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Knights in the NFL: Offensive Season Review and Draft Preview

Kroft explodes in breakthrough campaign.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Kroft with another touchdown.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We are days away from the 2018 NFL draft when a few Rutgers football alums hope their names get called. Let’s recap how other former Rutgers players performed in the NFL this past season and who may join them in the coming week via draft or free agent signing.

We finish on the offensive side of the ball. Defense here.

MVP and Most Improved: Tyler Kroft

Kroft had 42 catches for 404 yards and was second amongst AFC tight ends with seven touchdowns. During the offseason, Tyler was committed to becoming a better blocker because the knock on his blocking was what prevented him from being the second tight end in heavy sets. He had an impressive camp blocking and receiving so expectations were high heading into his third season with Cincinnati. The Bengals lost Pro Bowl Tight End Tyler Eifert early in the year but didn’t miss a beat with Kroft who at times was their go to receiver with A.J. Green was banged up. This is not really a surprise as the former 3rd round pick in the 2015 draft had been able to make a few plays in less action earlier in his career. Around the goal line defenses doubled team him at times, yet he still managed to score. Cincinnati has the pieces on offense to return to the playoffs in 2018.

Mr. Consistency: Clark Harris

Harris earned his first Pro Bowl selection and our friends at Cincy Jungle did a nice job covering Harris’s longevity and consistency to earn the well deserved spot. Prior to the NFL, Harris was viewed as a top prospect at the Tight End position before converting full-time to a long snapper in 2009. Despite all the drama surrounding the Bengals, Clark and the kicking units continued to produce. If their aforementioned offense can return to the explosive ways that got them to five straight playoff appearances snapped in 2016, more people will recognize how special teams are such a big part of their team success.

Comeback kid: Michael Burton

Burton was part of a Lions team that fell apart down the stretch in 2016. The Lions shuffled the decks and Burton landed very quickly with the Chicago Bears. The Bears were not a great team, but they sure were entertaining at times, bringing hope to an organization that has struggled since reaching the 2010 NFC Championship. To reduce the pressure on rookie quarterback Mitch Trusbisky, Chicago employed a multitude of formations that included Burton as somewhat of an H-back. Michael carried the ball four times (including a seven yard carry, the best of his career) and caught two passes which was enough to plant the idea in defense’s heads that he could get the rock. His contributions on special teams were even more apparent, like in this TD. For any team that acknowledges the need for a reliable fullback on their roster, Burton could be a fit. For now though, he remains with the Bears.

Staying the course

Brandon Coleman did not have his best statistical season, but didn’t need to to help his Saints to the division title. New Orleans’s offense is predicated on spreading the ball around in the passing game as six players finished with at least 20 receptions, including Brandon. He tied his career high with three touchdown receptions and surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards. As long as Drew Brees is under center, the Saints have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl after a painful season ending last year.

Mohamed Sanu has the best quarterback rating in NFL history. 6 for 6, 238 yards and 3 Touchdowns. His 51 yard bomb to Julio Jones (below) was the Falcons highlight of the regular season as Atlanta reached the playoffs yet again. Unfortunately for Atlanta, a goal line stand by the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles ended their season in the divisional round. Individually, Mohamed set a career high with 67 receptions for 703 yards, tying his career high with five touchdowns. Atlanta is a Super Bowl contender for a few more years.

Leonte Carroo just hasn’t gotten into the rotation for the Miami Dolphins yet. The revolving door at quarterback and personnel packages certainly have played into it, but the 24 year old former third round pick needs to break through regardless. He doubled the number of targets (12), receptions (7), and yards (69) from his rookie campaign but to him, the Dolphins, and all Scarlet Knight fans who know what he is capable of, more is expected in 2018.

Andrew DePaola was let go by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a more than serviceable 2016 campaign. Instead he joined the Chicago Bears in time for the season, serving as their long snapper for all 16 games. The Bears kicking units were one of the bright spots in a rebuilding year, but decided to test the free agent waters. He was rewarded with a four year, $4.27 million contract with the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. Congrats to Andrew and his family, Clark Harris has some competition for the AFC Pro Bowl gig in 2018.

Carlton Agudosi was an enigma to Scarlet Knight faithful during his career on the banks. The 6’6” wideout blew people away at Rutgers Pro Day 2017 with his speed, jumping, and overall athleticism which came as a surprise to very few who follow the Knights closely. As a result, Arizona signed him as a rookie free agent precipitating articles like this one, about how he was a “mystery”. He remained on the Cardinals practice squad until being promoted to the active roster for two weeks in late November. After not recording any stats, Agudosi was released and then re-signed to the practice squad. He’s back with the Cardinals and with so many changes to the quarterback room in the Valley of the Sun, it’s possible he develops some chemistry with the new signal callers and earns a spot on the Week 1 roster.

Kaleb Johnson was out of the NFL until late 2017 after playing for Arizona in training camp and drawing some praise. The Chiefs added him to their practice squad in December and he signed a futures contract in January to remain in Kansas City. The versatile offensive lineman started at right tackle, left tackle, and left guard in his Scarlet Knights career and that versatility could be enough to get his on the active roster. Johnson’s last regular season action came with Baltimore in 2015, but he has been signed by several organizations in the interim. Crazy that he is still only 25 years old!

2018 Sleeper: Andre Patton

Patton like Agudosi really impressed at Rutgers Pro Day. Even more than Agudosi though, fans were treated to his ability several times during his Rutgers career. The end of the 2014 season he was simply unstoppable down the stretch and was the only receiver to develop any real chemistry with Giovanni Rescigno in 2016. His ability to get open deep was seriously missed in the 2017 campaign when Rutgers passing woes continued despite the team improving in virtually every other area. The Los Angeles Chargers wasted no time in signing him to a rookie free agent deal after the draft and given their track record with hybrid WR/TE types and stability at QB with Philip Rivers, it seemed like an excellent fit. Patton got a lot of looks in preseason, but ended up on the practice squad for the 2017 season. The Chargers brought him back and there’s a chance he ends up with a Brandon Coleman like progression from practice squad as a rookie to contributor in his second NFL season.

Looking to bounce back

Kenny Britt had his option picked up by the Patriots after they picked him up late in the year. This was curious to some as Cleveland had signed him to a huge contract in the offseason coming off a 1,000 yard season in 2016 but cut him in a winless campaign. New England has a track record for building structure that assists players who have come from losing teams, and Britt would be smart to capitalize in what could not be a more winning situation.

Tim Wright was brought back to Detroit in the preseason but despite showing almost no signs of rust, was let go. After being hurt during the 2016 campaign is somewhat understandable that no team was willing to gamble with him midyear. He signed last week with Kansas City and having a full offseason, he should be able to show why he came out of nowhere to score 11 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons after an injury prone college career. The Chiefs could use a red zone target / security blanket for first year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, having shipped Alex Smith out of town despite him leading them to a division title in 2017.

Who could join them?

Jeremy Zuttah was coming off a Pro Bowl season for the Baltimore Ravens a year ago, but they decided to ship him to San Francisco for a 6th round draft pick. Curiously, the 49ers released him before the preseason began. Zuttah briefly returned to the Ravens, but was let go during final roster cuts. I’m sure it has happened before, but a Pro Bowler being completely out of the league the following year is odd. Having not been signed anywhere yet, perhaps he is going the Anthony Davis early retirement route after nine full NFL seasons, including 131 games played and 117 starts.

Anthony Davis was one of the first of the new wave early retiring NFL stars. Davis was a 2010 1st round pick and anchor of a 49ers offensive line that powered them to three straight NFC title game appearances. He is still listed as an NFL player despite not playing in a game since he laced them up for one game in 2016.

Tiquan Underwood played in the NFL for five seasons after being drafted in the 7th round by Jacksonville in 2009. After a 55 then 46 catch seasons in ‘12 and ‘13, Tiquan remained a free agent. The speedster elected to take his talents north of the border as a deep threat for the past four seasons. Despite battling an ankle injury in 2017, he still managed 34 receptions for over 500 yards and two touchdowns for Montreal. There’s always a chance the NFL comes calling once again as he still has elite speed.

Gus Edwards arrived on the banks as a graduate transfer from Miami (FL) and immediately leapfrogged the steady Robert Martin on the depth chart at running back. He was the team’s best offensive player (713 rush yards, 103 receiving, 7 total TD) and has exceptional size for the position at 6’1”, 229 lbs. He did run a 4.52 second 40 yard dash, so somebody might take a flier on him. Twenty years ago they surely would have, but the bell cow back doesn’t exist in every NFL offense anymore.

Janarion Grant previously held the record for most combined kick/punt return touchdowns in FBS history. Unfortunately in his redshirt senior year he was unable to add to that total as he missed most of the season due to injury once again. When he did play, he showed why so many coaches have raved about his competitive spirit and ability to play bigger than he is. If he can show anything close to the elite athletic ability he once had, there’s a chance he gets a look for at least an NFL tryout. For old time’s sake, hopefully this makes your day:

Ryan Anderson was mentioned by our readers in the comments section of the defensive article. The graduate transfer earned 1st Team All-Big Ten in 2017, the first Scarlet Knight to be so honored. Despite the accolades, usually punters don’t get drafted, so he probably won’t hear his name called this weekend. The experience and strong leg will likely get him an NFL tryout, but don’t expect him to pull a Deron Cherry and become an All-Pro at another position.

Dorian Miller, Josh Hicks, and Robert Martin have extremely remote chances of landing an NFL job, but there’s always a chance. Miller was a rare four year starter, with Hicks and Martin also contributing all four years on the banks.

Good karma