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OTB Staff Round Table: Thoughts On Rutgers Football’s 2017 Recruiting Class

We answer a few questions regarding the newest members of Rutgers football.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Rutgers
Austin started from Day 1 while Cioffi surprised many by playing as a true freshman.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers football team received National Letters of Intent from a number of prospects on National Signing Day. Those young men, along with those who have already enrolled early, welcomed a positive change from the past few seasons rankings. The program seems headed in the right direction. Our staff got together to assess the group based on our thoughts at this point and what we expect toward the future. Here we go!

Who are you most excited to see play over the next few seasons?

RutgersNation86: Johnathan Lewis! When Chris Ash first announced he would be implementing the power spread at Rutgers I was extremely excited to see who Ash and staff would land to be the lead signal caller of the Rutgers offense. When Lewis first announced his commitment to Rutgers I was elated as Lewis has the perfect build for a dual threat quarterback. He runs very well downhill with speed and power, and has the ability to extend plays with his feet when the pocket collapses. In addition to his running ability Lewis has an extremely strong arm and can stand tall in the pocket and deliver strikes.

Bob Cancro: Any big - I mean big - lineman on either side of the ball. We were not built to play in the smash-mouth Big Ten. We need large people up front. So any lineman who can get the job done - you go, A.J. - are what I want to see.

Cara Sanfilippo: I am so excited about all of these players who have shown class and loyalty beyond their years in staying with Rutgers after a 2-win season and so much negative press. But who am I most excited to see play? As much as I love Gio, I would have to say Jonathan Lewis. I am excited to see what the spread offense can achieve for Rutgers when we have a dual-threat quarterback, and even if he redshirts this season, hopefully the possible competition will help Gio to play better as well.

Aaron Breitman: I’m partial towards receivers, so I’m very high on the incoming recruits in this class with that group. It was a position of need and Ash hauled in some that I think are several good ones, led by class anchor Bo Melton. I also think Everett Wormley can be really good. Rutgers desperately needed better athletes at this position and I think they got a really good group here, with Eddie Lewis being a nice pickup in the 11th hour.

David Anderson: After watching the film, it’s Olakunle Fatukasi. Once Greg Jones went down last year, there was no one on the defense who could close space AND deliver a blow. A player who can lay the wood serves to energize the defense and can intimidate an offensive player. I could be wrong if one of the other big hitters in this class (Eddie Lopez perhaps) proves even more apt in this area.

Mike Voza: Since you used the word excited, I will say Bo Melton because he looks like he will be able to make big, exciting plays. He is an electric football player who will make a big splash.

Jim Hoffman: The more I see of Jonathan Lewis, the more I like him. He has an amazing gun for an arm, he is big, strong, and has a frame that can put more muscle on. He will be a perfect option QB. However, I honestly don’t expect to see him on the field until 2018 at least. In the meantime, I am waiting to see whether graduate transfer Ryan Anderson is as good as he looks on film. If you have not seen his stuff, take a moment and take a look at this article published just a few days ago. If, after seeing his video, you don’t agree with me about his leg, let me know!

Griffin Whitmer: Easy answer here would be Melton or Lewis. However, I’m most excited to see Brendan Devera. He is the lowest ranked recruit in the class but has one of the best chances of playing as a true freshman because of his unique position. He is lunch pail-type player who will do whatever it takes to help this team. I expect to see him laying people out as a blocker and punching it in at the goal line. He can do it all and I am very excited to see how he is utilized.

Andy Egan: Mike Tverdov. I loved watching his big bro Pete destroy QBs, and I think Mike might be a huge get for the Knights. He has all the tools to be a beast Defensive End, and if he has half of Pete’s drive and work ethic, will tap every ounce of his potential to become a great Scarlet Knight. On the offensive side, Johnathan Lewis is going to be damn fun to watch run this offense.

Matthew Pisani: Johnathan Lewis is going to be a lot of fun to watch. After multiple seasons of Chris Laviano and incompetent quarterbacking, Lewis brings some promise to the position. He is mobile and has a solid arm. This offense should be a fun and effective one to watch with him under center.

Chris Drabik: The prospect of Johnathan Lewis leading this offense with a full stable of weapons is definitely an exciting one, but to mix things up I’m going to lean towards Tyshon Fogg. I’m not sure if we’re paying enough attention to the non-New Jersey 4-star prospect. He is a versatile linebacker who hits hard and has a knack for making a big play. Combine skill set with coaching and Fogg has a real chance at being the heart and soul of the defense in just a few years.

New Mexico v Rutgers
Once Grant went down, special teams and the short passing game suffered dramatically.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Which recruit do you believe will have the earliest impact in games on the banks?

Cara Sanfilippo: I have been very vocal about the weakness of Special Teams this season, so I am very happy about the addition of Ryan Anderson (P) and Justin Davidovicz (K). Having the #1 kicker in NJ and a grad transfer who not only has two Division 3 All-American titles, but holds an NCAA Division 3 single season record for average 46.2 yards per punt, is huge. I believe both of these specialists will win the starting spots next season, and improve on the poor starting field position and lack of field goals next season. I also love that Anderson is a grad transfer, so he will bring maturity and leadership to the position group.

Aaron Breitman: Johnathan Lewis has a chance to be the starter next season. While he might not start the first game, I really think Ash and Kill won’t waste a lot of time putting him out there early on. He is the most talented quarterback now on the roster and it’s only a matter of time until this is his team. That is an exciting prospect and I think he will have a tremendous career on the banks.

David Anderson: Tim Barrow. A member of the class who didn’t generate a lot of press, when you watch his film, his team had trouble protecting their quarterback (even more than RU). To combat this, Barrow got a number of screen passes, Mehringer/Laviano specials. So you would think the defense would creep up to stop those, but they don’t because Barrow also has his number called frequently on 5 step (not even 7 step) drops where it’s a 50 yard post or fly pattern. His first to second and even second to third gears make me think had he been on the team in 2016, he might have immediately become the featured replacement when Janarion went down. Everett Wormley would also be a candidate here because his route running may be better than other options.

Bob Cancro: I agree with Aaron that Lewis - if only because he is a high quality QB that fits Ash’s system - is a very big deal. Start? Agree again. Not immediately, but with some time with S & C coach Kenny Parker, he could see some significant time.

Mike Voza: The biggest impact will be Johnathan Lewis since the quarterback position is so very important. If he wins the starting job in camp or is inserted at some point is the main question.

Griffin Whitmer: Earliest impact is looking like a lock to be Ryan Anderson. Punting isn’t a skill where it is hard to see how it will translate from DIII to the Big Ten. 46.2 yards is the same in DI, DII, DIII, high school, an so on. When he kicks the ball, it goes far. Rutgers hasn’t had that in a while. He also holds and as a grad-transfer, he will most likely have that job as well.

Jim Hoffman: I am in agreement with those above, Ryan Anderson is going to help tremendously. Our frequent and short punts put us in terrible field position game after game last year, and any guy who can average over 46 yards per punt is someone to appreciate.

Andy Egan: The Cedar Creek WR crew — The Mitchell Brothers and Bo Melton are going to electrify what was a sleepy receiver corps last year. Think about this: last year, Jay Harris was the number one receiver after Grant went down. This year, he might be behind Janarion, Duwop, Ahmir, and Melton in the WR pecking order. That isn’t a knock on Harris — it’s a testament to what is about to be a dramatically improved receiver corps.

Matthew Pisani: I am a huge fan of the Ryan Anderson punter acquisition. Last year, punting was a major issue. Rutgers would punt the ball and the opposition would still have the ball in Rutgers territory. As miniscule as the punting game may seem, it plays a huge role in the game. Rutgers had a great red zone defense this season, but they were worked a lot due to the inefficiency of the offense and the punting game.

Chris Drabik: No matter what Ash says, it’s all but a set for Ryan Anderson to walk in and be the starting punter from day one. Other than him, as far as immediate impact, I couldn’t agree more with Andy and the way he phrased it: The Cedar Creek WR crew. It’s going to be interesting to see how Kill uses Damon Mitchell. Duwop entered college as a quarterback and transitioned to a RB/WR so the ways in which he could be used are endless. From watching and calling a couple of Bo Melton’s games the last two years: the kid is an absolute electric factory. Legit D1 speed that will impact the offense immediately. The WR flying under the radar here is Ahmir Mitchell - a legit 6’3” 205 with the ability to take the top off the defense.

RutgersNation86: I am going to go with Johnathan Lewis again. While I am not positive if Lewis will start game 1, I do think it is a possibility and will be named the starter by mid-season the latest. In my Way Too Early QB Prediction I predicted Lewis to be named the starter as he has the skill set and intangibles to implement the power spread offense. My view has not changed, and like Aaron I hope Ash and Kill don’t waste a lot of time putting him out there.

What recruit’s commitment made you feel the most relieved?

David Anderson: Micah Clark enrolling early. It was great to have the state’s top prospect already on campus as many of the remaining verbal commits visited or occasionally wavered in their decisions. This team needs help in the trenches and Clark can play either side of the ball. That said, had Mike Tverdov changed his mind at any point I would have been in full meltdown mode because he loves football and is New Jersey Rutgers all the way.

RutgersNation86: I have to agree with David on this one. Having the state’s top prospect sign early brought comfort to Rutgers fans, as we all know how crazy recruiting can be, but Micah never wavered and has become one of the program’s best recruiters. Additionally, his size and athleticism makes him extremely versatile allowing him to play on both sides of the ball.

Cara Sanfilippo: Echoing my colleagues here with Micah Clark. Having the #1 recruit in NJ stay strong, commit early, and vocally support Rutgers in all the chaos post-season was huge for us. I believe he will do great things for Rutgers over the next four years.

Aaron Breitman: Bo Melton. He was the most vocal leader publicly for the class and worked behind the scenes as well, helping to lock up fellow in-state recruits . Although the departure of assistant Aaron Henry hit him hard, I took his honest reaction on twitter as a good sign. He is a mature kid that will work his butt off and his talent is undeniable. I think he will be a great leader for this program in the years to come and keeping him on board was imperative to keeping the core of this solid class together.

Bob Cancro: Clark and Melton. They were the foundation pieces and they hung in there. Very big for perception as well as quality players.

Mike Voza: The four early enrollees because they are lineman. There is no substitute for brute strength at those positions and the extra time in the strength program will be a huge benefit.

Griffin Whitmer: The most relieved I was during the recruiting cycle was when Tyshon Fogg’s letter came in. It never really made sense to me why a 4-star recruit from Maryland would commit to Rutgers. Then I was told he lived in Jersey for 11 years. Still, Fogg was very quiet for a while and I couldn’t help but think other schools were pulling for him and he did not seem very solid until his official visit.

Jim Hoffman: Micah Clark, without a doubt. He was demonstrable proof that there was a new day with regard to recruits and Rutgers ability to get and keep high profile guys. We have not had a top ten recruit since Darius Hamilton committed, and just like Darius, I think Clark’s name kept other recruits from wavering and being lured away to other schools when the season turned out like it did. Getting two of the top ten recruits in NJ is a huge get for a coach who was only in his first full recruiting cycle at Rutgers.

Matthew Pisani: I am going with the above majority here and saying Micah Clark. It is huge that Rutgers can land a high profile athlete from NJ. Hopefully that will lead to more and more of them staying home and helping this program win.

Andy Egan: Johnathan Lewis. We saw how anemic the offense was without a true answer at QB. It relies on a QB who can be a threat to tuck and run. Lewis brings that, along with terrific football IQ (he already runs our offense in high school), great size, and a live arm, with accuracy.

Chris Drabik: One of the more under-the-radar stories leading up to National Signing Day was the possible de-commitment of Olakunle Fatukasi. He took two official visits in the weeks leading up to NSD and at one point seemed trending towards leaving RU. Once he was signed and sealed, it cemented an outstanding class of incoming linebackers, as well as the ability of Chris Ash to keep commits locked in.

Which commit is the dark horse to have the best career at Rutgers?

RutgersNation86: I am going to go with Jamaal Beaty. In my opinion Beaty is underrated and credit to A.J. Blazek for landing brothers Micah and Jamaal. While Micah on paper is larger and more athletic, Beaty is also extremely athletic and moves really well. In addition to his mobility, Beaty plays bigger than his size and there are reports of him squatting over 500 pounds. His ceiling is extremely high in my opinion and I am looking forward to watching his progress.

Cara Sanfilippo: Hmm, this is a tough one, but I would say 2-star commit Brendan Devera from Wayne Hills. This is not just because he hails from my neck of the woods, but because I believe his size and physicality make him very versatile. I can see him making an impact blocking on both sides of the ball, and being a leader for his team.

Aaron Breitman: Naijee Jones isn’t the fastest defensive back, but he is super athletic and will bring a physical style to the secondary, something that has been missing for several years with this team. I think he will develop well under Ash, Bill Busch and Henry Baker and be a key member of this class in his career. Tackling has been a major issue as well, which is one of his strengths.

David Anderson: Jaohne Duggan. Like the fan base at large when he was offered and then signed, I felt skeptical. After reading and watching him, his energy reminds me of Ramel Meekins. When I recently rewatched the 2005 Insight Bowl, Pandemonium in Piscataway, and some games from 2011-2012 Rutgers simply had more energy and enthusiasm than their opponents. It doesn’t need to be the most talented player that rallies the team, but an interior lineman can create a ripple effect to players further away from the ball. My second choice here is Tyler Hayek who could be a 4 year version of Andrew Turzilli.

Bob Cancro: Let’s go waaaay outside the box. Pick an area that has hurt us badly in recent years. STOP! Just one, please. Kicking. The punter and the placekicker. They can be immeasurable assets. Anybody can run, throw, or catch a ball.

Mike Voza: Owen Bowles will have the best career but I don’t see him as a dark horse. It seems Everett Wormley is in Bo Melton’s shadow but I think he will have a very, very solid career.

Griffin Whitmer: Elijah Barnwell. It seems that he was under-recruited because of his brother’s actions. His brother was a 4-star recruit with offers from every school out there and people from Piscataway say that Elijah was without a doubt the most important and prolific player to come through that program. He’ll be overlooked because of the other skill players in this class, but he is the only true running back and Robert Martin and Josh Hicks are done after this year. After that, there are no proven ball carriers on the roster and he will certainly have the opportunity to play a lot of football for Rutgers.

Jim Hoffman: I think our last commit for the Class of 2017 is a diamond in the rough. Raheem Blackshear is listed as a two-star recruit, but he gets high praise for his toughness and his ability to anticipate. When a player comes from a school with the football pedigree of Archbishop Wood in Westminster, PA, and his coach compares him to Reggie Bush, you should listen! I find it strange that the #2 running back in PA is given so little press, but I am sure that his size has a lot to do with that. The last PA guy that I felt so strongly about was when Robert Martin III signed. No matter what else you think of him, Kyle Flood stuck with Martin when other schools ran away after Martin had ACL issues, and we should all be very glad he did. I see Blacksheer is the same mold as Martin.

Andy Egan: Brendan DeVera. Very lightly recruited, but he appears to be a perfect fit at halfback for Jerry Kill’s offense, and he is a winner. He also brings a lot of versatility, which will make him a weapon on special teams. Just an old school, smashmouth, football player/warrior. We had one of those recently - his name is Mike Burton, and he plays on Sundays. I also like Syheim Simmons - his recruitment was a little peculiar, but I think he might be a gem as a safety/linebacker.

Chris Drabik: From watching the film of all of the incoming commits, I think I was the most pleasantly surprised by Raheem Blackshear. He’s received a lot of of comparisons to Janarion Grant but I see him more in the mold of a Darren Sproles. He may never be a feature RB, but he’s the type of weapon that very good college football teams are able to pull out of their back pocket. Also, another commit I was extremely impressed with while calling one of their games in high school is Naijee Jones. Equal parts athletic and physical, he could be the next Rutgers DB to make it to the NFL.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!