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Impact of the Class of 2015: Review, progress, and future outlook

Five current starters from this class already, one star.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Minnesota
Harris is the star of this class in two sports.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow will mark only nine more Wednesdays until National Signing Day. The recruiting trail looking forward will be covered by Chris Drabik.

This weekly segment focuses how each of the last five recruiting classes have performed and their outlook for the future. We continue with the Class of 2015. (Class of 2016 here.) When a Rutgers quarterback gets this offense really going again, it’s going to take the pieces around him to block, tackle, and make plays. Several true freshmen saw action in 2015 and continued their careers on the banks this season. They were joined by a handful of RS Freshmen on the field in 2016.

Top of the “last” class of Kyle Flood (current starters):

1. Jawuan Harris - WR, St. Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 298 National WR Ranking: 232

Perhaps under-recruited by being a two-sport athlete, Harris did not arrive at Rutgers as the most heralded of prospects. After eleven games, every opponent surely knows his name. Telling stat: In the two games against OSU and Michigan he was the only Scarlet Knight to even catch a single pass! He caught five, but it just goes to show how desperate this team was for him to step up. He’s a real star in the making.

Spring projection: Starting slot receiver unless Grant returns. Then he will play outside.

2. Blessuan Austin - CB, Milford Academy, New Berlin, NY

POST rankings- State (NY): 8 National CB Ranking: 2 (National overall 8)

Damon Hayes made his first start at Cornerback against Michigan State with Austin injured, not due to a “benching”. Austin was listed as a backup in training camp 2015 before both starters and the top backup were kicked off the team forcing him in a starting role from Game 1. Of course he has had his lumps, but his size and experience will keep him in the starting lineup. You can never have enough experienced corners.

Spring projection: Starting cornerback.

3. Deonte Roberts - MLB, Erasmus Hall, Brooklyn, NY

State (NY) Overall Ranking: 12 National ATH Ranking: 146

Roberts started one game in 2015 and played on special teams after enrolling early. He emerged from the linebacker “mess” as the starting MLB after all three starters in 2015 graduated. As mentioned in the article about the back seven, there have been a few times where RU has been burned by pre-snap alignment miscommunication. That is disappointing this late in the season, but a problem that should be corrected. Roberts will get stronger but I expect we see a change in the alignment so he can make plays on the weak side with Maddox-Williams shifting to the middle.

Spring projection: Starting WLB.

4. Trevor Morris, OLB - Malvern Prep, Malvern, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 49 National OLB Ranking: 160

Trevor Morris was listed by some sources as an athlete, some as a safety, and others in what became his position, linebacker. He saw time in 2015 on special teams as the coaching staff needed speed and positions traditional filled by linebackers fell to reserves because Longa and Lewis were banged up most of the year as well. His 40 yard dash in high school was clocked in the 4.4 range which bodes better for special teams than linebacker thus far. As a linebacker he will continue to get stronger and learn leverage which is why this blogger is optimistic heading into 2017.

Spring projection: Starting SLB due to his athletisicm shifting Maddox-Williams inside.

5. Kamaal Seymour - RT, Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY

State (NY) Overall: 6 National DT Ranking: 80

Anyone who said Kamaal Seymour would be starting at right tackle even as recently as spring camp deserves a medal. (Check your mailbox). Much has been written about him and his transition this fall leapfrogging many other offensive linemen to become a starter in just a few weeks. His improvement is crucial to improved offense in 2017.

Spring projection: Starting RT. This staff wants to build around he and Cole at the tackle spots.

Providing depth- Two-deep in 2016: likelihood of impact in 2017:

1. Ron’Dell Carter - DE, Long Reach, Columbia, MD

State (MD) Overall Ranking: 39 National WDE Ranking: 85

Carter may be the most transformed player from this class physically. When I saw him in uniform I could not believe it was a human being listed as a Weak Side DE at 227 pounds less than 2 years ago. The Knights haven’t mounted a huge pass rush but with so many experienced guys ahead of him, it is impressive that Carter has cracked the two-deep already. He is the type of athlete Rutgers had so much success recruiting in the 70s and then again under Schiano. Let’s hope he becomes a star.

Spring projection: Backup DE. I give Jimmy Hogan a slight edge in a toss up.

2. Zach Venesky - OL, Valley View HS, Peckville, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 24 National OG Ranking: 64

Honestly, I had to look up where Peckville or Archbald, PA were on a map. As a result, when a player generates this much buzz from there, it should have been no surprise that he was the backup center as a true freshman in 2015. Moved back to guard likely due to his quickness, being not as big as the other lineman in the two-deep means he has to be that much better and tougher to see the field. I have no doubt he will start at some point in his career. He’s been on the two-deep for 2 full years already!

Spring projection: Backup left guard.

3. Jon Bateky - DT, Poolesville, Poolesville, MD

State (MD) Overall Ranking: 33 National SDE Ranking: 65

He’s the backup to Darius Hamilton which means two things: 1. There is no shame not seeing too much of the field this year and 2. The Terrapins sure feels like he was stolen from them. Bateky surprised by contributing as a true freshman with Hamilton sidelined and this season has 3.5 tackles for loss. Over 50 pounds heavier than his recruited weight, Bateky will try to hold off Kevin Wilkins as the starter at defensive tackle. He has all the makings of a solid B1G lineman.

Spring projection: Co-Starter at DT with Kevin Wilkins.

4. Jarius Adams - DB, Dwyer, Palm Beach, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 195 National CB Ranking: 126

Rutgers survived a late push by the Michigan Wolverines and their new coach for his services. With all the madness last season he ended up starting two games as a true freshman and played a key role in the historic comeback win at Indiana. After showing flashes, he has not appeared in a game this season and is likely in line for a redshirt. He has not been in the news so there is no reason to believe he won’t be back contributing in 2017.

Spring projection: Two-deep corner battle.

5. Ronnie James - LB, Glassboro, Glassboro, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 39 National S Ranking: 110

Known more as Paul James’s brother, Ronnie has yet to carve his own legend on the banks. Considered like many other members of this class, he is a “football player” more than having a specific position “by trade”. With the injury to Jones and departure of Clayton, James is now the backup SLB as has been mentioned at length, the “best” athlete on a Chris Ash defense. That in mind he could be back at safety or down the road even back on offense. Despite being at RB, CB, S, and LB he’s still only a RS Fr.

Spring projection: Somewhere on the two-deep, let’s assume backup SLB.

6. Isaiah Johnson - MLB, City College of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

POST rankings - State (CA) Overall Ranking: 71 National LB Ranking: 9

A Kyle Flood specialty, Johnson was a low-risk, high reward signing who almost started at MLB last year if it weren’t for Kaiwan Lewis’s late arrival. He was a good solider and participated on special teams the last two seasons. The staff decided to play Deonte Roberts at MLB this year, perhaps not seeing enough more value in a player (Johnson) in his final year of eligibility on a team that was headed nowhere.

Spring projection: Graduation.

Moving up on the depth chart:

1. Nakia Griffin-Stewart - TE, Tenafly, Tenafly, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 24 National TE Ranking: 44

Before talking about his talent, Griffin-Stewart was the leader of this class, ensuring everyone was comfortable, stayed committed, and truly had that Rutgers pride. As evidenced by the number of defections below including Folkerts who initially overshadowed him, Griffin-Stewart may have been a little TOO persuasive. On the field, this guy is a football player. In the Rutgers scheme he should see time at tight end with his continued development and the departures of last spring’s top 3 tight ends.

Spring projection: Backup TE. In a 3 man race to start with Washington and Behr.

2. Charles Snorweah - RB, Pennsbury, Fairless Hills, PA

State (PA) Overall: 30 National RB Ranking: 93

Virtually every time any school signs a running back you pop in the film (or nowadays YouTube) and say to yourself, “Wow, he’s good!” Then in Snorweah’s case come to find out he didn’t train for football and just did track in the off-season! With the log jam at running back the last two seasons, he was moved temporarily to cornerback out of necessity. Couple that with straightening things out academically and Snorweah is as much a victim of team turmoil the last two years as anyone else on the squad. This gives me hope that with some stability in the staff, his weight training, and spring practice, we could have a dark horse star in the backfield in 2017.

Spring projection: The speed back, whatever that means to Ash on the depth chart.

3. Willington Previlon, DE - Orange, Orange, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 36 National SDE Ranking: 74

Previlon was a nice pickup as a top 40 recruit in New Jersey. He’s been buried on the depth chart and during that time has seen his weight listed as 230 in High School now up to 270. Since the DL will have a lot of change due to graduation and Rutgers’s inability to pass rush, he may end up in the rotation and once he gets even stronger be a star somewhere in the trenches. When Rutgers says they try to emulate a program like Michigan State, this is the type of player development that could illustrate that.

Spring projection: Fighting for two deep spot at DE or DT.

4. Rashad Blunt, WR - Creekside, St. Augustine, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 231 National WR Ranking: 184

Running a sub-4.4 40 yard dash, Blunt has football in his genes. If he can have half the career his father had, the Knights are looking good. With the departures of Patton, Agudosi, Matthews, Tsimis, and likely Grant, there will be more than enough reps to go around at receiver in 2017. Blunt will have every chance to prove himself and will begin spring camp in the mix with a number of other unknowns for a starting role.

Spring projection: Two-deep receiver.

5. Jonah Jackson - OL, Penncrest, Media, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 46 National OT Ranking: 194

Jackson surprised some when he was listed as the backup center on the depth chart this fall. He has held steady in that role, so it’s entirely possible he begins spring as the starting center with captain Derrick Nelson graduating. That said, this staff may decide to move someone like Heeman inside to get him on the field. It will initially move Miller to center to see how he performs, knowing he could move back to guard in a pinch. So I think there’s more of a chance Jackson starts 2017 week 1 at center than he does spring practice. Backup center is the second most important backup on a team.

Spring projection: Backup Center, but plenty of first team reps.

6. Manny Taylor - OL, Roman Catholic, Philadelphia, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 48 National OT Ranking: 203

The second OL from the Philly area, Taylor isn’t officially on the two-deep. Remember though, he hasn’t played much high-level organized football so he surely will continue to improve. Listed as 6’5, 296, up from his recruited weight of 270 he is the prototypical sized lineman I expect Rutgers wants for their scheme. I see him pushing Seymour at right tackle with the possibility of moving inside.

Spring projection: Holding a spot as the backup Right Tackle.

7. Michael Dare - QB, Memorial, Elmwood Park, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 16 National QB Ranking: 26

Barring some major shakeup, that QB will not be Dare. He committed in June 2015 after wowing at Rutgers camp as a pro-style QB and we have seen how little chance this staff has given Hayden Rettig on the field in the same mold. Perhaps this offseason they will re-consider and with three years eligibility remaining there’s a chance Dare gets a look. Buried at number 6 on the depth chart with potentially a highly touted QB or two joining the program he may have more to think about than any other player in this program. He’s the kind of QB that could end up at Penn or Delaware, shred the record books and no one would be surprised. For RU fans who long for some accurate deep passes that would be painful.

Spring projection: Scout team, he also might transfer. If he does I hope it’s the Quakers!

No longer with the program (in order of how much he has been missed):

1. Na’jee Clayton - LB, Paramus Catholic, Paramus, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 14 National S Ranking: 43

I loved his signing when it happened and I thought for sure this staff would see him as the strong side linebacker deemed the most important on an Ash defense from Day 1. He was the backup SLB receiving plenty of playing time, behind Greg Jones on the depth chart. Clayton left the program for personal reasons just before Jones who was playing excellent was lost for the year. According to his twitter page, he is not done with football entirely and it would be nice to see him back with the Knights at some point even though no one has indicated that he plans to do that. Next stop: TBD

2. Marques Ford - DE, East Bay, Gibsonton, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 36 National SDE Ranking: 18 (National overall: 274)

A late flip after Tennessee removed his scholarship, Ford appeared to be a steal. He was the unanimous pick as the top commit in the class being viewed as a four star recruit by everyone who does them. After not seeing the field in 2015 he was rumored to already be leaving before the Ash staff stepped in. After showcasing the same potential that garnered him his rankings in high school, Ford drew a lot of interest before committing to East Carolina. Next stop: Jones County JC, then ECU.

3. Jack Shutack - OL, Nazareth Academy, La Grange, IL

State (IL) Overall Ranking: 24 National OT Ranking: 112

He was viewed as a “technician” which would likely have been a good fit in the power spread. Not sure what position he would have been playing, but losing scholarship linemen really hurts, just ask Christian Hackenberg. His departure coincided with Seymour’s move to offense. Next stop: Unknown.

4. Anthony Folkerts - TE, Valwood School, Valdosta, GA

State (GA) Overall Ranking: 134 National TE Ranking: 49

Folkerts sure surprised me when he committed to RU from Georgia which does not have a heavy RU pipeline. Playing as a fullback, he got action in 2015 as a true freshman. He never carried the ball or caught any passes, but the need for good blockers is required for a good football team. Once the new staff came in, he decided to move on, one reason surely being his offensive versatility is more suited to a pro set. Next stop: Unknown.

5. Dontae Owens - WR, Reading, Reading, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 31 National WR Ranking: 163

Not much was talked about him until the staff inserted him into a game for one play late in the season burning his opportunity for a redshirt. Then he was the first player dismissed by Chris Ash just as this season was about to begin. These unfortunate events preventing us from ever finding out how good he could be. Next stop: Unknown.

20/20 Hindsight:

1. The 2015 group being all over the place is not that surprising because so much was in flux between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The team changed conferences after having a bad season when people had high expectations and then shocked the world by being good in a better conference the following season. As a result of having such a good season in their first year in the Big Ten, the Knights were able to get some late commits like Ford and survive coaching turmoil elsewhere for other players like Jarius Adams. That said, they didn’t have the strong early interest to really capitalize on a good season and translate to a great class.

2. This class has a very even feel to it in a bad way. 5 starters, 6 on the two-deep (losing Johnson to graduation), 5 no longer with the program, and 7 who hope to make their mark in 2017. Perhaps that is simply a sign that this class has already shaken itself out, a process that often takes three or four years. The early playing time did a lot of pushing and pulling so it remains to be seen if the 5-5-5-7 will have a major change in the coming seasons. Early enrollees Bateky, Austin, Roberts, and Johnson were key.

3. Alkadir Ports is a player who did not qualify. The 2015 class has several LB/S types so that may not have ended up mattering. On the other hand, billed by most sources as one of the top 5 commits in this class, he would have added another possibility to the deserted defensive backfield. He would have had every opportunity to play early.

4. And oh yea, this star running back from the team that just beat us is pretty good. He was an RU commit initially. His flip may overshadow all the decommits in the 2014 class. Also, Blake Camper flipped late to South Carolina and began the season on their two-deep.

NOTE: For the rankings in this article I arbitrarily chose 247 rankings. We will dive into composite recruiting rankings at a later date.