in the air, in my mind it's always my ball. It's a huge deal to me. I want to make the play when my number is called, whether in the run game, pass protection or receiving. I never got caught up in numbers and I think I was producing for the offense in so many different ways."
Coming in as a rookie, Ruckert (who was taken No. 101 overall) has a unique opportunity and a unique challenge, especially after the Jets signed in free agency tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, who combined for 110 receptions for 1,086 yards and 8 TDs last season.
"I think it's a great situation to come into," Rucker said. "C.J. reached out the night of draft. The biggest thing for me I want to gain from them is their trust. I'm here to work and get better. That's the biggest thing for me, to gain the trust of my teammates and coaching staff. I can't wait to work with them."
"I want to be the best at everything I do, represent the organization the right way, handle myself the right way and perfect my craft so I can be one of the greats."