There were a lot of issues that Chris Ash needed to resolve once he became head coach of Rutgers football back in December 2015. Changing the culture of the program was the most important and something he has done in dramatic fashion since his arrival. Upgrading facilities is another, with the Hale Center spruced up, the weight room now state of the art, and additional practice fields under construction. Of course, the hardest issue to fix is improving the talent level on the roster in a major way.
Ash signed the highest ranked class for Rutgers in 5 years this past February, but in order for the program to be stocked with the talent and depth that’s needed to truly compete in the Big Ten East division, several more years of equal or higher ranked classes are a must. Of course, there are other ways to add talent as well.
One area in which Ash has had success is adding power five transfers who were top recruits in high school, but for one reason or another, didn’t quite work out at their original school. While recruiting rankings are not a perfect science, there is no denying that Rutgers has upgraded the roster with players who were recruited heavily in high school and landed at some of the best college football programs in the country. Whether those players are able to be key contributors at Rutgers remains to be seen, but several could be integral in the program making positive strides this coming season. Let’s take a look at all of the transfers that have been added under Ash.
Damon Mitchell - Arkansas
The former running back and 3-star recruit looks to be a major addition to the roster, as his switch to wide receiver has put him right at the top of the depth chart at Rutgers. He had a great spring and led the way with 73 yards receiving and the lone touchdown scored in the Scarlet-White game last weekend. Mitchell is one of the best athletes on the roster and the leadership he has brought to the program since his arrival has been universally praised. Ash recruited him to Arkansas when he was the defensive coordinator there, so his relationship with Damon was key in bringing him to Rutgers for his final season.
Ross Douglas - Michigan
The former 4-star recruit from Ohio played running back and defensive back for the Wolverines, but never established a steady role on the depth chart. By graduating Michigan in just three years, Douglas came to Rutgers with two years of eligibility remaining. Last season, Douglas didn’t make a huge impact on the field playing in the secondary and special teams, registering just 5 tackles in 10 games. He was battling through injury for a good part of the season. However, he could be primed for a bigger role this season, as he was moved to the SAM linebacker/Nickel position at the start of spring practice. If he can be on the field more this season, his leadership will be important for a defense that lost former captains Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to graduation.
Kyle Bolin - Louisville
After the depth at quarterback was severely depleted this spring with the dismissal of Tylin Oden and the injury to Zach Allen, Rutgers needed to add a quality signal caller to the roster. While starter Gio Rescigno and incoming freshman Johnathan Lewis mark an upgrade in last season’s quarterback group, depth was a major issue. Enter former 3-star recruit Kyle Bolin, who announced he was transferring from Louisville to Rutgers this week. After speaking with Bolin, he stressed the high character and great reputations of both Ash and offensive coordinator Jerry Kill as a main reason for coming to the banks. He also highlighted the culture of the program, his friendship with Douglas dating back to high school, as well as the opportunity to make a difference on the field. Bolin will have every opportunity to win the starting quarterback job and could have a huge impact this fall.
Gus Edwards - Miami
The former 3-star recruit rushed for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career at Miami and will have an opportunity to make an impact this fall at Rutgers in his last year of eligibility. He announced his decision to transfer closer to his family and join the Scarlet Knights this past February. While his role won’t be determined until training camp, the big back does have some speed and could prove to be a solid addition to seniors Robert Martin and Josh Hicks in the Rutgers backfield.
Zach Allen - TCU
While Allen is unlikely to ever make a major impact on the field at Rutgers, he was still a quality add to the program. The former 3-star quarterback recruit out of high school transferred from TCU last summer and hoped to beat out incumbent starter Chris Laviano, but it never happened. He played sparingly and was ultimately skipped over by current starter Gio Rescigno. By suffering a torn ACL this spring, he triggered the need for Rutgers to add another QB, which led to the arrival of Kyle Bolin. While there is no timeline for his return, Allen has been a class act and has only helped to improve the culture within the program. Having a veteran presence along with Bolin in the quarterbacks room can only help the group as a whole.
Jerome Washington - Miami
The talented tight end has had many spots on his journey that ultimately has led him to Rutgers. The former 4 star post-grad recruit started his college career at Miami, but transferred to the banks last winter. He sat out last season and has 2 years of eligibility remaining. While he sat out of spring camp due to injury, he is expected to compete for a role this fall. Washington could end up being a great find for coach Ash and become a playmaker in the revamped offense under Jerry Kill.
Ahmir Mitchell - Michigan
Mitchell was a highly sought after 4-star recruit out of Cedar Creek high school, before ultimately landing at Michigan with several other key New Jersey recruits in the class of 2016. Soon after arriving in Ann Arbor, Mitchell was suspended by the program for reasons that were undisclosed. Last fall, Ahmir announced he was coming home to New Jersey and transferring to Rutgers, a school that long pursued him during his original recruitment. Mitchell has been praised by Ash for being a top competitor within the program and was in line to start alongside his brother Damon at wide receiver this fall, before suffering an ACL tear in spring practice. However, he has not been ruled for the 2017 season and hopes to return at some point. He has four seasons of eligibility remaining. The sky is the limit for Mitchell at Rutgers.
Jawuan Briscoe - Georgia
One area that Rutgers has needed to upgrade is speed and the former 3-star recruit brings plenty with him from Georgia. Briscoe was also a track star in high school, running a 4.43 40 yard dash in 2014. He grabbed 2 interceptions last season at Georgia, but announced he was transferring to Rutgers a few weeks ago. Briscoe was recruited to Georgia by former head coach Mark Richt, who left for Miami before last season. Jawuan will have to sit out this season, but will have two seasons to play beginning in 2018. He could end up being a key player in the Rutgers secondary.
In just a year and a half, head coach Chris Ash has added eight transfer players from power five schools, with all of them being rated 3-star or 4-star recruits coming out of high school. This season, Rutgers could benefit greatly on the field from these additions.
On offense, Bolin could start at quarterback, Damon Mitchell is in line to be a high impact receiver, Washington could be a big addition at tight end, and Edwards could become a key player out of the backfield. Ross Douglas provides depth and leadership on defense.
Beyond this season, Ahmir Mitchell could become a legitimate star and Jawuan Briscoe will have every opportunity to become a playmaker in the defensive backfield.
While the overall impact of all of these recent additions remains to be seen, there is no denying that Ash has upgraded the talent on the roster through the transfer market. Rutgers has a long way to go in climbing up the ladder of the Big Ten East, but through relationships and due diligence, Ash is doing everything possible to upgrade the talent within the program. Adding these transfers from power five schools should also signal a positive sign with current recruits, as Rutgers is proving to be a desirable landing spot for former top prospects in need of a fresh start. Let’s hope an even bigger impression is made this fall, as the performance of the transfer players on the roster could go a long way in Rutgers being an improved team this season.