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Rutgers Football Signing Day Recap

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Three signed and processed LOIs with additional verbals.

NCAA Football: Howard at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

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Rayyan Buell signs with Rutgers football.

Stanley King signs with Rutgers football.

Darius Gooden signs with Rutgers football.

Brian Ugwu commits to Rutgers football.

Zamar Wise announced he will be attending Rutgers.

During the December Press Conference, Ash’s wish list for today was defensive back, defensive lineman, another offensive lineman, and a tight end, also. Let’s start with that.

Defensive back

One was expected and that did turn out to be Darius Gooden. I hadn’t watched Gooden’s full highlights until today, so I was pleasantly surprised that a guy with that much upside had yet to commit anywhere. With three defensive backs already signed, Rutgers should be pleased with the 2019 signee group’s chances of contributing as freshman and potential improvement over the next four years. Rutgers needs more improvement in other areas, but the defensive backfield based on this coaching staff’s reputation is a place they have to excel or else …

Defensive line

Rayyan Buell was the first player to sign this morning and be confirmed by Rutgers via Twitter. He’s a big young man with plenty of upside, but will need time to develop having not been a full-time defensive lineman. This is the type of risk Rutgers needs to take as defensive line is at this juncture the most difficult position to recruit in college football. It was entertaining to see the commentary about how Rutgers should use him as a goal line running back. I’d hope Isaih Pacheco becomes a tank inside, but if he’s banged up, I’m all for a package with Devin Baldwin at fullback and Buell at running back. Might as well make the opponent have to at least game plan for it.

Brian Ugwu gave his commitment today as well and could grow into a defensive end. He reminds me of former defensive end Marcus Thompson who arrived at Rutgers more ready as a running back. Thompson was a slightly undersized defensive end late in his Rutgers career, but a solid pass rusher with a first step no one on the current team seems to possess.

Speaking of two-way players, it was reported by James Kratch and illustrated on his twitter feed that Micah Clark is permanently switching to defense. The redshirt sophomore and former #1 (or #2 depending on source) recruit in New Jersey from the 2017 class had missed some time for injury and personal reasons without every making an impact on the offensive line. Clark arrived at Rutgers with quickness that the staff has had trouble finding on either line, but not the size. I thought it was a big jump to expect him to all of a sudden go from about 250 pounds to 300 quickly and be good at offensive guard or tackle whereas he could be more useful at center or even tight end early on. Moving him to defense makes sense because Rutgers is thin at the position and Micah has more potential as a pass rusher than much of the current depth chart.

So you still should not feel great about what Rutgers has on the defensive line, especially after Jon Bateky and Kevin Wilkins have moved on but we might look back on today in three years and say wow, there was a lot of growth in that group.

Offensive line

No news was not good news. Graduate transfer Ryan Alexander elected to delay his decision, so Rutgers will have to wait and see. They really need him or another graduate transfer who can play right away before training camp commences.

Rutgers has plenty of bodies on the offensive line, but if any of them were studs, they would already be locked into starting roles. The blocking overall has to improve for RU to win a few games and the plethora of guys currently on the depth chart have not proven themselves yet other than Mike Maietti and Kamaal Seymour. Both have started for two years now and are solid rotational players, but need to take another step to truly be offensive line anchors.

Tight End

Rutgers did not land a tight end, but they did get Under Armor All-American Stanley King. King’s addition is notable because it adds another guy over 6’4” alongside flex options Jalen Jordan and Daevon Robinson. King himself could end up being a Kevin Brock or Shamar Graves, both of whom eventually switched to tight end and would up in the NFL.

So the depth chart at tight end looks something like this; Travis Vokolek, Robinson, Matt Alaimo (pending eligibility decision), Johnathan Lewis (unless he shows more at QB or is simply needed there), and Reggie Sutton (swing tackle who can line up as a blocking TE.) The group isn’t nearly as good as what RU had in 2018 with Jerome Washington and Nakia Griffin-Stewart plus fullback Max Anthony, however none of them were utilized effectively on a consistent basis during the season anyway. Without a guy like Washington, hopefully McNulty can find niche roles for everyone that will allow at least one or two of them to grow into three-down players.

Playmakers?

On offense, King’s commitment was huge literally and figuratively. Rutgers is not going to knock your socks off with offensive speed, but it really only takes one or two stars for all of a sudden everyone else to be more open.

On defense Ugwu could be a playmaker one day and despite doing our best to clarify there were still questions about Mohamad Kamara. Kamara SIGNED with Temple, which means even if he was already granted his release, and it was processed, and he had discussed with another program (Rutgers or otherwise), he would still be considered a transfer like the Jamil Pollard situation. For the players available to Rutgers as defensive playmakers based on anything reported, there simply was no one else strongly considering RU on the defensive side that would have made an immediate splash.

Quarterback Room

Chris Ash didn’t include quarterback, but everyone knows Rutgers needs better quarterback play or not much else will matter. Jalen Chatman transferred, Giovanni Rescigno and Rob Nittolo are out of eligibility, so that leaves … Art Sitkowski (sophomore), Johnny Langan (2019 eligibility TBD), Cole Snyder (Early Enrollee – Freshman), Cooper Heisey (freshman PWO) and Johnathan Lewis (Redshirt Sophomore, who is back from a short stint at tight end).

Zamar Wise announced his intentions to attend RU, but Rutgers did not officially confirm it. Word around is that Rutgers wants Wise but feel they need to keep two scholarship spots open of the 25 to add immediate contributors. This does make sense coming from a coaching staff that has one or at most two more years on the sidelines unless they show drastic improvement in the win column. Wise could contribute as a wideout early on, but like a Greg Ward at Houston, needs some time as a quarterback. Fans could say, well Ray Lucas played as a redshirt freshman. That’s true but it was a different time first of all, second they had talented Bryan Fortay as well, and third Lucas originally was just expected to run some option run plays despite his strong arm.

I’m not a fan of the running quarterback as a first option if you have someone on your team who can throw the ball downfield (Mike Teel, Gary Nova) OR is unbelievably accurate on short throws (Ryan Hart, Scott Erney). However, if you don’t have a quarterback who possesses pinpoint accuracy or a strong deep ball threat, I am totally fine utilizing a guy who is better as a runner. Rutgers was not a good team in 2018, but Illinois, Kansas, and Maryland gauged them badly with run-first QBs. Wise at the high school level showed flashes of Vince Young and has more arm talent than Gio Rescigno so Rutgers may have to come around on that point if Sitkowski does not pan out in the next two years. Langan could also be a stopgap option.

More on the quarterback situation as we get closer to spring practice.

PWOs

As the numbers crunch was understood more and more in coming days, it was somewhat shocking that there were three-star players in a deep New Jersey class willing to wait on Rutgers primarily because they are in the Big Ten. When was the last time that happened if ever?

Rutgers hasn’t had a hidden gem as a preferred walk-on in quite some time of the Shaun O’Hara, Gary Brackett variety, so perhaps they are due. In addition to the Ugwu and Wise commitments, OL Blake Zalar along with K/P Guy Fava and WR Christian Dremel, both from Don Bosco announced their plans to enroll at Rutgers.

So how did Rutgers do?

Just looking at the events that happened today, it’s probably a solid “B” based on the way recruiting has become with the new early signing period. Rutgers got a defensive back with good potential, a defensive lineman, and perhaps most importantly a potential game breaker at wide receiver. To be able to get commitments from Wise and Ugwu, both who basically every fan wants as top players in New Jersey without officially “signing” them yet is a steal. The Scarlet Knights didn’t get any four-star prospects, nor did anyone join to bolster offensive line depth, and there still could be risk of losing Ugwu and Wise so marks down for those points.

The current class ranking will end up somewhere between the mid 50s and 60s in all likelihood (currently 60th). We’ll dive in deeper to this class in the coming weeks. A lot of people want to point out how Rutgers was 1-11 and atrocious, but expect the program to do better in recruiting. That’s not usually how it works and I think they did as good as could be expected based on their current “program prestige” like you would be up against in the NCAA Football video game series.

What’s next?

Rutgers will continue to search for graduate transfers on the offensive line, tight end, and hopefully quarterback. By not yet signing Wise and Ugwu, there’s opportunity for more undergraduate transfers to join the program as well.

Keep checking onthebanks.com for more coverage of recruiting and information heading into spring practice.