Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers has the whole college football world talking for a few weeks as first year coach Kyle Flood has a team her just inherited from Greg Schiano off to a 9-1 start. Rutgers sadly crashed to earth dropping the last two regular season games and a hard fought 13-10 loss to Virginia Tech in their bowl game leaving them 9-4. It was a good season but it left them thinking what could have been as they went into Thanksgiving with only 1 loss.
It was the first year as a head coach for Kyle Flood not only at Rutgers but any team for that matter. This season will tell us a lot about the direction the Rutgers program is heading as they try to erase the disastrous finish to an otherwise memorable season.
The quarterback play of junior Gary Nova can be summed up looking at the two halves of the Rutgers schedule. Rutgers started 7-0 and Nova had 15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. They finished 2-4 and Nova had 7 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, easy to say so goes Nova so go the Scarlet Knights. Nova has two seasons left and he is a better athlete than many give him credit for. Nova has the ability to feel pressure and step up in the pocket even though you won’t find him breaking off any long runs as he finished the year with -44 yards rushing and only 1 run over 210 yards in length. The stats at the beginning of the year were a little misleading as he had some balls that should have been picked off dropped by opposing defenses. 16 interceptions is not going to get the job done and that has to be priority #1 for the Rutgers offense. Priority #2 has to be replacing 1,000 yard rusher Jawan Jamison. Savon Huggins takes over and he has to improve on his measly 3.4 YPC from a season ago. Even with some carries being in garbage time and running out the clock Huggins does not have the same explosiveness as Jamison. We may see more of sophomore Paul Jones as the season wears on or Rutgers may attempt a two-back system. Paul Carrezola is a legitimate fullback prospect, he won’t carry the ball often or catch the ball but for teams at the NFL level just looking for a true blocking fullback he is one of the better players at the position in the country. Carrezola will be mostly playing tight end for Rutgers as Michael Burton returns from injury.
Best Draft Prospect: Paul Carrezola FB 7th Round 2014.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
There are some legitimate concerns at quarterback and questions about how the running game will pan out but there are absolutely no questions about the receivers and Brandon Coleman. Aside from Marqise Lee at USC, Brandon Coleman may be the best wide receiver at the college football level. Coleman posted 718 yards and 10 touchdowns on only 43 catches and his 6’6” frame makes him an attractive target at the next level. Coleman has shown he can run virtually any route asked of him and he times his jumps perfectly. The biggest problem may be catching the football, Coleman was 3rd in the conference in drop percentage and is one of those receivers who seems to make spectacular catches while dropping the routine or easy ones. Quron Pratt moves into the starting lineup and should see action on the outside and in the slot. Leonte Caroo is the player on the depth chart we should see making big strides this season and we expect him to catch 30-35 passes. This is a deep unit, there are enough targets here that other players will post big numbers if opposing teams just pay attention to Brandon Coleman.
Best Draft Prospect: Brandon Coleman WR 1st Round 2015 (likely to declare early for 2014).
Rutgers has had a number of players make it to the NFL level in recent years from the offensive line (there are a total of 8 on NFL rosters right now who played at Rutgers from 2007 to the present). The best prospect the Scarlet Knights have to offer is left guard Antwan Lowery, a player who also has experience at tackle and can play the in a pinch at 6’4” 310 pounds. Lowery seems to be built more as an aggressive run blocker, he struggles a bit in the backpedal and with hand placement in pass protection but his quickness in space when asked to block around the edge or on sweeps is exceptional. A team at the NFL running a spread offense looking for a number of runs to the outside would be smart to take a player like Lowery. While Lowery may have the most talent right tackle Andre Civil looks like he has a shot at the NFL and acts as the leader along the line of scrimmage. Civil will be asked to add some weight for the NFL or he may be moved inside as he normally plays in the 280-285 range but he fits right in to the mobile line approach that Rutgers always likes to employ. Betim Bujari is back at center and Kaleb Johnson returns at right tackle meaning four starters are back from last years unit that was one of the better lines in the Big East.
Best Draft Prospect: Antwan Lowery OG 6th Round 2014.
When I went back and looked at the stats for Rutgers for the year I was shocked to learn they only sacked opposing quarterbacks 26 times because it always seemed like they had pressure or were bringing a quarterback down. Most of this was due to half of the Merrell twins and that would be defensive end Jamil who had 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, both numbers were second on the team. Jamil and his linebacker twin brother Jamal will be the leaders of the defense for 2013 and it is a unit that was tops in the Big East in scoring defense and playing the run while the unit was 2nd in the conference and 10th nationally. Jamil will be joined by fellow returning starter Marcus Thompson on the other side but the player to watch should be first year starter Darius Hamilton at tackle. Hamilton plays at about 270-275 pounds so he would most likely project as an end at the NFL level and his quickness off the snap is lethal. Daryl Stephenson will be a valuable backup or could even challenge Isaac Holmes fr a starting spot. Stephenson is a home-grown recruit who took a page out of the Merrell book as his brother is a freshman in the secondary while Daryl is a sophomore. I’m not sure we are going to see as much pressure as a season ago but this is still a strength of the Rutgers defense and an area where opposing teams are always concerned. I have Jamil listed as a 7th round prospect and I have to see more out of Hamilton to see if he will be ranked higher, based on the limited exposure I have had to his play I can say he certainly has NFL potential.
Best Draft Prospect: Jamil Merrell DE 7th Round 2014.
Jamal Merrell was the third leading tackler on this team in 2012 with 83 stops and 8.5 coming for loss. Merrell I the top returning tackler as Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan were both lost to the NFL draft. Filling in the void left by Greene will be nearly impossible after he posted a whopping 136 tackles with 12 coming for loss and leading the team with 6 sacks. Sprinkle in the pair of interceptions, 10 quarterback hurries, 6 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries and you quickly see why Greene chose to forgo his senior season and take his talents to the NFL. Marrell is the only returning starter among the linebackers as junior Kevin Snyder will man the other outside position. Snyder saw action in a number of games last year and even made 1 start and finished the year with 30 tackles. In the middle we will see a pair of freshman and right now it looks like a platoon situation as no clear-cut starter has been named. Steve Longa and Quanzell Lambert will be the players we see and I expect Longa to see some time along the outside while Lambert should stick to the middle only. Rutgers has a number of young players at linebacker with most being right from the state of New Jersey where Rutgers is winning the recruiting war by a large margin in an area where schools like Penn State and Virginia Tech used to battle for the top recruits. Jamal is rated as a 7th round selection just like his brother.
Best Draft Prospect: Jamal Merrell 7th Round 2014.
It’s hard to say there is an area on this defense where there is a weakness but of all the areas I would point to the secondary as the one slightly behind the line and the linebackers. Khaseem Greene may have been the best player but cornerback Logan Ryan may be the most difficult to replace as the starting cornerbacks this year are a sophomore and a freshman. In an effort to help out the young secondary Rutgers brought in fifth-year graduate student Nick Toler from Western Michigan, a player who started 35 career games in the MAC conference. Rutgers seems content to go with the speedy youngsters in Tejay Johnson and Ian Thomas. We already talked about another prized recruit in Delon Stephenson, another freshman, who could be the full time nickel or slot corner. I think getting Toler was a stroke of genius and it looks like he will be an extension of the coaching staff, making a huge impact through leadership even if he doesn’t see a lot of action. This is a unit that we should see improving as the year goes along but may struggle a bit out of the gate. Lorenzo Waters and Jeremy Deering are the starting safeties and I currently have Waters listed as an undrafted free agent and the best prospect in the secondary until we see the young players log some quality minutes. It will be a tall order but ZNFL teams have taken notice of Rutgers as three of the four starters from a season ago not only left but landed NFL jobs.
Best Draft Prospect: Lorenzo Waters S UFA 2015.
Rutgers went the fifth-year senior route at punter like they did at cornerback as Nick Marsh comes over from Utah. Kyle Federico is back after his freshman campaign where he showed some promise, unfortunately he battled a hip injury for most of the year so Rutgers has yet to see him healthy for a full season. I don’t see any glaring prospects on special teams.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
Rutgers has a very tough non-conference game on the road to start the season with Fresno State (who would be #41 as they were the team to just miss The Fierce 40). Rutgers has a number of games in conference on the road like Louisville, Connecticut and Central Florida. Rutgers has the ability to earn a BCS birth if they can play well on the road, it would be the perfect send off for their last year in the Big East (they along with Maryland will join the Big Ten).
Brandon Coleman could turn out to be one of those “diamonds in the rough” and turn out to be one of the prizes of the 2014 Draft (assuming he declares which looks like a slam-dunk). It will take a year or two but I expect the line and secondary to crank out multiple prospects just like we saw a season ago.