With so little traffic to SB Nation on July 4th, feel free to have your pick if this is a delayed Independence Day, National Apple Turnover Day, National Bikini Day (invented 4 days after the nuclear test at Bikini Island in 1946), or National Work-a-holics day poll. I am sitting at my office today, so maybe you can guess where I fall on the spectrum since i don’t work at the beach or an apple orchard.
No position on the field requires sheer will, penetrating deep beyond the enemy’s front, not accepting the status quo, all combined with being a little crazy quite like the defensive line. The Scarlet Knights’ history of disruptors both against the run and the pass that fit this mold has evolved with the game itself. Since the characters in this week’s movie theme were fighting to defeat the same country (England) that later resulted in July 4th being a regular day on the calendar everywhere else in the world, but the Independence holiday in the US of A, it seemed like a good choice this week.
Since no one in Rutgers Football history was 8 feet tall, could shoot fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his .... (well go ahead and watch the classic film) and a clear-cut winner, we will vote on the best pass rusher in Rutgers Football history. This poll is a little more challenging than most because the game of American football goes through phases and therefore statistics for defensive linemen cannot easily be compared across eras. Throw in that sacks weren’t recorded for a long time, then were unofficially recorded, and now can be recorded as halves and we get back to the good, old-fashioned eye test. What do your eyes tell you about the guys below?
John Alexander. Though Paul Robeson made the suggestion, it was Alexander who changed the game by being its first Outside Linebacker after arriving on the banks from the U.S. Army in 1919. There wasn’t much passing in those days, but John’s technique to disrupt ends trying to make catches was the first of it’s kind. He would shift inside and out to get a better view of the quarterback (or whoever was throwing) and make a play. He was good enough to play in a number of professional leagues including with Robeson in the 1922 NFL.
Mike Pellowski may be known more at this point for his writing one of the most comprehensive books on the history of Rutgers Football, “Rutgers Football: A Gridiron Tradition in Scarlet.” The 1970 team defensive captain still holds the record for sacks in a game with four in 1969 against Lafayette. He’s also tied for 8th all-time with 17 career sacks. Don’t confuse him with Frederick Aloysius Palowaski, “the Ogre” since that character may pop up in another poll ...
Nate Toran. Toran and John Alexander (the other one) led the undefeated Rutgers defense in 1976. Toran gets the nod here because he still holds the career record for career sacks (52.0) which is almost double what second place Dan Gray has. Toran was so dominant, he holds the first, second, and third place spots for single season sacks. Thirty years later, Ramel Meekins was compared by many fans to Nate, but his 17 career sacks are not even the best Toran ever had in a single-season! Talking sheer production in a Knights uniform, there is no comparison.
Dan Gray was freed up a little bit by having played alongside Toran and Alexander at the beginning of his career, though it’s hard to argue with his 29.0 career sacks, second all-time at RU. He had two seasons with at least ten sacks which is amazing considering that he didn’t lead the team in either campaign (see Toran, Nate). Of course Rutgers was usually winning in those years forcing opponents to do a lot of passing to try and catch up. It was a pick your poison for opponents.
Dino Mangiero. Mangiero is tied for 3rd all-time at Rutgers in career sacks (26.0) and has the best single-season total for anyone other than Toran (14.0). Despite not being drafted, Mangiero had the most NFL success as a pure defensive lineman up to that point as he played eight seasons in the NFL. He along with Westerman translated college success to the NFL better than anyone else in this list possibly.
Bill Pickel. The numbers don’t show as a Scarlet Knight, but Pickel did enough to be drafted in the second round by the Raiders (54th overall). After winning a Super Bowl ring as a rookie, he exploded with more than ten sacks each of the next three years, culminating in a 1st team All-Pro recognition in 1986. As a defensive lineman, he had the best pro career of any former Scarlet Knight (unless you include Harry Swayne who moved to offense).
Shawn Williams. Williams deserves kudos because statistically speaking he is a bit of an outlier. He’s the only member of the top 10 sackers (he’s 5th with 21.0) to have played in the 1980s or 1990s (other than Ed Steward’s senior season in 1980). His best season came as a junior in 1991 when he tallied 12.0 sacks, tied with Gray for the 5th best single-season campaign in Rutgers Football history.
Ryan Neill. I chose Neill over Alfred Peterson, Val Barnaby, Gary Gibson, and Raheem Orr because his coming to Rutgers was a game changer for in-state recruiting during the Schiano era. Ryan also had a knack for the dramatic as his interception return touchdown was the biggest play in the 2004 upset over Michigan State that saw the goalposts get pulled down. He’s 6th all-time with 19.0 career sacks including a ten sack season as a senior alongside Barnaby’s ten.
Jamaal Westerman. Westerman has proven to be a top player in the CFL where he attended high school, leading the league in sacks in 2015 after a solid run as a situational NFL pass rusher. Jamaal got the nod over guys like Justin Francis, Jon Freeny, and George Johnson because he was the most accomplished sack artist during his time on the banks, finishing third all-time with 26.0 career sacks.
Kemoko Turay. Though I was certain he would not get ten sacks as a senior in 2017, that was more a result of the lack of pass rush specialists around him (14.5 career sacks) and the fact that Rutgers rarely had their opponents in surefire passing situations. If the question is what player opposing quarterbacks least wanted to see, the Dragon surely has a case. Pro talent evaluators agree as he became the highest selected defensive lineman in Rutgers Football history at the NFL Draft, 52nd overall. I gave Turay the edge over another former Colt, Eric Foster (13.5 career sacks).
Who did we miss? Did we egregiously omit your answer such as one of the guys I indicated just missed the cut like Eric Foster? Keif Bryant was drafted by Seattle, what about him? Harry Swayne is not getting more love despite starting on defense? Should a linebacker like Steve Longa have gotten more of a look? Go vote and leave us thoughts in the comments section as for this one we probably did leave someone out!
Best pass rusher in Rutgers football history
This poll is closed
John Alexander (the 1918 one)
Mike Pellowski (the non-Ogre)
Nate Toran (how can he not be?)
Dan Gray (29 shades of ... )
Dino Mangiero, cooler than any nickname.
Bill Pickel (the Raider and later Jet)
Shawn Williams (the outlier)
Ryan Neill (the trailblazer)
Jamaal Westerman (North-South defender)
Kemoko Turay (the Dragon)