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Rutgers Football 2020 Early Signing Period Day One Report Card

Scarlet Knights ink 17 previous verbal commits, one late surprise.

Boston College v Rutgers
A year ago, Washington was a late commit and he became a starter as a freshman.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Throughout the day Wednesday, we provided OTB readers updates on players formally committing to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football program. The early signing period allows commits to sign a national letter of intent (NLI) from Dec 18 - 20 for high school players. (JUCOs: Dec 18 - Jan 15) The next official window high school prospects can sign an NLI begins the first Wednesday in February. So in 2020, that is February 5 through April 1 for Division 1 programs.

When most fans attempted to go to sleep Tuesday night, Rutgers had 17 verbal commits the hope being all would commit Wednesday, plus an outside chance of a surprise. By 9:30 am, 13 had been officially confirmed and the three remaining high school players were pending their official signing announcements between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. Graduate Transfer Malik Barrow was the 17th player to sign. Then Rutgers got a late surprise when Baylor athlete Peyton Powell’s transfer was announced, a former four-star recruit out of high school just a year ago.

The Day One grades are as follows.

Athlete (A)

Signed: Tyreem Powell, Chris Long, Malachi Melton, Robert Longerbeam, Peyton Powell

Targets: none likely

This grade comes from the number of positions these five players will be able to help out at and was teetering near an A even before Peyton Powell came on board. Any of the five could end up at wide receiver, but expect only one or two since Rutgers needs so much help elsewhere, like corner. Tyreem Powell is probably took big for safety, so he’ll either be a big wide receiver, tight end, or linebacker.

This is exactly what we need to see from a team that needs talent any way they can get it and is limited in the number of scholarships so versatility is key. Three players lined up at quarterback in high school and could end up as a Wild Knight, with Peyton Powell the most likely even though word is that he is not expected to start out as a quarterback on the banks. They all add playmaking.

Quarterback (B-)

Signed: Evan Simon,

Targets: Anthony Brown (grad transfer)?

The B- may be harsh because I like Evan Simon, a slight uptick from the C+ I gave last year when Cole Snyder was the only pickup since Evan is a higher rated, more ready prospect. Simon is rated on a similar level to Gary Nova who played some as a true freshman, so we could see him if he’s ready. Evan is mobile enough, with excellent pocket presence, to play in most versions of the spread offense other than what RU ran with Johnny Langan. If Rutgers had a stable quarterback situation, a B- would be totally ho hum.

Most programs only take one quarterback per class, but Rutgers really has no idea who the starting quarterback will be in 2020, even with Art Sitkowski returning. That said, at least there are three scholarship quarterbacks on the current roster compared to a year ago (Sitkowski, Langan, Snyder). Michael Alaimo, younger brother of Tight End Matt, officially committed to Purdue today though many hoped there was a chance for an 11th hour Avery-Aaron Young situation no matter how unlikely that seemed.

Quarterback play has been below average at best the past four years, so anyone who is good will play no matter where he comes from or how much eligibility remaining. NJ native and former BC starter Anthony Brown, last seen doing just enough to lead the Eagles to victory in Piscataway, may be a target (though it looks less likely) since he joined the transfer portal. Head Coach Greg Schiano will be on the lookout for players, but also could reserve judgement until an offensive coordinator is named if they are going to bring in a player with limited eligibility. Regardless, Schiano probably would like to add a true running quarterback if the opportunity presents itself. Peyton Powell is the most likely recruit to get some snaps, but is not expected to be a full-time QB at this juncture.

Running Back (C)

Signed: Kyle Monangai

Targets: Jalen Berger

Rutgers does not need running backs unless they will add another dimension to the team or start right away. Kay’Ron Adams and Aaron Young landed an A in this grading system last year. Both played pretty well alongside Isaih Pacheco and there’s a chance Raheem Blackshear returns as well. That being said, good running backs usually jump the queue and play as redshirt or even true freshmen even at Rutgers. Jalen Berger could be that player, or he could be the second coming of Savon Huggins. Berger will announce at the All-American Bowl in early January, but it’s possible he’s committed secretly to one of the programs he is most interested as of today (UCLA, LSU, Rutgers, one other mystery team).

Kyle Monangai was a solid, late addition who looks a lot like Raheem Blackshear on tape, even down to the #2 on his jersey. It wouldn’t have been catastrophic not to get anybody at this position (none of the athletes project at RB), but Kyle is more than just filler despite his recruiting ranking. He actually led Don Bosco Prep in rushing and receiving in 2019 (yes, more than Berger in both categories) and should be able to use his speed to make a few plays even if he could gain more skills. Don’t expect much running between the tackles early on, but he should be able to do some of what Aaron Young did as a freshman in 2019 and go from there. If nothing else he can be the understudy for Young’s special packages within the offense.

P.S. If in fact Jalen Berger committed secretly and we find out this later on, I retroactively reserve the right to give this an “A.”

Wide Receiver (B-)

Signed: Ahmirr Robinson

Targets: Justin Shorter?

One year ago, Isaiah Washington was the only commit on Day One of the early signing period and that earned a D which is probably fair in retrospect. Despite the logjam of scholarship players at the position, Washington became a starter alongside Bo Melton as they were the only two who really made plays with any frequency. The rest of the group had a moment now and then, like Mo Jabbie’s TD against Illinois, but there are snaps for the taking.

In the 2020 class, Schiano retained Ash commit Ahmirr Robinson and added Chris Long. Both players are good and slightly better prospects than most of the players on the current two-deep outside of Melton and Stanley King who may be in line for more action as redshirt freshman. Robinson is a smooth runner who gets yards after the catch like crazy. Long is considered an athlete who a year ago looked surely ticketed for cornerback and Schiano mentioned such in an interview with BTN, but after setting state records as a receiver he could start out as a wideout to see what he can do. Robert Longerbeam, Malachi Melton, Peyton Powell, and Tyreem Powell could all end up here as well depending on how the roster shakes out or if they simply dazzle in 7 on 7 drills. Tyreem Powell for example could be all-conference if he can play like Mohamed Sanu. Longerbeam is the only one of the athletes to surely begin his time as a receiver.

Don’t expect much more recruiting action at the WR position because Rutgers will only take a high schooler or transfer if he is a big fish, there are plenty of current players to simply fill the depth chart. One such name is Justin Shorter from Penn State, but Rutgers may not be a realistic destination for him or some of the highest profile guys who probably prefer to go to a functional passing offense rather than roll the dice at RU.

Tight End (B+)

Signed: Shawn Collins, Victor Konopka

Targets: none

Last year Rutgers didn’t land a single tight end which normally isn’t a big deal because so many receivers could end up there or even defensive ends / linebackers. Well it turned out to be a disaster as Johnathan Lewis was injured, three members of the two-deep at TE/FB two-deep left in the transfer portal, and true freshman walk-ons were forced to play. Matt Alaimo gaining immediate eligibility was the only savior from things being somehow worse for the Rutgers offense.

This year, Rutgers added two players initially ticketed for tight end. Though Shawn Collins and Victor Konopka registered more defensive statistics, they are both tall and athletic with higher upside as tight ends. Konopka never played football before but has the size and hands to be a red zone target right away. Collins is a tough blocker with sneaky quickness and should be able to help out in short yardage sooner than later. If Rutgers had depth at this spot or they can’t make enough plays, both could move to defense if the cupboard at TE is restocked. For now expect this to be it at the TE position barring a high profile transfer out of the blue. The reason this is currently not an A is that neither commit will be in the two-deep out of the chute.

Offensive Line (B+)

Signed: Bryan Felter, Isaiah Wright, Tunde Fatukasi, Cedrice Paillant

Targets: Alex Atcavage?

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have plenty of three-star players to fill out their two deep on the offensive line currently, but lack players who are above average in one facet of the game or other. So the idea in this class for Greg Schiano was to add as many players with high upside as possible and if they could snag a JUCO or transfer that could start (preferably at tackle) in 2020, that would be great.

Rutgers did a solid job, landing four prospects including Cedrice Paillant, a JUCO who should push for playing time and in an ideal world win a starting tackle spot. Felter is a very technically sound lineman who should start at some point in his career. Wright is a potential diamond in the rough having really gotten better on the offensive side, though there is some risk there. Fatukasi also showed tremendous growth in the last year and a half at the high school level so he could be a steal if he can continue to improve. With four commits that have higher ceilings than most of the current players, they get a solid B+. With a curve this grade might be higher.

The only linemen still in the mix is probably Atcavage who decommitted from Florida State on Dec 15. From Pennsylvania, he played at IMG and his crystal ball prediction to RU is above 0%, though he is not likely expected.

Defensive Line (C-)

Signed: Troy Rainey, Malik Barrow

Targets: Jah Joyner, Wesley Bailey

Defensive line was the one area where Rutgers could have used another body and the grade reflects that neither player is a surefire multi-year starter. As a result, this is the position group most likely to see additional activity in the coming days and then hopefully for the traditional signing period in February. Several names dropped off the board though that Rutgers was hoping to steal and the last one standing might be Wesley Bailey from Clearwater Academy in Florida. Jah Joyner seemed to be 50/50 on Rutgers and Minnesota, but word which turned out to be right was wherever he took his visit last weekend would be it and that was the Gophers.

Rainey fits the bill of a high upside player that Greg Schiano staffs have done well developing in the past. Barrow has an injury history and never really contributed anywhere, but is a former four-star. If no one else arrives, we could see Shawn Collins or Victor Konopka move from Tight End. Collins just wants to help the team and Konopka with his limited experience would face a smaller learning curve at defensive tackle. Isaiah Wright could also end up at defensive tackle as he was originally recruited.

Linebackers (C)

Signed: Jack Del Rio

Target: Jamier Wright-Collins?

Last year, the group got an “A” for quality and quantity. As a result, it was not a position of need so both the Ash staff and Schiano staff smartly prioritized other areas. If no one else joins the fray, it’s totally fine. If they do, it will probably be either a four-star OR someone to strengthen one the pipelines Schiano is trying to rebuild. So a “C” mark is a little harsh, but for good reason. A higher grade at the expense of another position would be pennywise, but pound foolish.

Del Rio is the type of linebacker Rutgers did need since he can play coverage, so he was a nice piece from Florida. Tyreem Powell is rumored to begin here and played as an overly tall safety in High School, so he should be able to cover people also. As always, one of the athletes or DBs could grow into an LB down the line, too.

Defensive Backs (B)

Signed: Elijuwon Mack

Target: none

Even though Elijuwon Mack is the only player listed by most recruiting services as a defensive back, the official Rutgers website also includes Melton and Long at corner. That coupled with the plethora of defensive backs, all solid three-stars in recent classes, meant overdoing it in the defensive backfield would be more overkill than anything but RBs and LBs.

Mack is probably going to have to be a safety, but he brings that pop Rutgers didn’t have in 2019 as Malik Dixon never really was able to cut loose. Melton is quick and a natural corner. Long has speed and playmaking ability that could get him in a battle with Melton for slot duty right away.

Specialists (Inc.)

Signed: None

Target: No scholarship players.

Debatably for the second straight year, Rutgers’s best three players are their punter Adam Korsak, long snapper Billy Taylor, and placekicker Justin Davidovicz. All three are juniors, so it is not urgent to add a scholarship player at any of those spots, but next year if they don’t have solutions identified could get an “F.” Only in a special case do scholarships get given to prospects at these spots anyway, but every team is always looking to add Preferred Walk-Ons. In the return game, several true commits like Monangai, Long, Melton, and Longerbeam could help.

Overall Day One Grade: B+

Rutgers recruiting was in a danger zone as the coaching staff turnover had everyone, including commits wondering who would still be offered. After Chris Ash was fired, interim coach Nunzio Campanile admitted he did not feel it was fair to even offer new players. Greg Schiano kept most of the previous commits who in turn stayed true to the Rutgers Program. Rutgers was 2-10 on the field this season, there’s no way to sugarcoat that for the second straight year they failed to win a Big Ten game, so the fact that they will end up as a lower end, but passable Power Five team is satisfactory.

A few points about my grade for the FIRST DAY of the early signing period. Today’s result was mostly what was expected save the addition of the Baylor athlete Peyton Powell late. The overall grade should be fairly evident based on individual position grades, although the difference compared to last year is that Rutgers really targeted and succeeded at the positions of need rather than adding to the strengths they already have (i.e running back, linebacker). Aaron and I discussed how much of a curve we should give (I could understand an A) considering Schiano was on the job for two weeks. The end result in my book was not much of a curve though, perhaps because Greg made it look so easy to get those top 20-25 New Jersey athletes to flip. Though I think his ranking might be a little inflated, the name recognition, class ranking impact, and buzz Berger’s announcement on national TV would generate is huge for a team trying to claw back to relevance.

With the new early signing period (which is basically the normal signing period at this point) it is absolutely paramount to have a dozen or so solid three-star players commit so the coaching staff can focus on filling out the class with positions of need (which Rutgers already did) while also going all-in for some game changing uncommitted prospects. Looking for late stars is what this staff will do since they already are in a scholarship crunch. If they can find someone who can start the next two years, they will find a way for him to join the program.

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