As Rutgers prepares for their first season under Chris Ash, they must to replace numerous starters on both sides of the ball. Additionally, there are multiple players that they simply cannot afford to lose.
Keep in mind indispensable does not mean best, rather it means who they will suffer the most without.
Hamilton is the easiest call on this list. Besides the fact that he is a three-time captain and most likely the best player on the team, there is not much behind him on the depth chart. Julian Pinnix-Odrick has moved back to defensive end so that leaves a huge weakness if Hamilton gets injured again. Hamilton contributes so much to that defense as a a player and as a leader and it would be devastating if he weren’t there.
Sure, Denman is the 4th or 5th best offensive lineman on the team, but he is the only right tackle we know can play. Tariq Cole is the presumed starter at left tackle and Marcus Applefield is the main backup for both guard spots. Denman’s job is to block the best pass rusher on the opposing defenses and that is usually someone elite if it is a B1G conference game. With all the big names he faced last year, he should be improved for 2016. Rutgers cannot afford to have an inexperienced underclassman hold the responsibilities of starting right tackle.
Cioffi has switched over to strong safety and is backed up by walk-on Andre Hunt. Sure, Hunt has made some big plays when his number has been called, but he is not starter-quality. Hunt can’t be trusted to be an every down safety, as he has huge limitations in coverage. Cioffi has been a key player on the Rutgers defense each of his first three years. That being said, strong safety will be his third different position, as he started off as a cornerback before switching to free safety last year. He will have lots of leadership responsibilities due to the inexperience at middle linebacker and the fact that Darius Hamilton will have his hand in the dirt every play.
It is not a good sign for the defense that a first-year starter and converted safety makes this list. Clayton has the prototypical skill set for strong-side linebacker and he seems to be Chris Ash’s little project for the defense. Backing up Clayton is Greg Jones. Jones is a converted running back and walk-on. This position is a slew of converted young players who have never played the position so continuity and being healthy is essential for Clayton.
Grant is the most important player on both offense and special teams. He figures to be a huge piece in the spread attack and has already established himself as one of the best returners in the country. It is wierd to think of anyone besides Grant returning kicks after all he has done his first three years as the punt and kick returner. On offense, he will be a running back/wide receiver hybrid and will get the ball in countless different formations and plays. There is no one on the roster with his skill-set and ability. There is really no one on the roster who could even be considered his back-up considering no one is as versatile or as skilled as Grant.
Where’s the QB?
If you look at almost any other team, their starting QB would be the first player on this list. However, Rutgers has a huge question mark at QB. Even if Zach Allen wins the job, I can’t see a massive gap in his production compared to what presumed backup Chris Laviano would bring to the table and vice versa. Take that for what it’s worth, but the fact of the matter is Rutgers is looking at average QB play this year unless Allen turns out to be the messiah for this team.