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Impact of the Rutgers Football Recruiting Class of 2015

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Michigan State v Rutgers
Harris showed his versatility.
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

This past week marked only TWO! more Wednesdays until the first annual football early signing period, December 20-22.

This regular segment focused on how each of the last five recruiting classes have performed and their outlook for the future. We continue with the Class of 2015 after doing transfers/walk-ons, Class of 2017. and Class of 2016. Check out last year’s review here of the Class of 2015.

Usually it takes three years to truly give fair grades to a recruiting class, so this group can now be graded fairly as those who remain have either a year or two of eligibility left.

Top of the “last” class of Kyle Flood:

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

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

Spot last year: #8. In spring, he battled with Kevin Wilkins for a spot alongside Sebastian Joseph. With all three playing well and the development of interior rotational players, the staff elected to move Kevin Wilkins to the outside in the base defense. Bateky battled injuries early in the season, but once healthy proved very effective. Having played as a true freshman, he only has one year of eligibility left but will surely have a shot at the next level.

Spring projection: Starter at DT.

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

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

Spot last year: #3. I flip-flopped he and Austin after the latter missed most of the season due to injury. After an uninspiring 2016 as the starting middle linebacker, Roberts completed re-invented his body during the offseason and became a true leader, earning captain status in the process. The stats may have been similar, but Roberts was a much better player in 2017. His steady presence also allowed for the entire defense to make a huge step. Even if his best position is not the middle in an ideal world, Jay Niemann will keep him there due to keep consistency. Expect opportunities for younger players on his flanks but Deonte to stay anchored in the center in his final season of eligibility.

Spring projection: Starting MLB.

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

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

Spot last year: #2. Can you lose your spot due to injury? In this list you can. Austin was hyped up a lot leading up to the season. He was viewed as the best player in a secondary that was considered the deepest and best unit on the team. That may have been somewhat overblown, but he was playing well until disaster struck in the Nebraska game. Austin was lost for the season while Nebraska staged a comeback to defeat the Scarlet Knights. His loss began a ripple effect that saw the group forced to use three different offensive players in the secondary. Even with virtually everyone back, if Austin is healthy he will be a starter at corner. He will likely be credited with a medical redshirt similar to Janarion Grant a year ago and have two more years to return to full health and impress NFL scouts. From the twitter post below you can see he may have been the 3rd best corner in the conference before injury.

Spring projection: Starting cornerback.

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

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

Spot last year: #4. Trevor Morris has become a completely different player than some (including me) anticipated. After leading the team in tackles for the second straight year, he has proven to be a reliable contributor. Admittedly, I have been harder on him than the average Scarlet Knight because of the physical ability he possesses. Early in the season we saw too much of him chasing running backs in the open field due to the amount of responsibility he has in the defense. During the stretch where Rutgers won three of four Big Ten games he coincidentally played by far his best football. Like last year I don’t think his position is safe with younger, bigger players trying to earn reps, but expect him to start off 2018 in the starting lineup for the third straight campaign in his final year of eligibility.

Spring projection: Starting WLB.

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

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

Spot last year: #5. Seymour ended 2017 the same way he did 2016, as the starting right tackle. That is where the similarities end. I stated he had to make huge strides for the offense to improve, and while he did, the unit overall did not. For the most part, he was not the reason quarterbacks were under pressure or the offense could not move the ball. His discipline was pretty solid as well as off the top of my head he was not the guy flagged very often in key spots, even for false starts in front of 100,000 people. The staff will feel confident with him at the right tackle spot heading into 2018, though his best position may be at guard where he might be able to get a little more push than some of the smaller guys. The staff will look to have Micah Clark starting somewhere on the line, so Seymour will get some looks on the interior if Clark impresses at tackle. Kamaal has two years of eligibility remaining, so they will likely keep him at tackle and target Micah Clark taking over at left tackle when Tariq Cole is done on the banks.

Spring projection: Starting RT.

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

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

Spot last year: #1. Well Harris had almost as wild a season as one could. He drops five spots on this list, though this writer does not believe his skills to have eroded. The guys above him were starters whenever healthy while Jawuan was not. After missing most of spring practice playing baseball and summer due to injury, Harris did not make an impact on offense despite a horrific Rutgers passing game. When the team was desperate, he moved to safety and looked awesome, making you wonder why he wasn’t just a safety in the first place. So now the question is if Harris does not leave early for the MLB draft after the upcoming baseball season, does he stay on offense or defense? I think if he returns with two more years of eligibility he remains on defense.

Spring projection: Playing defensive back.

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

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

Spot last year: #16. Jackson surprised many when the staff unequivocally had him as the team’s starting center the second Derrick Nelson was out of eligibility. Jackson was held in high regard for his brand of physical play. He showed some signs of inexperience early in the season, but was not bad before getting hurt. Once he returned, the staff shifted him to right guard to keep continuity with Mike Maietti at center. Jackson is bigger and stronger so expect the staff to try him back at center initially with Nick Krimin, Micah Clark, and a host of other battling for the spots vacated by Dorian Miller and recently, Marcus Applefield.

Spring projection: Starting center.

8. Willington Previlon, DT - Orange, Orange, NJ

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

Spot last year: #14. Previlon was a nice pickup as a top 40 recruit in New Jersey but he was not on many people’s radar coming into the season. As mentioned about Jon Bateky, the team had more depth than anticipated in the interior defensive line. So Kevin Wilkins played snaps at defensive end with a rotation inside that included Previlon as he has filled out close to 300 pounds. He has a knack for knocking down passes and is good at stunting to occupy two men to allow another linemen to get a clean look at the quarterback. He like every lineman can allows improve in his run stopping and getting off blocks in general. More explosion in the pass rush may be a big ask, but someone needs to step up. Expect improvement in 2018 but we won’t be shocking anyone this time around.

Spring projection: Two deep DT.

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

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

Spot last year: #12. Griffin-Stewart showed flashes in spring camp consistent with what people expected of him. In the spring game he seemed to be always open. When the season rolled around it became clear that Jerome Washington was the team’s best option in the pass game that needed all the help it could get. His best highlight came against Morgan State when he blew past a defender who was playing Johnathan Lewis to run. A quick pass over the top and Griffin-Stewart had his first college TD. Nakia is pretty athletic as well, though not as big as Jerome and should make an even bigger impact in 2018. If he can improve his blocking, his number of catches should increase dramatically. He should be a solid Big Ten two-deep tight end for two more years.

Spring projection: Backup TE. Will get plenty of looks in double tight sets.

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

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

Spot last year: #7. This is where the big drop off happens as the guys above all saw significant time in 2017. Venesky may be the second most disappointed player on the team (behind Kobe Marfo) after 2017. With injuries and shuffling so many guys to the interior line spots, he never truly got a shot. With so many hyped true freshmen now in the mix on the line, you wonder if the guy who was on the two-deep as a true freshman will ever get major time in a game. With the team’s struggles in the pass game, expect more creativity in the run game. I’d like to see an extra lineman in as a fullback, perhaps Zach is the best choice. There will be huge competition for the guards and center spot in spring, so expect a former grappler to fight for his opportunity, literally.

Spring projection: Backup left guard.

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

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

Spot last year: #15. Blunt had an interesting year. He was almost by default a starting wideout in spring camp with so many graduations, injuries, and none of the wide receiver recruits enrolling in spring 2017. Then the rapport he had with Gio Rescigno went out the window once Kyle Bolin arrived on the banks. After not getting much time on offense, Blunt showed his athletic ability when he was forced to play defense against Big Ten Champion Ohio State! Then the team moved Jawuan Harris to that side just as Gio was moving into the starting role which may have benefited Rashad. He deserves credit for being one of the team players of the year with all the changes he had to undergo. It will be interesting to see what happens with him in spring as from what we have heard, this staff favors speed and he seems to have it.

Spring projection: Battling to be a two-deep receiver, not playing defense.

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

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

Spot last year: #13. Likely some other guys on this list, Snorweah has had roller coaster career on the banks. He started out as a running back and then like virtually everyone else at the skill positions was forced to take a turn in the defensive backfield. He showed some nice hands in spring but his inside track to a niche as the team’s speed back hit a speed bump when Raheem Blackshear impressed almost immediately as a true freshman. This has been mentioned before, but Charles was a big time track athlete in high school, so even now has not played nearly as much football as some of players younger than he is on the gridiron. The staff has more decisions to make at running back than any other position with the turnover so predicting what happens to his role is very difficult. He is the closest thing to Blackshear’s skillset so if the team opts to start Raheem, he will be more likely to be dinged up and it makes sense to have a guy behind him that is fit for the same type of playcalls in a pinch like Charles. If the staff elects to make Trey Sneed a Gus Edwards-like bell cow, Blackshear would spell him and Snorweah may not see much of the field on offense.

Spring projection: The speed back backup.

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

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

Spot last year: #17. With stability and health at the tackle positions, Manny did not get mentioned for long stretches of the season. He was behind Mike Lonsdorf as the swing tackle because the staff felt they could trust Mike more. Then once Micah Clark returned from injury he was the understudy at right tackle. Manny still has two years left, but may be ticketed for exclusively special teams duty at this point, where his athletic ability make him valuable.

Spring projection: Fighting to be a swing tackle.

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

Michael Dare - QB, Memorial, Elmwood Park, NJ

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

Spot last year: #18. Barring some major shakeup at quarterback were my words a year ago. Mike decided to move on and we will never know if he could have had more success at RU. He looked pretty good this year elsewhere. Next Stop: Lackawanna.

Jarius Adams - DB, Dwyer, Palm Beach, FL

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

Spot last year: #9. Rutgers needed corners badly in 2017 so losing Adams to a career ending injury was a major blow.

Ronnie James - LB, Glassboro, Glassboro, NJ

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

Spot last year: #10. Ronnie was a playmaker like his brother, but much like Paul the injury bug took its toll and he went from two-deep strong side linebacker to a career ending injury.

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

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

Spot last year: #6. Carter looked great in the spring game, but elected to transfer to the FCS where he had a nice season at JMU. He would likely have been in line for plenty of playing time in 2018 after graduations of two defensive ends. Next Stop: James Madison.

Purdue v Rutgers
Morris played awesome against Purdue.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Previous departures:

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

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

Clayton left the team right before he would have been starting at strong side linebacker in 2016. He went to WMU then P.J. Fleck and staff skipped town for Minnesota shortly afterward (3 days later it seems). The athletic Clayton stayed and only played in one game, though he made his presence felt with a forced fumble and tackle for loss. Next stop: Western Michigan.

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

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

Johnson was a team guy at RU for two-years before graduating.

Marques Ford - DE, East Bay, Gibsonton, FL

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

The highest rated player in this class by virtually everyone who had an opinion, Ford left after a redshirt his first year. We found out later there was an off the field incident, but he regrouped and was heavily recruited again a season ago. He decommitted from East Carolina and has not resurfaced. Next stop: Jones County JC.

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

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

A solid and surprising signing, Jack did not stick at RU for long. Shutack joined the Buffaloes as a walk-on after enrolling at DuPage. He was a redshirt in 2017 and will be eligible for 2018, with two years of eligibility. Next stop: College of DuPage then Colorado.

Anthony Folkerts - TE, Valwood School, Valdosta, GA

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

You can’t blame Folkerts for leaving when his position was eliminated from the team’s offense. Then it was brought back by Jerry Kill but he already left town. He does not seem to be playing football anywhere right now. Next stop: Unknown.

Dontae Owens - WR, Reading, Reading, PA

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

The Flood staff inserted him into a game for one play late in the season burning his opportunity for a redshirt as a freshman. Then he was the first player dismissed by Chris Ash just as this season was about to begin. I know it’s a lower level but he had 38 catches for 5 TD in 2017, more than the entire RU wide receiver corps combined in scores. Next stop: Gannon.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana
Bateky played hard all season no matter the situation.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

20/20 Hindsight:

1. 2016 observation: Doomed from the start, unable to recover after a solid first season in the Big Ten. Having only nine guys contribute as true juniors/ redshirt sophomores from a class that followed the team’s best season in the last 6 years, maybe the last ten is horrific.

2. 2016 observation: All over the place. There may not have been a class with more transition in recent memory at Rutgers with so many guys now gone, especially ones who saw playing time and had big talent. Such is life with coaching turnover. 13 guys left? Ouch.

3. 2016 observation: Alkadir Ports did not qualify. He would have helped depth at safety early in his career potentially but now (knock on wood) the team should have enough safeties.

4. 2016 observation: Decommits, namely Saquon Barkley. This class did not have the exodus quite like the year prior, but losing a Heisman front runner to a program then ravaged by sanctions is a bad look.

5. Development. For all the negatives associated with Kyle Flood’s last class at Rutgers, this class does possess players who exceeded expectations, especially when many of the top guys left. Bateky, Morris, Roberts, Previlon, Griffin-Stewart, Seymour, and Jackson have shown improvement each and every season. You would hope that was true with every class but it isn’t. Chris Ash’s staff who didn’t even recruit these individuals deserves a lot of credit for having them buy in and coaching them up.

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