Our staff made their season record predictions for Rutgers football earlier this week. I thought it would be fun to take a stab at predicting statistical leaders for this season as well. Here are my somewhat informed, somewhat optimistic picks for several offensive and defensive categories. A few favorites mixed in with a few sleepers. Rip me apart in the comment section, I can take it, I think.
Obviously, true freshman Artur Sitkowski was named the starting quarterback. He has big play ability, but will make plenty of mistakes as well. Keith Sargean of NJ Advance Media wrote a great article in which he ranked the true freshman quarterbacks who have played for Rutgers over the years. While legendary coach Frank Burns, who starred at quarterback in the forties, ranked number one, his stats are a bit skewed from playing in a different era where passing wasn’t as prominent in the game yet. The best modern season performance for a true freshman is Tom Savage, who in 2009 threw for 2,211 yards, the most of any Rutgers quarterback to start in their first collegiate campaign. He completed just 52.3% of his 285 pass attempts, but produced 14 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions.
These stats are solid, but if Sitkowski could even replicate those numbers, he’d be in the middle of the pack for Big Ten quarterbacks. It’s important for Rutgers fans to that keep in mind, as Savage continues to be the standard bearer and Sitkowski may not produce eye popping stats right away. That wouldn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t showing real development either. The point is patience is needed.
My prediction for Sitkowski is perhaps a bit optimistic, but I do think attainable:
A 58% completion percentage on 260 pass attempts, with 15 TD and 12 INT for 2250 yards, which would just break Savage’s program best record for most yards thrown by a freshman QB.
Isaih Pacheco - As much as we have heard about the true freshman quarterback in training camp, I have an inkling the coaching staff has worked harder to keep Pachecho a secret as long as possible. He is physically ready for the college game and is a specimen. Enrolling in January really helped him get a quick start in the program and I think he is primed to become the featured running back as the season progresses. Raheem Blackshear is the starter listed on this week’s two deep, but I think he will be used more in the passing game and won’t carry the load running the ball. Grad transfer Jon Hilliman will get carries as well, but ultimately I think Pacheco will pass him by. Trey Sneed has been in the mix also, but Pacheco seems like the type of player that will demand more carries based on his production. I think three to four backs will split carries, but Pacheco will garner the most. You could say I’m pretty excited to see this kid play.
Prediction: 180 carries for 880 yards for 4.9 yards per carry, along with 7 touchdowns.
Bo Melton - I seriously considered tight end Jerome Washington here, but Melton’s deep threat potential makes me think he will live up to the hype and become the leading receiver for this team. The key is for him to be a consistent threat in the short and intermediate passing game, aside from him producing some big plays down the field. Melton will be challenged in facing the top corner of the opposition every week, but I think he is ready to make the leap into a legitimate #1 receiver.
Prediction: 55 receptions for 580 yards, 10.5 yards per catch and 5 touchdowns
All-Purpose Yards Leader
Raheem Blackshear - He is listed as the starting running back and figures to be heavily involved in the passing game as well. He is a versatile playmaker that offensive coordinator John McNulty will look to get involved early and often in games. He is also set to return kickoffs and punts, which will give him more opportunities to rack up yardage and produce big plays. Keeping him healthy throughout the season is probably the biggest obstacle in him not leading Rutgers in all-purpose yards.
Prediction: 120 carries for 600 yards, 5.0 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns. 40 receptions for 320 yards, 8.0 yards per catch and 3 touchdowns. 20 kickoff returns for 480 yards, 24.0 yards per return and 1 touchdown. 16 punt returns for 180 yards, 11.25 yards per return and 1 touchdown. TOTAL All-Purpose Yards - 1,580
Deonte Roberts - In the past two seasons, in which he started every game, Roberts was second on the team both years and combined for 199 total tackles. While his fellow linebacker, Trevor Morris, led Rutgers both seasons and combined for 220 total tackles, I think there are two factors that will change that this year. I think Tyshon Fogg will see the field more and more as the season goes on and Morris won’t have as many opportunities as the previous two years, as well as Roberts just being primed to have a monster season. I think we see Roberts at his very best in his last go round and his play boosts a veteran defense into a top half unit in the Big Ten.
Prediction: 125 total tackles, including 5 for a loss and three forced fumbles
Tyshon Fogg - Perhaps my biggest sleeper pick for all of the predictions, I think defensive coordinator Jay Niemann is going to be more aggressive and creative this season. I expect to see four linebackers on the field in certain situations and with a lack of depth at the defensive line, they’ll need to help generate a pass rush. I think Fogg has the ability to be effective in that regard. Part of this is I don’t think Rutgers will have a ton of sacks overall, but expect more this season than last, even with the loss of Kemoko Turay. Fogg will be a big reason why.
Prediction: 4.5 sacks, 9 tackles for a loss overall.
Damon Hayes - Despite having three very good seniors in the secondary in Blessuan Austin, Isaiah Wharton and Saquan Hampton, I think the fourth starter is the one who leads the team in interceptions. Hayes just has “it” in my opinion, a player who just has a feel for the game and makes plays. Shifting to strong safety gives Hayes a different vantage point and one assistant coach Noah Joseph said he has flourished with. He has just two interceptions in two seasons. However, after tying for the team lead with 10 pass break-ups last season, I think Hayes can use his different spot on the field to his advantage and react in a way that will make him even more effective.
Prediction: 4 interceptions, one for a touchdown