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Five Questions for loaded, versatile Ohio State tight ends

Jeremy Ruckert-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert can be a bonus in the passing game. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Five Questions for loaded, versatile Ohio State tight ends

COLUMBUS — The offseason storyline for the Ohio State tight end never changes, which means the eventual answer surely won’t either.

But even without a ton of catches, the Buckeyes are bringing back one of the most impressive collections of talent in the country at the position. So no matter what happens statistically for that unit, then, it remains one of the most critical to the national-title chances for the reigning Big Ten champs.

Could Ohio State throw it more to the deep, versatile group led by Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert? Sure, but both of them know their true value to the program shows up in a bunch of ways that don’t involve them touching the football.

“I knew if I came here, I wouldn’t be able to get on the field if I didn’t learn how to pass protect and run block,” Ruckert said. “I think learning how to do those two things the last couple years has been crucial in developing me as a player. I mean, the goal was obviously to make it to the next level.

“So, with all the cuts they have and the small rosters they have [in the NFL], I think coming to a place like this to develop into a complete tight end was the best option for that. If you’re a one-dimensional player, there’s only so many things you can do.”

The Buckeyes are loaded with athletic dudes who don’t mind the dirty work, and they’ve got a variety of ways they can impact a game without necessarily having the spotlight. The primary question for the tight ends is always how much action they’re going to see in the passing game, and that’s the case again now. But as Lettermen Row dives into Tight End Week, that’s just scratching the surface of key topics at the key position.

Luke Farrell-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football-Jeremy Ruckert

Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert will lead the Ohio State tight ends. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

So, how many catches for the Ohio State tight ends?

The Buckeyes already have one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the country, so it’s not like they really need more production from the tight ends. And while it’s true that Jeremy Ruckert brings plenty to the table as a receiving threat and Ohio State could certainly use Luke Farrell more as a safety net, there are only so many snaps to go around.

Mixing in a couple catches per game like Ohio State did a year ago provides some variety and gives defenses another problem to worry about, and both Ruckert and Farrell showed they can deliver in key moments when needed. But when it comes to explosiveness, Ohio State just has other guys it wants getting the football. There might be a slight uptick this year with Justin Fields becoming more comfortable in command of the offense, potentially leading him to more throws over the middle where the tight ends tend to operate. But a dramatic jump in receptions is probably not in the cards.

Is this the last season for Jeremy Ruckert with Buckeyes?

The numbers obviously don’t leap off the page to point out Jeremy Ruckert as a no-brainer to leave early for the NFL Draft, but his athleticism and natural ball skills have put him on the radar of scouts since the moment he arrived in Columbus. With another year of physical development and another step forward as a blocker, Ruckert is likely going to be facing a tough choice when it comes to his future after this season — and it won’t be a surprise to see him move on to the next level.

Losing Ruckert wouldn’t be ideal for the unit at this time next year since both Farrell and Hausmann will also be gone, and it’s possible that he might embrace the opportunity to be the clear-cut leader in that room for the Buckeyes as a senior. But his draft stock probably isn’t going to change all that much either way since it’s no secret what he could become at the next level, and that will make his decision a key one to follow this season.

Will Luke Farrell get credit he deserves?

The Buckeyes don’t need the tight ends making a bunch of catches for the offense to function at a high level, but the lack of individual statistics typically does come at the expense of awards and acclaim for those guys. It’s an unfortunate reality since most voters are only scanning for individual numbers when ballots are due, because a closer inspection of all the important ways Luke Farrell contributes should get him a lot more attention.

Farrell is next in line off the Ohio State NFL Tight End Assembly Line. And like guys like Jeff Heuerman or Nick Vannett before him, he figures to be in the league for a long time cashing checks thanks to his ability to hold up as a blocker, contribute as a receiver and willingness to do anything to win. Farrell is equally capable of snagging one-handed touchdowns or bowling over defenders with his rugged toughness, and both the Ohio State staff and NFL scouts are aware of his value at the next level.

Cade Stover-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State converted Cade Stover to tight end this offseason. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

How will Cade Stover transition to tight end?

The big offseason position change arrived with plenty of fanfare and then a jolt of optimism after Cade Stover started flashing at tight end after just a couple workouts on offense. But his transition over from linebacker and defensive end was abruptly halted by the pandemic that ended spring camp after just one week, leaving his potential to help at the position this year up in the air until he can get back on the practice field for organized team activities.

Stover had the football in his hands plenty as a running back in high school, and his positional flexibility has never been in question — which is how he’s wound up in three different roles in just one year with the program. There are people inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center who already believe Stover can become an NFL-caliber tight end, which is obviously high praise considering how new he is to the role. It does help that there are three veterans above him on the depth chart to help ease him into the lineup. So, even if Stover doesn’t play a big part in the plans this year, his transitional season will be critical since he’ll be expected to become a starter the following season.

What can Joe Royer bring to Ohio State?

The Buckeyes landed another tall, dynamic target at tight end in the last recruiting cycle. And while Joe Royer didn’t come with all the fanfare that swirled around Ruckert, the Cincinnati native is a four-star prospect with clear upside as an option in the passing game.

Now, the normal caveat applies here: Royer will have to fill out his frame more and become a reliable blocker before Ohio State will turn him loose running routes. And with the Buckeyes loaded with veterans right now, they’ll be patient with Royer and give him time to develop physically while learning all the other responsibilities required at the position. Royer was a nice pickup and he’ll be a key cog down the road, but it’s likely he’ll be heading for a redshirt this season if everything goes according to plan elsewhere.

 

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.