The day after tomorrow will mark only eight 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 recruiting class of 2014. (Class of 2016 here; 2015 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. This group joined with a vision of the Big Ten and were rewarded with a magical true freshman season culminating in Hicks 200 yard MVP performance in Detroit.
Most contributions in the last three seasons:
1. Robert Martin - RB, Harrisburg, Harrisburg, PA
State (PA) Overall Ranking: 12 National RB Ranking: 34
I won’t contribute directly to the debate of who should have started last week. To achieve bowl eligibility he exploded on the scene for 3 TDs against Indiana as a true freshman. Since then he has consistently been the second best playmaker on the offense behind Carroo and early this season Grant. Effective out of the pro set, it would seem the power spread would be even better for his skillset which is punctuated by an ability to cutback any time he faces a LB in space. Barring an injury or issue off the field, he will be the starter in 2017 will move into 10th place on the all-time RU rushing list with only 302 more yards.
Spring projection: Starting running back. 1 year of eligibility remaining (no RS)
2. Josh Hicks - RB, Palmetto, Palmetto, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 81 National RB Ranking: 12
Josh Hicks, wow. I won’t belabor the point Matthew Pisani made about the coaches reviewing their own performance this season again. But they are sure to look back and Ash may say this about his OC in regards to how many touches Hicks had this season. Like Martin above, he exploded on the scene in 2014 by carrying for over 100 yards in the Indiana game. He then overshadowed Martin again in the bowl game against UNC by running for 200 yards, the greatest moment delivered by this class. There is a possibility he could burn his redshirt by transferring or be permanently moved to safety where he looked better than guys playing it full time. If not should be utilized more properly in 2017, especially in short yardage.
Spring projection: Backup running back. 1 year of eligibility remaining (no RS)
3. Tariq Cole - LT, Long Beach, Long Beach, NY
State (NY) Overall Ranking: 7 National OT Ranking: 84
Listed at 365 as a recruit? It has been mentioned that he was over 400 pounds in high school before dropping to 315 last year when he was deemed far and away the most athletic offensive lineman on the team. Earlier this season, he was rated by PFF as the best left tackle in the B1G. That may change after the last few disastrous games by the RU offense, but as probably the only RU player listed as the best at ANYTHING this season, he has exceeded his recruiting expectations. His spot is set for 2 more seasons.
Spring projection: Starting LT. 2 years of eligibility remaining as a building block for Ash.
4. Isaiah Wharton, CB - Gateway, Kissimmee, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 368 National CB Ranking: 218
How do you like me now, the 218 ranked corner in the land? Really? He’s a power 5 two year starter. Sure he has struggled in coverage at times, but if you simply compared his performance to other freshman and sophomore corners around the conference he probably wouldn’t be that bad. Factor in how poorly the rest of the back 7 has performed, and it’s hard to blame too much on him individually. You can never have too many experienced DBs. If they find someone better, great. If not, it’s not doomsday.
Spring projection: Starting CB. 2 years of eligibility remaining.
5. Saquan Hampton - FS, Hamilton North-Nottingham, Trenton, NJ
State (NJ) Overall: 29 National CB Ranking: 86
In some ways, Hampton’s career thus far is similar to Chris Laviano. The last two staffs have both raved about his improvement, went on an on about his potential, and his performance like Laviano hasn’t been as good or as bad overall as the fans think. Unlike #5, he has battled some injuries and does appear to have individually improved over his career. He’s not big enough to be a linebacker as Morris and Roberts have already shown, but can be a contributor in the right role. The question is that is overly evident on film is whether he is actually fast enough at FS. It seems that he needs to sell out to make tackles; a great move by the receiver or slightly wrong angle and he gets beat.
Spring projection: Starting FS. 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Providing depth - Two-deep in 2016: likelihood of impact in 2017:
1. Kevin Wilkins - DT, St. Joseph’s, Montvale, NJ
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 30 National OG Ranking: 57
This is a B1G player. Initially recruited as an offensive guard I saw a bigger Rameel Meekins with his wrestling background and physical strength and quickness. It’s a little disconcerting that he has never leapfrogged Joseph at the nose position but when you see a play like he made last year against Nebraska, he still has potential. Fill your trenches with enough guys with his skill set and some will emerge as stars eventually. I expect he will move alongside Joseph and battle Bateky for the starting DT spot.
Spring projection: Co-Starter at DT with Bateky. 2 years of eligibility remaining.
2. Alan Lucy - LS, Dinwiddie County, Dinwiddie, VA
State (VA) Overall Ranking: 76 National LS Ranking: 12
You could argue he is the most valuable player in the class. He had to replace a four year starter in Jones and carry on a legacy of NFL players like Harris and DePaola. His first year as a true freshman he had a few bumps, but nothing to create a firestorm. Since then he has been extremely reliable on kicks and punts. A solid contributor.
Spring projection: Starting QB (just kidding!!!!) ... Starting Long Snapper for one more year.
3. Giovanni Rescigno - QB, De La Salle, Warren, MI
State (MI) Overall Ranking: 38 National QB Ranking: 85
He’s the starting quarterback today. The rankings of 247 were not close to ESPN as so much of his recruiting had to do with the fact that he only played QB for one season in high school behind Shane Morris. All the reasons we were told he wasn’t ready by the last two staffs were correct, but probably has more potential than any other QB on the roster today (other than maybe Oden). As we have seen in the games he has played, when he can run; the offense can move a little bit. When he can’t; the offense is unwatchable.
Spring projection: Starting QB. Two years of eligibility remaining.
4. Marcus Applefield - OL, Weeki Wachee, Weeki Wachee, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 151 National OT Ranking: 96
Rutgers over the last decade has done an excellent job of consistently creating competition for it’s offensive line spots and rotating in more than the starting 5. Guys like Art Forst, Antwan Lowery, and this year JJ Denman were not safe in their spots they earned early in their careers. That allowed other guys like Applefield to get time and grow into spots as their careers progressed. Chris Muller was a four year starter but after the debacle of pass blocking from the right side against Maryland, I think Applefield may turn out to be an upgrade within the context of this power spread in 2017.
Spring projection: Starting right guard, will battle to hold it. Two years eligibility remaining.
5. Jimmy Hogan - DE, Ramapo, Franklin Lakes, NJ
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 35 National DE Ranking: 61
From the same High School as Greg Schiano, I saw a lot of Ryan Neill in Hogan when he first arrived. He is the type of player from a power NJ High School that Rutgers has to get in recruiting to build up their program. Like many of the previously mentioned players in this class he is a solid depth provider with a great motor that over the next two seasons might be a great platoon player or potential starter on a decent team. The staff now has plenty of tape to evaluate the continued logjam at DE where no one has broken away from the pack unfortunately.
Spring projection: Backup to Darnell Davis. Two years eligibility remaining.
6. Eric Wiafe - DT, Milford Academy, New Berlin, NY
POST rankings: State (NY) Overall Ranking: 4 Overall DT Ranking: 1
Wiafe initally committed a year earlier but went to Milford Academy to make sure he qualified. He has been in on several special teams where he is simply a load to block or get around. He definitely has the size to compete in the B1G as evidenced by his weight and recruiting rankings, but will likely get increased time with the graduations on the defensive line. As he gets older he should get better. The defense as a whole cannot stop the run which is the fault of all levels, but the D line not getting pushed around because of guys like Wiafe will surely help.
Spring projection: Backup NT. Two years eligibility remaining.
Moving up on the depth chart:
1. Brandon Russell - LB, University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 288 National OLB Ranking: 145
Russell has been in the mix at multiple linebacker spots and on special teams since Day 1 as an early enrollee. He actually started against Maryland and led the team with 12 tackles, but much like many of Rutgers other starters, is more of a role player. They gave up over 300 rushing yards and the emphasis on speed may have him on the outside looking in again next year. There is no individual position on the defense that is a complete black hole and the staff will look for impact players at every position.
Spring projection: Backup MLB. Special teams warrior with two years of eligibility left.
2. Eric Margolis - LB, Clarkstown North, New City, NY
State (NY) Overall: 42 National ILB Ranking: 160
I’ll admit I thought Margolis was a late add as a WR by Flood simply because he needed bodies. Like Russell, he also made his first start against Maryland this past weekend. And like Russell made some tackles, but is a poster child for this class as a solid role player who has a ways to go before becoming a solid starter anywhere on the field. A very skilled player, a return to offense is also not out of the question.
Spring projection: Backup WLB. Two years of eligibility left.
3. George Behr, TE - East Ridge, St. Paul, MN
State (MN) Overall Ranking: 9 National TE Ranking: 96
A guy who never seems to show up in the news (which for this team is a shock), Behr was originally under the large shadow of the Texan, his fellow TE recruit Lister (below). Since then he was set back by the switch to a power spread where large tight ends have a more limited role than the pro set allowing smaller TEs like Flanagan to get reps. This doesn’t alarm me because he is still getting bigger and stronger. In the offseason the staff needs to find ways to create mismatches rather than go straight at bigger, faster opponents. A big tight end with good hands may be a beneficiary.
Spring projection: Battling with Griffin-Stewart at backup TE. Two yrs left.
4. Zach Heeman, OT - Mt. Olive, Flanders, NJ
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 32 National OT Ranking: 106
Heeman could easily jump to the top of this list if he breaks out in 2017. For Rutgers to have sustained success, when offensive linemen like him are in New Jersey, RU needs to secure his services. Like Applefield above, he has also received some playing time to help him continue his development. He overtook Denman, a multi-year starter for a starting spot in early August before losing it to Seymour permanently midseason. It’s entirely possible he gets better, starts next year and shifts Seymour inside. If Seymour or Cole were to get injured, he’s the only other tackle with experience and would start.
Spring projection: Backup left tackle. Two years of eligibility remaining.
No longer with the program (in order of how much he has been missed):
1. Andre Boggs - CB, Avon Old Farms, Avon, CT
State (CT) Overall Ranking: 3 National CB Ranking: 64
He is head and shoulders above the rest of the players who are gone from this class, starting as a true freshman at cornerback. He showed speed, toughness, and a big play ability no one in the current defensive backfield has shown to this point. It’s a sad story how no one provided his bail for 3 months after the arrest last year. Next stop: TBD
2. Kam Lott- CB, First Coast, Jacksonville, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 144 National CB Ranking: 72
Another early enrollee, Lott seemed destined for snaps at corner long before the entire defensive backfield was obliterated. He redshirted in 2014 when the team did ok without having to use the undersized freshman. Then wrote a heart felt letter explaining how he was leaving on good terms but needed to leave for family reasons. He emerged at Georgia Military. Next stop: Delaware St or Alabama St most likely.
3. Jacquis Webb - OL, Gates Chili, Rochester, NY
State (NY) Overall Ranking: 8 National OG Ranking: 47
From the smallest member of the class to one of the biggest. The first time I saw Webb I thought, this must be what the B1G is, a mammoth offensive lineman. He transferred this fall not really finding a good spot in this offense. Next stop: Buffalo.
4. Logan Lister - TE, Katy, Katy, TX
State (TX) Overall Ranking: 180 National OG Ranking: 71
Lister seemed like a great signing. He wanted to play tight end but put his high school team first by accepting a role as their starting left tackle in the Friday Night Lights of Texas! Appearing to be a team guy even at RU, he initially accepted a move to OL before leaving the school. Next stop: Navy OT. Not listed on two deep.
5. Jacob Kraut - FB, Duncan U. Fletcher, Neptune Beach, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 169 National FB Ranking: 6
The Rutgers fullback legacy seemed logical to have Kraut as it’s next road grader and special teams warrior. Among the best FB prospects in the land he settled on Rutgers the heir apparent to Michael Burton also starring at LB. He left after redshirting which probably benefited him as another pro style guy that would have trouble finding a spot now at RU. Next stop: FIU. Listed as a RB, his only stat is one tackle this season.
6. Darian Dailey - CB, Manatee, Bradenton, FL
State (FL) Overall Ranking: 378 National CB Ranking: 233
A spring practice starter, his dismissal was originally not made a big deal. Of course in hindsight it became a big deal on two fronts, as part of a larger pattern of team behavior and yet another one-time starter at corner no longer with the program. What a difference a year makes. Next stop: Akron. No stats this year.
7. Donald Bedell - DE, Rumson, Rumson, NJ
State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 43 National SDE Ranking: 70
Bedell seemed to have the size and pedigree to eventually play on the defensive line at Rutgers. A solid three star recruit from in-state it was unfortunate when he decided to leave the program. Next stop: Montana. Ten tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR in 2016.
8. Sam Blue - DE, Millbrook, Raleigh, NC
State (NC) Overall Ranking: 82 National OLB Ranking: 214
Blue was a late commit that appeared to have a lot of upside, Kemoko Turay like even before there was a Kemoko Turay legend. Like Gio he was a late bloomer so the thought was he might be way better than his rankings would indicate. He didn’t stick around long perhaps when he saw bigger, faster guys like Nash. Next stop: NC A&T. 7 tackles on special teams in 2015. 5 tackles (2.5 TFL) plus 1.5 sacks in 2016.
1. Strengths: A. What went right initially was the number of guys in this group. Only one of the eight no longer with the program actually produced on the field before departing. A number of players also have provided depth, especially on special teams like Lucy, Margolis, Russell, Wiafe, etc. B. Immediate offensive playmakers (Martin and Hicks) C. Possibility of three OL starters.
2. Weaknesses: Had it not for the decommits (below), this section might be rather short. A. Only 4 solid starters have emerged from this class which would be ok if the team was good, but in rebuilding mode that is not a good thing to have so few true juniors and redshirt sophomores on the field for a turnaround. B. Lack of speed. The only guys with above average speed at their positions are Gio, Cole, and Wilkins. C. Overall lack of game changing players and performances, with ZERO wideouts in this class for a team now trying to run a spread.
3. Still TBD: A. Gio. In the annals of Rutgers recruiting there may not be a more polarizing debate than when Wiegars decommitted and his spot in the class was filled by Gio. The staff also felt the risk of Gio’s inexperience might be offset by the transfer they had coming in, Philip Nelson. He left RU with legal trouble but has put up big stats this year at ECU. B. The narrative on a group of linemen is not complete until they are gone. The continued development is crucial to whether this team can achieve respectability in less than 3 more recruiting classes.
4. This narrative is not complete without mentioning all the decommits. For completeness, let’s just list all that I tracked: Hester (Miami-FL before returning), Njoku (Miami-FL), Hallmon (N Illinois), Wiegers (Iowa), Jennings (Pitt then Temple), Hilliman (BC), Simmons (USC then GT), Fuchs (Indiana), Smith (Indiana), Blacknall (PSU), Mokwuah (ND), Herron (WF), Martin (Miami-OH), Perez (UCF). Without painstakingly talking about them individually, I count 8 of those players currently starting on teams that had a much better year than RU, ouch. To quote Major League, “Wish we had him two years ago.” “We did....”
5. Where are you Sidney Gopre and Justin Nelson? The two recruits billed as biggest defensive difference makers, even more than Boggs, were Gopre and Nelson. Gopre was the consensus player of the year from NJ but did not qualify. Nelson was the top recruit in the class and could have been the big explosive pass rusher this team currently lacks. Both still could end up at RU and had expressed previous interest.
NOTE: For the rankings in this article I arbitrarily chose 247 rankings. We will dive into composite recruiting rankings at a later date.