The dust has settled. A tumultuous football season was followed by a rather tumultuous recruiting period, but we made it. 19 players signed with Chris Ash and Rutgers Football on Wednesday's National Signing Day, and the 2016 roster is beginning to take shape.
Speaking to the media during NSD festivities, Ash spoke highly about his first class at the Scarlet Knights coach. It is clear he is proud of the work he and his staff put in to bring these 19 players aboard.
"We wanted to bring in guys of high character," Ash said. "We wanted guys with intelligence. We wanted guys that could be great teammates. We wanted guys that could fit into the culture that we wanted to build here. We want guys that will compete. We want guys that are disciplined and have toughness. And then if we can get that with some great ability, it's a great combination. But those factors were very important for us moving forward; that we brought the right type of young men into this program."
Naturally, these past few days and weeks have generated a lot of chatter among Rutgers fans, so I'm going to do my best to address several of the hottest recruiting-related talking points.
How should we feel about the class?
Of course, you have to expect the head coach to be proud of the players he's bringing in. He wouldn't be doing his job if he stepped up to the podium and talked about how disappointing his class was, killing the players' confidence. So Ash's glowing words about the class shouldn't be too surprising.
Evaluations from fans have ranged everywhere from pride, to optimism, to huge disappointment. I think the best evaluation lies somewhere in the middle.
On one hand, it's natural to be disappointed. Ash was brought in with a lot of fanfare and immediately gave the fans hope. There was reason to expect greatness right away.
But the recruiting class doesn't stack up well nationally according to most recruiting sites. The majority of these sites have Rutgers ranked in the low 70s or high 60s in the nation, with perhaps the most glowing ranking coming from CBS Sports draft analyst Tom Lemming, who has Rutgers at No. 59. The class lacks true "star power", and features no four- or five-star recruits, which makes any class a failure for some.
But Ash always had the odds stacked against him with this recruiting class. He was taking over a program in shambles, with less than two months to juggle coaching Ohio State's bowl game, hiring a new coaching staff, and building a recruiting class.
It also didn't help that a surprising number of the commits already in place before Ash took over felt strongly enough about Kyle Flood and his staff that they were willing to look elsewhere after the previous staff was let go. Prominent recruiters E.J. Barthel and Anthony Campanile landing at Temple and Boston College respectively also yielded a few flips to those schools.
But the biggest obstacle here was always the time. The sky isn't falling, folks. Ash was put in an unenviable position to salvage an entire recruiting class in one sixth of the time he'll get to build the 2017 class.
"I think that's the biggest challenge is short period of time to be honest with you," Ash said. "We are trying to take a recruiting process that usually can go from one to two years long and cram it into basically a four-week time period."
Overall, I think he did well to bring in 12 players on such short notice. That group has a few guys that I can see emerging as hidden gems, especially QB Tylin Oden, ATH K.J. Gray, and graduate transfers RB Ross Douglas and DE Malachi Moore.
Be disappointed in the lack of big names if you want, but there's some potential with this class, which is much better than the worst case scenario. NSD 2017 will be our first chance to truly evaluate this staff's recruiting prowess.
What did they do best?
"Linebackers" would be the short answer to that question.
There's no question LB is the biggest position of need on this team right now after starters Steve Longa, Quentin Gause, and Kaiwan Lewis all wrapped up their Rutgers careers at the end of last season. There wasn't a ton of depth already on the roster, so keeping three Flood LB commits (Jonathan Pollock, Solomon Manning, and Rashawn Battle) and bringing in two of his own (Elorm Lumor and Tyreek Williams) is a huge win for Ash.
"Some of the linebackers that we've signed are tall," Ash said. "They have got length. They can run. They have got growth potential that may be able to help us down the road at other positions...We just wanted to increase the number of guys that we had in that position."
It's also a big bonus that Pollock, Manning, and Lumor have all enrolled early and will be able to participate in spring practice. Those three will gain valuable practice reps and give Rutgers a great chance to build some depth at a position that sorely needs it.
What need was not addressed?
Filling positions of need was clearly a priority for this staff, and they did pretty well for the most part. Unfortunately, a huge position of need was left vacant - kicker.
Of course, Ash probably thought he was all set since the No. 12 kicker in the nation, Alex Barbir, had committed to Rutgers during Flood's tenure and continued to honor his commitment when Ash took over. But unfortunately, we all know how this one ends, and Penn State swooped in at the 11th hour to flip him to Happy Valley. With Kyle Federico graduating and Barbir flipping, Rutgers is effectively kicker-less right now.
"Will there be a chance to sign somebody else later down the road? Absolutely. But it's got to fit the criteria of what we're looking for," were Ash's words when a reporter asked if they could add a kicker or any other player in the future.
The program didn't add a kicker in this recruiting class, but that's no reason to panic. Many kickers don't commit until after NSD, and Rutgers is taking its time as they look for its next kicker. New Jersey's Jonathan Ryker and Indiana's Jared Smolar seem to be the most likely candidates right now.
Are the grad transfers worth getting excited about?
Recent Rutgers history suggests the answer to that question should be yes. Just in the past two years, Rutgers has found huge success from WR Andrew Turzilli and ILB Kaiwan Lewis who transferred from Kansas and South Carolina, respectively, to finish their collegiate careers.
The obvious benefit of graduate transfers is their built-in experience playing at the collegiate level, and that's exactly what Rutgers is getting in former Michigan RB Ross Douglas and former Boston College DE Malachi Moore.
Moore has one year of eligibility and should settle in nicely as the No. 3 or 4 defensive end, helping soften the blow of losing Djwany Mera to graduation. Moore never really reached expectations at BC, but showed potential as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, notching four sacks in eight games.
Douglas is a very interesting case. Running back certainly is not a position of need for Rutgers, so Douglas will likely move back to cornerback. His expertise in the defensive backfield is what made him a four-star recruit out of high school, and just what Rutgers needs as it continues to field a young defensive backfield that lacks a lot of depth.
The former Wolverine also appears to be the type of character Rutgers looks for. He appears to be a bright young man, as he graduated from Michigan in just three years. Because of that, he has two years of eligibility remaining instead of the usual one of graduate transfers.
"They are guys that have gone through programs before and they know what it takes to be successful," Ash said. "They graduated, so they have demonstrated the ability to be successful in the classroom, and I think they are great character kids that can help the culture in the locker room."
Both Moore and Douglas seem to be solid under-the-radar additions for Ash and crew late in the process.
What do you think? Was this class a relative success? Or was it an unmitigated disaster? Is the arrow still pointing up for Rutgers football? Sound off in the comments below!