Three veteran players on the offensive side of the ball announced their intentions to transfer from Rutgers football on Thursday morning.
Jonah Jackson was a team captain, starter at right guard and was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection by both the coaches and media last season. This is a huge loss for the offensive line that is now coached by new assistant Pete Rossomando, who has taken over for former Rutgers assistant A.J. Blazek.
All these losses are significant to the program, but Jackson (Media, PA) is the biggest by every imaginable metric. He was the team’s best offensive lineman and probably best offensive player regardless of position in 2018. Not only that, Jackson was a captain during his redshirt junior season and brought a nastiness/edge/physicality whatever word you want to use that has been lacking on the Rutgers Football team in recent seasons. He and Tariq Cole (out of eligibility) both multi-year starters and the leaders of the group leave huge vacancies that no one currently on the roster seems ready to step into at this point in time. The offensive line is key to Rutgers reversing their fortune and losing Jackson is a massive blow to that effort.
You have to wonder how much AJ Blazek’s departure plays into this if at all, perhaps not. No word on where Jonah will end up, but the list of suitors for a plug and play guy at any of the three interior line spots is probably most teams in the country. If his goal is to go to the NFL, this can only help his stock in going to a team with likely a better offensive attack.
Nakia Griffin-Stewart has been a member of the two-deep at fullback or tight end for the last three seasons:
Thank you Rutgers University! It’s been an amazing four years! pic.twitter.com/t96siT36jT— Big Nak (@NakiaGriffin) January 24, 2019
Griffin-Stewart (Tenafly, NJ) first and foremost deserves credit for doing everything in his power to help coalesce a rather disjointed recruiting class in 2015 despite the Scarlet Knights’ surprising success during the program’s first Big Ten season. As a redshirt freshman, he elected to stay even though the offensive scheme changed to a spread system under Drew Mehringer that did not take advantage of Nakia’s blocking abilities or much pass catching from its tight ends. Once Jerry Kill moved the offense back to more of a pro set in 2017, Nakia was super important in the H-back role because of his ability to line up as a tight end or fullback. His development as a pure tight end may have been hindered with the emergence of Jerome Washington plus injuries to Max Anthony at times which required Nakia to be ready for fullback duty and then the team not utilizing one. Of course not having a quarterback who could reliably complete passes didn’t help either. Travis Vokolek is the presumed starter at tight end, but neither he nor any of the other flex tight ends options can block or offer the same size and speed combo of NGS.
I’ve always been high on Griffin-Stewart because of his versatility, size, speed and flashes he showed when given an opportunity. In the spring games each year he reliably generated separation regardless of who was covering him so it bothered me that Vokolek passed him on the depth chart without doing much in games up to that point even though I admittedly was not at practice as much as other writers and coaches. It will be interesting to see where Nakia ends up because he can definitely help any program as a team-first veteran of a power five conference who plays a position that rotates a lot of personnel. Of any player in recent memory, NGS may be the one whose talents were least maximized as a member of the Rutgers Football program, so if he explodes elsewhere in 2019, I called it.
Max Anthony has been the starter at fullback for two years:
Anthony (Albany, NY) joined the Scarlet Knights as a preferred walk-on who slotted at either linebacker or fullback. Most of the time PWO are heralded as guys who could have gotten scholarships if one or two things had gone differently and will produce one day. Max actually did though and was a key member of the team’s success particularly in 2017 as the starting fullback once the position returned to the offense under Jerry Kill. He was a blocker willing to take on defensive ends, linebackers, and hard hitting safeties that also had good enough hands to be a security blanket in the pass game. Unfortunately for him, inexperienced quarterback Art Sitkowski struggled to read defenses when more players were in the box so offensive coordinator John McNulty was forced to spread defenses out thus reducing Max’s opportunities. It really would have been nice to see what Max could do if he were at RU during McNulty’s first stint.
Unfortunately for Anthony, even Michael Burton who is considered one of the best fullbacks in the NFL has bounced around because of how expendable the position has become. Anthony deserves the same treatment as any scholarship transfer and will be a valuable contributor wherever he lands. No one on the roster is even close to being counted to do what he did in 2019.
The timing of these announcements are somewhat interesting. These tweets were clearly very planned and coordinated which benefits Rutgers more than the individuals themselves. For each of them, they are entering a super-competitive graduate transfer market. It was helpful for the players’ own interests to do this prior to the regular signing period in two weeks as schools they may elect to attend are planning and counting scholarships.
Overall despite Rutgers going 1-11 more than anything due to anemic offense, losing offensive players especially good soldiers who can block and a captain doesn’t really have any upside. It’s too late in the game to be able to replace them with equally ready to play individuals especially with a coaching staff under increasing pressure to win now. Rutgers has gained on the transfer market as well though, and this is just how college football works these days.
Good luck to Jonah, Nakia, and Max at their next stops, each of them will always be well respected and appreciated by the Rutgers fan base.