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Impact of the Rutgers Football Recruiting Class of 2016

Some seismic shifts with this group from year one to two.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers
Hayes controlled Moore for most of the game.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

This week marks 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 2016 after doing transfers/walk-ons and the Class of 2017. Several true sophomores and redshirt freshmen saw expanded roles in 2017 and project to nice careers on the banks. Check out last year’s review here.

Current power rankings after two autumns on the banks.

1. Damon Hayes - CB, Dr. Henry Wise, Upper Marlboro, MD

State (MD) Overall Ranking: 37 National CB Ranking: 141

Spot last year: #2. Hayes takes the top spot on this list because he was the nickel corner as a true freshman then was effectively a starter this season even before Blessuan Austin went down with a season ending injury. After that Hayes was thrust into an every down role and played well enough for the most part. Rutgers may not have enough playmakers on offense but they do in the secondary, Damon being one of the key cogs. Sure he got flagged for pass interference a few times, but any competent college football offense will make at least some plays. He has the size and enough speed to remain a starting cornerback regardless of who else is on the field, with enough versatility to play inside or out.

Spring projection: Starting cornerback.

2. Dacoven Bailey - WR/CB, Pilot Point, Pilot Point, TX

State (TX) Overall Ranking: 341 National WR Ranking: 363

Spot last year, #5. Bailey only scored one receiving touchdown, but that was 50% of the entire position group’s output in 2017. He has great speed, enough that the staff was able to play him both ways, receiver and slot corner. For that reason, I gave him the edge over Gray for the #2 spot. With more health and scholarship bodies in the 2018 secondary, he should be able to play on offense and special teams (where he was the team’s best cover guy on punts) catching his breath when the D is on the field. As a receiver, he needs to get more polish in his ability to beat press coverage, route running, and chemistry with the quarterback, but already has the quickness to gain separation.

Spring projection: Starting slot receiver.

3. KJ Gray - S, Jersey, City, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 24 National ATH Ranking: 66

Spot last year, #6. Gray is one of those guys I liked as soon as he signed with the Scarlet Knights. He’s tall, rangy and what he lacks in pure quickness, he makes up with good instincts. When he was forced into every down duty as the leader of a completely decimated secondary midseason, he stepped up his play in a huge way. he piled up tackles and made a few key interceptions before being stuck in concussion protocol late in the year. His injury seemed to have more of an impact than Hester or Saquan Hampton. I view him as a starting safety in 2018 because of his more reliable health (every football player gets at least one concussion) and being more of a playmaker than incumbent Hampton. A solid local product, he will be the biggest constant in the defensive backfield after graduation of four experienced seniors following the 2018 campaign.

Spring projection: Starting safety.

4. Tyreek Maddox-Williams - SLB, Timber Creek, Sicklerville, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 35 National OLB Ranking: 86

Spot last year, #1. Can you really lose your starting spot because you are injured? That’s a legitimate debate, but I feel comfortable dropping Maddox-Williams down to 4th on this list after he missed the entire 2017 season. With a combination of Ross Douglas, redshirt juniors, and some freshmen, the strong-side linebacker spot was pieced together in 2017. If he can return to health, I still believe he has the best linebacking instincts on the team after what he showed as a true freshman a season ago. With so many guys coming back to linebacker, he won’t be rushed back when he has three years of eligibility remaining.

Spring projection: Starting SLB. Maddox-Williams is the starter until proven otherwise.

5. Michael Maietti - C, Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 62 National OC Ranking: 18

Spot last year, #18. Maietti surprised many when he became a starter at center in the middle of the year when Jonah Jackson went down to injury. Despite being viewed as too small during the recruiting cycle, he proved more than serviceable as the team’s center and as a resulted gained the most spots on this list, up 13. The staff will likely try to use a bigger, stronger guy seemingly with higher upside at center in 2018, likely Jackson first, but should feel confident that they can always go back to Maietti if needed.

Spring projection: Two-deep center.

6. Trey Sneed - RB, Fleming Island, Orange Park, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 80 National RB Ranking: 32

Spot last year, #3. Sneed dropped a few spots because he and the staff decided to have him redshirt this season. After showing some grit as a running back and on special teams as a true freshman, the decision was based on numbers. At running back, the team had three experienced seniors with a similar skill set and on special teams an athletic 2017 true freshman class helped the team make huge strides in coverage. The staff has raved about Raheem Blackshear, but in an offense predicated around pounding the ball, a bigger back will need to carry more of the load. For that reason, Sneed will have the first crack as the starting tailback in 2018. At the very least, he should get short yardage touches and play punt coverage.

Spring projection: Two-deep tailback, perhaps starting.

7. Julius Turner - DT, Meridian, Meridian, MS

State (MS) Overall Ranking: 50 National DT Ranking: 139

Spot last year, #15. Turner was an unheralded recruit and the staff questioned his commitment as a true freshman. Then after a highlight reel hit in spring practice, Julius became a regular member of the defensive line rotation. Between he and Wil Previlon being able to play interior snaps, it allowed Kevin Wilkins to play as an end in early downs. You could make an argument Turner should be as high as fourth on this list, but an incident in the season finale resulted in Chris Ash sending him to the locker room prematurely brings up questions. On the flip side, you have to like his fire when the defense was on the field for an NCAA record number of minutes against MSU. Though he may never be an unquestioned starter, Turner will have a place in the rotation bringing energy and a low center of gravity as long as he stays on the banks.

Spring projection: Two-deep defensive tackle.

8. Elorm Lumor - DE, Milford Academy, New Berlin, NY

POST Rankings- State (NY) Overall: 2 National OLB Ranking: 1 National: 4

Spot last year, #13. Lumor was viewed as a Kemoko Turay light, with his athleticism and raw potential. Midway through his second season on the team, Elorm was looking like he might have been a huge bust. Then something clicked, and he was able to generate a little bit of pressure from the strong side and the hybrid DE/LB “jack” position late in the year. After quarterback and maybe receiver, edge rusher is the team’s biggest weakness. Lumor may be the team’s biggest X-factor in 2018 because if he can become a reliable pass rusher, it will reduce the load on the rest of the entire defense.

Spring projection: Starting DE.

9. Mo Jabbie, WR - South Brunswick, Monmouth Junction, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 46 National WR Ranking: 251

Spot last year, #11. Jabbie got as good a shot as anyone in an underwhelming receiver group. Late in the season, he became a starter because after Damon Mitchell went down because he was the team’s best blocking wideout. He made one nice catch, and has an edge to get snaps once again with the team’s desire to run the ball and have receivers block on bubble screens. If he can develop some rapport with the quarterbacks, he should be able to haul in a few more receptions. Remember, he has three years of eligibility remaining. Already contributing with some nice kickoff coverage, too.

Spring projection: WR two-deep.

10. Nick Krimin - OL, St. Joseph, Metuchen, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 17 National OT Ranking: 61

Spot last year, #14. AJ Blazek did the smart thing and going into a potentially long season, committed to playing Krimin 5-10 snaps per game. Though he mostly played behind four year starter Dorian Miller at left guard, Krimin was able to pile up reps as the season went along to further his development. The staff is committed to running the ball and Nick is massive, so he should get the first chance to start at left guard with Miller’s graduation.

Spring projection: First crack at starting left guard.

11. Rashawn Battle, OLB - Wallenpaupack Area, Hawley, PA

State (PA) Overall Ranking: 24 National OLB Ranking: 80

Spot last year, #12. In the spring game Battle played pretty well alongside Eric Margolis and Brandon Russell then got stuck in a logjam at linebacker in 2017. He is big for an RU linebacker (probably only Fogg is bigger) and showed some instincts in limited action, including an INT against Morgan State. He also has the physical tools that should translate on punt coverage. With so many linebackers that have a little more speed and knowledge of the system, his best bet is probably to play more defensive end. With Solomon Manning not working out in that role, Battle seems like the most likely candidate to move closer to the line of scrimmage. The staff liked C.J. Onyechi in that role this year, but C.J. can get pushed around in the run game more than Battle.

Spring projection: Finding a spot as a hybrid rusher.

12. Mike Lonsdorf - OT, Immaculata, Sommerville, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 45 National OT Ranking: 149

Spot last year, #17. Lonsdorf was billed as a left tackle project, having the frame and long arms to protect the blind side. No one expected him to see much time in 2017 as All-Big Ten candidate Tariq Cole was manning the position, though the staff acknowledged during camp that he was at that time the “swing tackle” meaning if anything happened to Cole or right tackle Kamaal Seymour, Lonsdorf would be next man up. AJ Blazek’s reason for this was that Mike was someone he “could trust” which is more important than anything else at that position, especially off the bench. Though there will likely be some shuffling on the rest of the line, Lonsdorf should remain entrenched behind Cole. In the event Cole decides to test the NFL waters, expect top prospect Micah Clark to switch to the left side where he and Mike will battle for the starting spot.

Spring projection: Two-deep left tackle.

13. Kobe Marfo - DB, Reedley College, Alexandria, VA

POST Rankings- State (CA) Overall: 33 National CB Ranking: 11

Spot last year, #10. Other than guys who were injured and virtually every facet of the passing game, Marfo probably was the biggest disappointment of 2017. I say that because as the team is dying for defensive backfield depth, he was on the two-deep early on but only played in one game all year. He came in with four years to play three after a stop at Reedley College so he has two more years remaining, but I don’t know if he will ever get a better opportunity to show what he could do on game day again. Maybe there was injuries or something else not overly publicized because he showed tremendous promise as you can see in his POST rankings. The talent is there but would have been nice to see him effective and reduce the load on Campbell, Bailey, and Harris.

Spring projection: Two-deep corner.

14. Sam Howson - OL, Pope John XXIII, Sparta, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 64 National OG Ranking: 151

Spot last year, #16. Howson climbed to the backup center spot in spring practice when he seemed ticketed for guard from the very beginning. He made an appearance in the preseason two-deep before some reshuffling. At the very least he should remain a rotational contributor who like most linemen will be in the mix for playing time his final two years of eligibility when he has gotten more reps and strength. The friendly competition between he and fellow classmate Maietti may be contagious.

Spring projection: Fighting for a spot in the OL two-deep.

No longer with the program:

Tylin Oden - QB, Spring Hill, Columbia, TN

State (TN) Overall Ranking: 19 National QB Ranking: 31

Spot last year, #4. No one epitomizes the QB revolving door quite like Oden. When Ash’s staff was hired they had three targets for a dual-threat QB and seemed to have gotten their man in Oden (while Tyrrell Pigrome immediatley contributed at Maryland). He showed signs in the run game but couldn’t throw well, really at all, sound familiar? Then after Ash himself laid out a plan for Tylin to succeed on and off the field, he did not hold up his end and was dismissed in spring practice, reducing the number of arms in the QB room. Disappointing in every way other than Oden did take accountability and did not blame the coaches. Next stop: Garden City CC (KS).

Ahmed Bah - WR, Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY

State (NY) Overall Ranking: 11 National WR Ranking: 241

Spot last year, #8. After re-committing last minute then having high school teammate Tyshir Mack flip to Indiana at the very last minute, Bah got a ton of action in spring with a depleted wide receiver corps. Ultimately, the staff decided to go with the true freshmen. His 6’4 size could have been an asset no one who got reps was able to bring to the table. Next Stop: N.C. A & T.

Solomon Manning - OLB, Colonia, Colonia, NJ

State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 15 National OLB Ranking: 43

Spot last year, #9. Manning enrolled early and had an opportunity bigger in 2016 than 2017 with so many guys in the linebacker group. After bulking up, he played a little defensive end, then moved to offense. Unable to unseat Max Anthony or Jim Brady, he decided to transfer. His physical abilities will likely make him a monster at the FCS level if that’s where he finishes up. Next stop: Monmouth.

Previous departures:

Jon Pollock - LB, Dr. Phillips, Orlando, FL

State (FL) Overall Ranking: 155 National OLB Ranking: 75

Early enrollee Pollock got caught in a logjam and moved on to Youngstown State before the 2016 season.

Malachi Moore - DE, Pope John XXIII, Sparta, NJ (Boston College)

2012: State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 45 National SDE Ranking: 86

The grad transfer Moore had a career ending injury and never played a game.

20/20 Hindsight:

1. 2016 observation: lack of specialists. This problem was temporarily solved with two grad transfers and a walk-on freshman kicker in 2017. So this point becomes moot with decommit Alex Barbir not starting at Penn State either.

2. 2016 observation: Several decommitments hurt the numbers in this class. Jury still out though the 14 guys who remain all have the possibility to contribute.

3. 2016 observation: Low on line potential. This class was again likely bailed out by the 2017 class which had a full complement of linemen, several of which enrolled early. Maietti has already exceeded expectations. Krimin, Lonsdorf, and Howson all seem further along than most redshirt freshman are on the offensive line. Turner might not be a star but he played as a RFr. Overall, this is less of a concern now with the X-factor being a pass rusher emerging.

4. If Marfo would have been able to step in to join Gray and Hayes, this group would have gotten all you can ask for out of an individual recruiting class in the secondary. As of now, they are average.

5. There are several guys who could really improve how this class looks down the line. The biggest two are probably Bailey and Sneed. Bailey was a two-star prospect who this staff gambled on. It’s great if he can be a special teams warrior and contribute on D, but this team needs someone to emerge as a stud receiver. Sneed also is a consummate team player and if he can have a career at or better than that of Josh Hicks, the team will have serviceable running backs for the next three seasons.

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

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers
Is that not a big dude? Micah Clark.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports