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Review of Rutgers Football walk-ons and transfers

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A lot of senior leadership provided by these groups.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan
Edwards toted the rock more than any back this year.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Since there are only six more Wednesdays until the first national early signing period, we will do a weekly series that we began a season ago, where we covered each Rutgers recruiting class. The year by year reviews begin next week with the recruiting class of 2017. Before that, let’s begin with walk-ons and transfers.

The transfers are often high prospects needing a change of scenery to unlock potential. Of course walk-ons can make their mark at RU and even reach the pros, Shaun O’Hara and Gary Brackett the most notable recently. In the case of Mitchell and Washington below, they were thought to be the biggest reasons for hope in 2017.

Impact in 2017 - Transfers

1. Kiy Hester - S, DePaul, Plainfield, NJ (Miami, FL)

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 8, National S Ranking: 18 (National Overall: 238)

Hester along with Saeed Blacknall were the top two recruits in the 2014 class that fell apart. Kiy returned to RU though and has battled injuries for three seasons. When he has been on the field, he is a tremendous playmaker both in hitting and picking off passes. He has two pick sixes this year and could be four had he not dropped the others. When he plays, this defense is much better than when he is on the sideline. He still has a year of eligibility left and hasn’t proven enough to merit an NFL draft pick yet. If he has a monster game against PSU or another one against MSU, you never know. He’s probably too small to play strong side linebacker, but with the success of Douglas as this year progressed, might end up there at times in 2018. Yrs. left: 1

Spring projection: Starting Strong Safety. Outside shot he plays SLB.

2. Jerome Washington - TE, Stony Brook (NY), Princeton Junction, NJ

POST Overall Ranking: 19, National POST TE Ranking: 1

Stops: Mercer CC. Miami (FL). He held the #3 position on this list a season ago and would fairly be placed in any of the top three spots. As the only reliable passing target with Grant on the mend, he may be the most important player on the Scarlet Knights at the moment. He has had some drops, but also made some amazing catches too make up for it as he leads the team in receptions. Really hope he doesn’t see what happened to Grant and bolt for the NFL a year early. He will be there eventually though. Yrs. left: 1

Spring projection: Starting TE.

3. Gus Edwards, RB - Tottenville, Staten Island, NY

State (NY) Overall Ranking: 5 National RB Ranking: 38 (National overall: 596)

Previous stop: Miami (FL). Edwards returned to Rutgers from Miami like former teammates Washington and Hester listed above. The Tottenville native had almost reached 1,000 career rush yards at the U and figured to be in a heated battle with Josh Hicks and Robert Martin for the starting RB spot. He won out and played his best game against Maryland, earning the game ball. Trey Sneed is in the mold of Martin / Hicks, but will be no one on the roster as big and fast as Edwards at running back in 2018.

Spring projection: Training for a shot at the next level.

4. Ross Douglas - SLB, Avon, Avon, OH

State (OH) Overall Ranking: 23 National CB Ranking: 28

Previous stop: Michigan. Douglas left division foe Michigan coming to Rutgers as a natural defensive player forced to play running back for a then undermanned Wolverine team. A borderline 4 star recruit, he came as a rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility left. Instantly starting at nickel corner, he struggled before being injured. Having moved to SAM linebacker with the injury to Tyreek Maddox-Williams, Douglas’s versatility has proven crucial to the defensive game plans against Purdue and Maryland, both Ws. With plenty of depth waiting in the wings, he may be forgotten next year. Until then, enjoy his last few games.

Spring projection: Graduation.

5. Ryan Anderson - P, Dewitt, Dewitt, MI

Stops: Saginaw Valley St, Olivet College. After playing basketball and football wide receiver/ punter in division III, leading the nation in punting last year, Anderson was a recruiting coup. You could argue Anderson could be number 1 on this list as his impact was felt immediately and continues to be a steady performer, named to the Ray Guy watch list. He currently leads the Big Ten in punting average and may end up playing on Sundays next year.

Spring projection: Graduation, likely a shot at the NFL.

6. Damon Mitchell - WR, Egg Harbor, Egg Harbor, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 12 National QB Ranking: 12 (National Overall: 321)

Previous stops: Arkansas. With his brother already on the team, “Duwop” came home for his 5th season. Having played wildcat QB, running back, receiver, linebacker, safety, and all special teams units, Chris Ash knew Damon was worth it. Having graduated with two degrees and being at RU in time for spring practice, it seemed like a win all the way around. Proving to be Bolin’s most reliable target at receiver, Mitchell has not been able to develop the same chemistry with the other signal callers yet. His versatility, love for the game, and leadership with the wideouts plus on special teams will be missed.

Spring projection: Graduation.

7. Kyle Bolin - QB, Lexington Catholic, Lexington, KY

State (KY) Overall Ranking: 1 National QB Ranking: 10 (National Overall: 215)

Previous stop: Louisville. Bolin was the starting quarterback at Louisville before attending the spring game and deciding to play his 5th year on the banks as Rutgers only had one healthy, scholarship quarterback. After being named captain and a starter, he led the team to a touchdown on their first drive of the season. He played well enough that if surrounded by playmakers might have kept his job, but without them was not as effective as a dual threat like Johnathan Lewis or Gio Rescigno. Bolin converted a key third down cold off the bench against Illinois to help seal the game and could be pressed into spot duty again in 2017. A low risk pickup, his performance against Eastern Michigan will be forgotten eventually since the team rebounded to win three Big Ten games.

Spring projection: Graduation.

8. Andrew Harte - K, Montini Catholic, Lombard, IL

Previous stop: Minnesota. Harte was not even given a scholarship but received a shot at the starting kicker and kickoff spots. He was drawn to Rutgers by his former head coach Jerry Kill and at the last moment won the placekicking job. He has had mixed results, and the unit did not convert a three pointer in October which seems unfathomable. He rebounded from a 53 yard miss with a 50 yard conversion against Maryland that proved crucial for morale, confidence, and in adding points on the scoreboard.

Spring projection: Graduation.

Rutgers v Nebraska
Harte won the kicking job in a four man race.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

9. Zach Allen - QB, Temple, Temple, TX

State (TX) Overall Ranking: 157 National Dual QB Ranking: 30

Previous stop: TCU. Allen was promised a shot at the starting job when he arrived from TCU and saw ineffective, albeit limited action in 2016. He tore his ACL in spring but elected to forego surgery in hopes of playing in 2017. As a result of playing against Morgan State, he will not be eligible for a sixth season. He’s an example of a guy who got passed on the depth chart because more quality players came into the program.

Spring projection: Graduation.

10. Tre Avery - CB, Franklin, Baltimore, MD

State (MD) Overall Ranking: 16 National CB Ranking: 58

Stops: Ohio State, Toldeo. Avery, formerly known as Kareem Felder was originally recruited by Ash at Ohio State. When Jawuan Briscoe left the program he filled that spot as the expected nickel corner in 2018. He was highly rated out of high school, but with so much change it’s hard to feel certain he will contribute. With three years of eligibility remaining, a strong defensive backfield coaching staff, and plenty of experienced DBs on the roster there will be little pressure on him. That lack of pressure and high competition could vault him into a prominent role. Yrs. left: 3.

Spring projection: Fighting for a starting cornerback spot.

11. Terrence Harris - DL, Paramus Catholic, Englewood, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 52 National SDE Ranking: 80

Stops: Iowa, Lackawanna. Harris surfaced shortly before the season began and could easily be higher on this list. He began his career at Iowa before moving to Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. He joins the Knights with two years of eligibility left and may be counted on to fill the voids left by Sebastian Joseph-Day, Kemoko Turay, and Darnell Davis. Yrs. left: 2

Spring projection: Pushing for a two-deep DE spot.

12. Tom Flacco - QB, Eastern, Voorhees, NJ

Stops: Western Michigan. The brother of NFL’s Super Bowl champion Joe, Tom came to the banks early in the fall 2017 semester after coaching turnover when P.J. Fleck left the Broncos for Minnesota. He played for the undefeated squad in 2016 mostly in running situations (4.5 second 40 yard dash) so he may be a dual-threat option a la Gio Rescigno in the future. Yrs. left: 2

Spring projection: Battling for a two-deep QB spot.

Impact in 2017: Top 10 Walk-ons (Past & Present)

(This is not the full list as the Knights have over 100 players on their roster)

1. Darnell Davis Jr - DE, Avon Old Farms, Union, NJ

A starter once Lambert went down in 2016, he became a rotational player in 2017 and delivered the highlight of the season opener with a forced fumble against Washington. His playing time has eroded somewhat as the staff has tried to maximize his usage in passing situations and limit his exposure as an undersized defensive end in run heavy sets. Having been named a captain as a walk-on, he commands a ton of respect and will be missed after the season.

Spring projection: Graduation.

2. Zane Campbell - DB, Delran, Delran, NJ

Stops: Wesley. Campbell moved into the nickel corner spot and at one point starting safety with the plethora of injuries. He filled in admirably at times, but has given way to converted wide receiver Jawuan Harris and in the last game Dacoven Bailey at slot corner. He really deserves props for effort and taking one for the team so much this year on defense. He will be missed more on special teams.

Spring projection: Graduation.

3. Justin Davidovicz - PK, Bridgewater- Raritan, Bridgewater, NJ

Davidovicz was considered the top kicker in New Jersey in the 2017 recruiting class so it was a steal to get him as a preferred walk-on when he may have been able to get a scholarship elsewhere. The true freshman has done a great job on kickoffs, earning more touchbacks and pins (keeping a team inside their 20) than the 2016 edition by a mile. This is among the biggest swings from a year ago. He did not win the placekicking job, but has three more years to earn that as well. Yrs. left: 3

Spring projection: Starting kickoff specialist, in a battle with Gavin Haggerty for PK.

4. Billy Taylor - LS, Parsippany Hills, Parsippany, NJ

Taylor could make a case for being higher as he unseated a three year starter in Alan Lucy to win the long snapping job. It’s been a successful season so far as he has avoided catastrophe and been part of a successful punting unit along with a serviceable field goal unit. His time on the banks is only beginning. Yrs. left: 3

Spring projection: Starting long snapper.

5. Max Anthony - FB, Christian Brothers Academy, Albany, NY

Stops: Phillips Academy. Jumping from 12th on the list, Anthony was rejuvenated with Jerry Kill’s new take on the offense. He took control as starting fullback over others including true freshman Brandon Devera. He has proven more than capable as a short yardage blocker and occasional receiver. He’s probably locked in as the starting fullback for two more years. Yrs. left: 2

Spring projection: Starting fullback.

6. Larry Stevens - S, Don Bosco Prep, Lawrenceville, NJ

Stops: Military Academy Prep. Stevens came out of nowhere to win the coaches praise in the first two games of 2016 before being injured an actually earning a medical redshirt. Though he dropped from #2 on this list a season ago, that is more a product of the team being better than him being worse. He remains a key member of the special teams and even earned a scholarship in 2017. He has three years of eligibility remaining. Yrs. left: 3

Spring projection: Special teams warrior, emergency DB.

Howard v Rutgers
Stevens is a special teams leader for the Knights.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

7. Jim Brady - FB, St. Augustine Prep, Egg Harbor, NJ

Like Anthony above, Brady was given new life with the re-insertion of the fullback to the Rutgers offense. He proved capable to earn a spot on the two-deep and allow DeVera to move over to middle linebacker. Brady has plenty more time to make his mark with the Knights. Yrs. left: 3.

Spring projection: Two deep fullback battle with DeVera.

8. Austin Rosa - LB, Wilson West Lawn, Reading, PA

Not highly recruited Rosa seemed like a steal as a walk-on with his multi-sport prowess. I had him as my “out of nowhere” candidate for 2017 before the team added so many true freshmen linebackers. He has served as a special teams contributor and will continue to do so. Yrs. left: 2.

Spring projection: Fighting for a spot somewhere on special teams maybe defense.

9. David Bonagura - K, Ramapo, Franklin Lakes, NJ

Bonagura was locked in a three man race for the placekicking job until the final week of the preseason with Harte and Davidovicz. He ultimately was beaten out by Harte and has not yet seen the field in 2017. If they need him though, he is still on the roster to provide significantly more depth than the team had a year ago.

Spring projection: Graduation.

10. Michael Cintron - P, St. Joseph’s (Metuchen), Piscataway, NJ

Cintron’s unique story led him to RU where he had to serve as an injury replacement for Tim Gleeson in 2016. After setting a Big Ten record for punts, he was passed on the depth chart by Division III All-American Anderson who currently leads the conference in punting average. Anderson will be out of eligibility this spring but Cintron has one year left to regain his starting job. He will face stiff competition again as Adam Korsak from Australia is currently committed to the program. Cintron has also been solid off the field. Yrs. left: 1

Spring projection: Holding off Korsak to regain his starting job.

Also in the 2018 mix, Matthew Sportelli, Skiy Pyrame, Gavin Haggerty, Zach Miseo, Charles Zarzecki, Cole Murphy, Rob Nittolo, Jim Onulak, Tommy Wyatt.

WE HARDLY KNEW YOU:

1. TRANSFER: Ahmir Mitchell - WR, Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor City, NJ (Michigan)

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 5, National WR Ranking: 9 (National Overall: 167)

Mitchell originally signed at Michigan as a consensus 4 star recruit, before being dismissed. He was back in New Jersey and enrolled at Rutgers fully for the fall semester in 2016 upon Chris Ash doing his “homework” on the situation. After injuring his ACL in a promising spring where he was by far the team’s best wideout, Ahmir was reportedly dismissed from the team recently without having played a single down as he worked his way back from injury. He will probably surface at a lower tier program where he has the talent to tear the league up.

Spring projection: Minimal chance he returns to RU. Likely lower division program.

2. TRANSFER: Juwuan Briscoe - CB, Thomas Stone, Waldorf, MD

State (MD) Overall Ranking: 10, National CB Ranking: 42 (National Overall: 430)

Briscoe elected to transfer from Georgia knowing he would need to sit out the season. After participating in summer camp, he showed the skills that allowed him to start as a freshman at Georgia. Then as the semester began he left the team for personal reasons and is no longer on scholarship we believe. The details were not confirmed, so he could end up back as a student only or student-athlete.

Spring projection: Outside chance of a return.

20/20 Hindsight:

1. Strength: Punters and Kickers. The number one weakness of this group a year ago, Rutgers was able to turn their weakness into a strength. Bonagura and Cintron both were deemed better than a year ago by the coaching staff but ended up buried on the depth chart. Hitting 40 yard field goals has been a morale boost to the offense while flipping field position on kickoffs and punts has had a tangible impact on games. The starting punter and placekicker are out of eligibility, but there is depth behind them so Rutgers does not resort to their 2016 ways.

2. Strength: Potential star power. Hester when healthy is a ballhawk. Washington may become an elite tight end. Ryan Anderson could be an All-American. Tre Avery and Terrence Harris have some upside. Other than Anderson, the other four all return in 2018 and should be major contributors.

3. Strength: Experience. Gus Edwards had almost 1,000 yards at Miami. Bolin started at Louisville. Damon Mitchell played everywhere for Arkansas. Though the results have been up and down, this experience was key in showing the younger players how to prepare as all three have been praised for their attitude and approach.

4. Weakness: Too many guys having to play. Specialists and fullbacks fill the walk-on list which is fine but the fact that the tweener Davis had to start in 2016 and Campbell and Stevens needed to play so many defensive snaps is alarming. On the plus side, the team appears to be adding depth so this should come off the list in 2018.

5: Weakness: Transfer turnover. Ahmir Mitchell did not pan out at Rutgers after the same thing happened at Michigan. With his brother on the team it seemed the Knights would be a good fit, bit that did not end up working out. Briscoe is a talented guy who started early in his career at Georgia, but left the team for personal reasons. He has not returned. Now that the team is building depth from within, the gambles on talented and potentially troubled transfers will likely decrease as available scholarships are harder to come by.

NOTE: For the rankings in this article, I arbitrarily chose 247 rankings.