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Rutgers Football Recruiting: Where We Stand Fencing The Garden

Let’s take a look at where we stand amongst New Jersey’s top recruits.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

As crazy as it may seem, National Signing Day 2017 is only 82 days away (but who's counting, right?).

What this year's NSD really signifies is the first Rutgers recruiting class that head coach Chris Ash has had a full year to put his finger prints on. The first class of freshman that will help shape the future of Rutgers Football. The first warning shot to the rest of the Big Ten that signing away the top recruits from New Jersey will soon be a thing of the past.

For the new coaching staff taking over for the beginning of the Ash Era, recruiting is about more than warning shots. High level recruiting is the foundation of a well-established, elite-level college football program with their sights set on clinching a birth in the College Football Playoff each and every year.

Teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, teams that we are striving to be associated with on a national level, are teams that are not just built with 10-15 talented athletes. Perennial Big Ten title contenders have rosters that are loaded with 30-40+ highly touted recruits fighting for playing time. That is why, for Rutgers, this year should signify the beginning of a rise in ranking for our recruiting classes.

While our 30th ranked class in the country is a very good starting point for Coach Ash and his coaching staff, keeping the top New Jersey athletes from signing elsewhere (including the ones listed below who have signed in the 2017 cycle) is going to lead to more higher level athletes committing to Rutgers University.

#FenceTheGarden has been a recruiting strategy that Chris Ash has thrown around quite a bit. How well has he done to keep New Jersey's best football players right where they belong?

Listed below are Rutgers commits, targets, and notable players from the 247Sports 2017 Top New Jersey Recruits. The full list can be found here.

1. Drew Singleton - OLB, Paramus Catholic

National Overall Ranking: 77 National OLB Ranking: 4

Drew Singleton would have been the best player in the state on arguably the best team in the state if it were not for a torn ACL back in the first week of the season that prematurely ended his senior campaign. Despite being sidelined, Singleton has maintained his status as a highly touted recruit, holding over 20 scholarship offers from Division 1 programs. Rutgers was included in Singleton's top 12 that he released over the summer, however, it's going to take a lot of work from Ash & Company to get New Jersey's top prospect to stay home for the next 4 years.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Michigan 88% Clemson 12%

2. Micah Clark - OT, St. John Vianney Regional

National Overall Ranking: 115 National OT Ranking: 17

Barring something unforeseen, Micah Clark will be the prized jewel of the 2017 recruiting class. That is a very good thing. Checking in at six foot five, 265 pounds, Clark has the size and skill set to come in and compete for playing time right away.

Micah Clark committed to Rutgers University on April 19th, 2016.

3. Bo Melton - WR, Cedar Creek

National Overall Ranking:136 National WR Ranking: 19

Bo Melton burst out on to the scene last year and has proven to be one of the most dynamic athletes in the state. Capable of lining up anywhere, we should expect to see Melton split out wide throughout his years at Rutgers, although I can see him being especially dangerous in the slot. The son of two former Rutgers athletes, Melton has received scholarship offers from some Power-5 programs all over the country, but is intent on staying home and building his own legacy.

Bo Melton committed to Rutgers University on April, 15th 2016.

5. Markquese Bell - ATH, Bridgeton

National Overall Ranking: 235 National ATH Ranking: 15

Markquese Bell is the highest ranked 2017 NJ recruit that Rutgers has a direct path to signing. The 15th ranked athlete in the country, Bell has been a weapon everywhere and anywhere he has lined up throughout his high school career. He has had to play quite a bit of quarterback for Bridgeton out of necessity, however the six foot three Bell is likely destined to play wide receiver at the next level. If Rutgers can close the deal on Bell, here's the type of athlete we'll be seeing - last June, Bell won the high jump event at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last spring with a winning height of six feet ten inches.

Commitment Announcement Date: December 1st, 2016

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 83% Michigan 8%

9. Corey Bolds - DT, Paramus Catholic

National Overall Ranking: 385 National Positional Ranking: 30

Corey Bolds is a big, strong, versatile defensive lineman that can play both the 3-technique and the 5-technique. Considering the depth that Rutgers has at defensive line moving forward, the ability to play multiple positions could give Bolds an advantage over other 2017 true freshman in the fight for playing time. Rutgers is fighting with the big dogs in the Big Ten for the rights to Bolds' services, so this would be a very good get for the recruiting class if Bolds stays home.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 50% Michigan 50%

16. Harrison Hand - CB, Cherry Hill – West

National Overall Ranking: 645 National CB Ranking: 66

Harrison Hand has been rising up recruiting boards over the past year, thanks in part to his next-level speed. Having been clocked in at an official 4.40, Hand has the potential to match-up across from the Big Ten's top wide receivers for the next four years for the Scarlet Knights. That quickness could potentially be showcased in the return game for Rutgers, as Hand already has one kickoff return for a touchdown this year.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 80% Temple 20%

17. Eddie Lewis - WR, Mater Dei

National Overall Ranking: 788 National WR Ranking: 106

Another dynamic offensive weapon out of New Jersey, Eddie Lewis does it all for Mater Dei. So far this year, he's scored at least one touchdown on the ground, through the air, on a punt return, and of the pick-6 variety. Having been able to showcase his talents as a member of the United States National U-19 Football team this past summer in China, Lewis has picked up several scholarship offers over the last 12 months. Lewis would be a great addition to this year's class, but seems destined to head elsewhere.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Syracuse 80% Rutgers 20%

18. Johnathan Lewis - QB, St. Peters Prep

National Overall Ranking: 845 National Dual-Threat QB Ranking:16

The lone quarterback commit in this year's recruiting class, Johnathan Lewis is an exciting combination of size and speed. At six foot three, 225 pounds, Lewis has the arm and leg talent that offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer can build around. The only downside to Lewis' senior year is that he has been injured quite a bit, although it sounds as if he'll be healthy just in time for the playoffs.

Johnathan Lewis committed to Rutgers University on April 30th, 2016.

19. Jamaal Beaty - OG, St. John Vianney Regional

National Overall Ranking: 854 National OG Ranking: 38

The top interior lineman of Rutgers' 2017 recruiting class, Jamaal Beaty is a rock-solid protector for the St. John Vianney offense. Pair up the six foot four, 270 pound Beaty with number two recruit Micah Clark, and you have a left side of the line I'd let protect my blind side any day of the week.

Jamaal Beaty committed to Rutgers University on April 19th, 2016.

20. Liam Fornadel - OG, Don Bosco Prep

National Overall Ranking: 855 National OG Ranking: 39

Coming in just behind Jamaal Beaty in the national rankings, Liam Fornadel is another big guard who makes his living in the trenches for one of New Jersey's top teams. Although he has not decided on a school just yet, all signs point to Fornadel joining the Scarlet Knight's 2017 recruiting class, providing valuable depth to the interior line.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 100%

22. Jahmin Muse - ATH, Elizabeth

National Overall Ranking: 929 National ATH Ranking: 79

Jahmin Muse has been one of the most exciting player in all of NJ high school football this year. Muse is another Rutgers target who has had to play quite a bit of quarterback out of necessity, but has still put up huge numbers for the Elizabeth offense. No matter where he lines up - hopefully in the Rutgers backfield next year - put him in space and watch out. Muse has kick off returns for touchdowns in three different games this year.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 100%

23. Devin Miller - TE, Metuchen

National Overall Ranking: 944 National TE Ranking: 43

The first tight end we've seen so far on the list, Devin Miller was committed to the University of Houston up until this past September. While Miller would be a very solid addition to the group of weapons Rutgers has signed thus far, don't worry too much if they ultimately decide to not lock in a tight end for this recruiting cycle.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 67% Houston 33%

27. CJ Onyechi - OLB, West Orange

National Overall Ranking: 1167 National OLB Ranking: 89

While he may not be the mostly highly touted recruit, there is a good chance that CJ Onyechi sees the field for Rutgers sooner rather than later. Onyechi is a versatile athlete, and has been quoted in saying he is excited about the possibility of playing special teams for the Scarlet Knights during his freshman season. A balance of talent and intelligence, Onyechi also had offers from schools such as Air Force, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Navy, and Princeton.

CJ Onyechi committed to Rutgers University on June 16th, 2016.

29. Mike Tverdov - WDE, Union

National Overall Ranking: 1232 National WDE Ranking: 59

Another Rutgers legacy, Mike Tverdov makes his living in the backfield of opponents. Whether it be with a hand in the dirt as a defensive end, or standing up as an outside linebacker, Tverdov will be a pass rushing force throughout his time as a Scarlet Knight. So far this year, Tverdov has already picked up six and a half sacks.

Mike Tverdov commited to Rutgers University on July 13th, 2016.

31. Johnathan Lovett - ATH, Cherokee

National Overall Ranking: 1354 National Athlete Ranking: 85

Johnathan Lovett is a workhorse running back with breakaway speed who delivers punishment to defenders at the point of contact. While he is listed as an athlete, Lovett has all the makings of a physical running back who sets a tone in the ground game. So far this year, Lovett has over 1,100 rushing yards and 18(!) total touchdowns.

Johnathan Lovett committed to Rutgers University on June 27th, 2016.

32. Tyler Hayek S Wayne Hills

National Overall Ranking: 1356 National Safety Ranking: 103

While Rutgers was his only Power-5 scholarship offer, Tyler Hayek could end up being the hidden gem of the 2017 recruiting class. Although he is listed as a safety, Hayek could wind up playing on the offensive side of the ball once he gets to Rutgers. Standing six feet four inches and plenty of speed to back it up, deciding where Hayek will ultimately line up is a great problem for the coaching staff to have.

Tyler Hayek committed to Rutgers University on June 25th, 2016.

34. Owen Bowles - OG, Cedar Creek

National Overall Ranking: 1395 National OG Ranking: 74

Often overshadowed by fellow teammate and Rutgers commit Bo Melton, Owen Bowles will have plenty to offer once he gets on campus. Perhaps more skilled right now as an interior defensive lineman, Bowles has the size and work ethic to develop into an offensive lineman at the next level. This is especially impressive because Bowles has only been playing offense for Cedar Creek since his junior year, despite being a member of the varisty defensive line since he was a freshman.

Owen Bowles committed to Rutgers University on June 12th, 2016.

35. Everett Wormley - WR, Burlington Twp

National Overall Ranking:1449 National WR Ranking: 196

Everett Womley continues the trend of big, versatile athletes who do a little bit of everything for their team. While he has been limited this year due to injury, Womley has over 1,000 career all-purpose yards and double digit career touchdowns. Although capable of lining up anywhere, Womley projects as a boundary reciever.

Everett Wormley committed to Rutgers University on April 22nd, 2016.

37. Elijah Barnwell - RB, Piscataway

National Overall Ranking: 1681 National RB Ranking: 22

A familiar last name for Rutgers fans, Elijah is the younger brother of former defensive back Nadir Barnwell. Playing right in our backyard at Piscataway High School, Elijah Barnwell is enjoying an outstanding senior year to cap off one of the best careers in Piscataway history. While leading his team to the number two seed in the Central Jersey, Group 5 playoffs, Barnwell is closing in on 5,000 career rushing yards and 60 career rushing touchdowns.

247 Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Rutgers 100%

42. Naijee Jones - CB, Timber Creek

National Overall Ranking: 1853 National CB Ranking: 187

The very first signee of the 2017 recruiting class, Naijee Jones is as committed as it gets to rebuilding the Rutgers football program. Checking in at six-foot-one, 185 pounds, Jones projects best as a big, strong boundary corner. Interestingly enough, Jones has been used throughout the season at times as a strong safety/outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers-esque role. That type of physicality will be more than welcome on the Rutgers defense.

Naijee Jones committed to Rutgers University on November 23rd, 2015.

48. Bryce Watts - ATH, Toms River North

National Overall Ranking: 2252 National ATH Ranking: 312

The final athlete on our list, Bryce Watts is just that - an athlete. One of the top big play threats in the entire state, Watts flashes 4.3 speed and a nose for the end zone, as well as a nose for the ball on defense. Despite his 8 receiving touchdown this season, Watts looks to be poised to contribute on defense and special teams early on in his Rutgers career.

Bryce Watts committed to Rutgers University on March 27th, 2016.

By my estimation, Rutgers has committed or is in the mix for 20 of the top 50 2017 New Jersey prospects, including the top tackle, wide receiver, athlete, defensive tackle, cornerback, safety, tight end, defensive end, and dual-threat quarterback. While, as I’m writing this, we have only locked up two of the top ten NJ recruits, the 2017 recruiting cycle has been a huge success for Chris Ash and his staff so far. Keeping the current class in place, while adding a few more top players from the state will be key to the future success of the program.

Here’s to the beginning of Fencing The Garden.