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Revisiting the 2017 Rutgers Football recruiting class

Several of the NJ top 25 returned to the Garden State this offseason, will there be one more?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Rutgers
Melton still has two years to reach his potential on the banks.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Rutgers Football recruiting class was by consensus, the best for the Scarlet Knights since the class of 2012. This was impressive considering Chris Ash and his staff were coming off a 2-10 season in 2016, their first on the banks. The mark included a winless Big Ten campaign and several embarrassing blowouts. And yet, their first full year of recruiting yielded fruit, especially in the state of New Jersey.

The class overall at the time* was ranked 42nd nationally per 247 Sports, but since then, the Scarlet Knights have added several players who would have beefed up that ranking significantly, had they come to Rutgers initially. Recruiting rankings in hindsight are becoming significantly more confusing since the advent of the transfer portal and players who end up grayshirting. Players moving around often oddly disappear from their original digital record. So the task of looking back is more difficult than when we would just go back and turn the pages of a Street and Smith’s printed magazine. We previously compiled thoughts less than one year after they signed on their impact as true freshman and future outlook.

A big theme everyone seems to be on board with is that for Rutgers to compete in the Big Ten, they need to keep top New Jersey talent at home. Check out this map of where 2017 college football recruits came from included in the SB Nation article, 25 Maps that Explain College Football. It basically does the job for us!

This map was created by SB Nation
SB Nation.

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s start with an examination of the top New Jersey players from the 2017 class and which of them are currently at Rutgers:

At Rutgers: Drew Singleton (1st via Michigan), Micah Clark (2nd), Bo Melton (5th), Corey Bolds (15th via Penn State), Eddie Lewis (17th* - joined after grayshirt), Johnathan Lewis (19th), Jamaal Beaty (23rd), Owen Bowles (25th), Mike Tverdov (29th), CJ Onyechi (31st), Naijee Jones (32nd), Everett Wormley (36th), Elijah Barnwell (42nd), Tyler Hayek (43rd), Hunter Hayek (53rd).

Possible add: Bryce Watts (22nd via Virginia Tech) visited RU recently and is scheduled to visit Boston College and North Carolina after entering transfer portal.

Losses: Eddie Lopez (26th), Syhiem Simmons (56th*), Brendan DeVera (not ranked) all left the program after being involved in the credit card scandal.

Decommits: Jonathan Taylor (8th, started as a freshman at Wisconsin), Jon Lovett (10th, two-deep as a freshman at Baylor), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (34th, started as a freshman at Iowa), Zach Feagles (37th, only offered walk-on at RU), Drew Harris (74th, only offered walk-on at RU).

Other notable: Markquese Bell (3rd, Maryland), Fred Hansard (4th, Penn State), Dalyn Wade-Perry (6th, Stanford), Tommy DeVito (7th, Syracuse), Carter Warren (9th, Pitt), Noah DeHond (11th, Clemson), Evidence Njoku (12th, Miami FL), Harrison Hand (13th, Baylor)

Other RU attrition: Travis Vokolek (transfer portal) hails from Missouri

Key takeaways

  1. Rutgers broke a slump in landing any of New Jersey’s top players which they did with Micah Clark, the first time they signed the state’s top prospect according to some sources (others still listed Drew Singleton despite him having been out of the year due to injury). In addition, Bo Melton was rated by 247 sports as 15th best player to sign with RU since their rankings began in 2002. Though Clark and Melton have yet to showcase their full potential, having eight of the top 25 recruits in their state is something very few programs can match. If Rutgers landed this many of New Jersey’s top players every year they SHOULD be a middle of the pack Big Ten squad.
  2. The Baylor and credit card situations. Sometimes external activity has more influence within a football program and the Baylor Bears plucked Matt Rhule from Temple to heal their wounds. Rhule had little time to get a first recruiting class together and poached running back Jon Lovett into decommitting from the Scarlet Knights, while also convincing Harrison Hand to accompany him just before Hand had planned to commit to Rutgers. Rhule added 290 pound defensive lineman Rob Saulin (46th) from the Garden State as well but may have had an even bigger impact than those three in the wake it sent through New Jersey recruiting circles overall. Of course, the credit card scandal resulted in three of the four total losses from the 2017 RU class so far, all on defense, which the team really struggled to deal with early in the 2018 season, as five players (the departed plus suspended C.J. Onyechi and Naijee Jones) were members of the two-deep.
  3. Decommits Jonathan Taylor and to a lesser extent Ihmir Smith-Marsette were tough pills to swallow as both had impressive freshman seasons elsewhere in the Big Ten. Taylor and fellow running back Lovett had been committed at the same time, but after a conversation with NJ native and former Badger Ron Dayne, Taylor elected to go to Wisconsin instead. Jonathan was a Freshman All-American (1,977 yards, 13 TD) and is now a Heisman candidate (2,194 yards, 16 TD in 2018) entering his junior season. Smith-Marsette was recruited as a defensive back, but burst on the scene at Iowa with a two touchdown effort in Week 2 including the game winner in overtime over rival Iowa State. Melton (28) may have had more receptions than Smith-Marsette (23) in 2018, but despite the number of wideouts all in the same RU class, they have been a huge disappointment overall.
  4. Out of staters: The only other consensus four star recruit in the 2017 Rutgers class was Tyshon Fogg. Fogg, Raheem Blackshear, and Olakunle Fatukasi are the only out of state players surely expected to start in the fall from this class in the fall after the transfer of Travis Vokolek. Tim Barrow is a front runner at safety and Shameen Jones is the incumbent at split end, so if they can really solidify their spots, the out of state members of this class look pretty solid as well.
  5. Will we see more? Perhaps in another two years, some 5th year graduate transfers will return to the banks from the 2017 group, but the 2018 contingent which had even less of a New Jersey presence is more likely. Nihym Anderson (23rd - Maryland), Matt Alaimo (13th - UCLA), and Johnny Langan (31st - Boston College) are current Scarlet Knights already. Also of note is that Melton’s former Cedar Creek teammate Ahmir Mitchell (Class of 2016) returned after beginning at Michigan but was dismissed from the team. Maybe some other 2016 class locals could return for a 5th year in 2020, too?


Make no doubt about it, this 2017 class is the core of the Rutgers Football team. It’s entirely plausible that all five starting skill position players other than quarterback on opening day 2019 are from this group (Blackshear, Melton, S. Jones, E.Lewis / H. Hayek, J. Lewis). Though they only boast one sure starter (Mike Tverdov), both lines needed the depth boost from this class and this their third year is often the tipping point for linemen to have matured enough physically to be in the rotation. Three of the top four linebackers (including Singleton who was deemed eligible) plus Tim Barrow leading the pack at safety emerged here despite huge depletion of the back seven due to off the field problems.

Chris Ash and his staff are coaching for their jobs, and continued growth of their first full recruiting class is one of the big keys to the 2019 season. Some of these players previously played before they were ready, but there’s no more room for excuses from them or the coaching staff anymore. They get a boost from Singleton and Bolds, plus the reinstatement of Jones and Onyechi, all of whom have the physical talent to start. Rutgers MUST win more than they have the past two years or else.

Original position summary

QB: Johnathan Lewis (now at Tight End).

RB: Elijah Barnwell (running back after a year at LB), Raheem Blackshear (starting running back)

WR: Bo Melton (starting flanker), Tim Barrow (listed by some sources at CB - starting safety), Shameen Jones (starter in 2018), Everett Wormley (started a few games in 2017 at split end), Hunter Hayek (started a few games in 2017 in slot, injured in 2018), Eddie Lewis (starting slot receiver)

TE: Travis Vokolek (entered transfer portal), Brendan DeVera (moved to LB, left program)

OL: Micah Clark (now at defensive tackle), Sam Vretman (two-deep guard, started a game in 2018), Owen Bowles, Jamaal Beaty.

DL: Jaohne Duggan (two-deep DT?), Brendan Bordner (two-deep DT), Mike Tverdov (starting DE), Tijaun Mason (pass rush specialist missed 2018 due to injury).

LB: Tyshon Fogg (starting middle linebacker), Fatukasi (starting weak-side linebacker), Onyechi (re-instated backup DE played in 2017), Syhiem Simmons (left program)

CB: Naijee Jones (re-instated two-deep safety)

S: Tyler Hayek (now a wide receiver), Eddie Lopez (left program)


How many players who played their last year of High School in 2017 start for Rutgers against Umass?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    12 or more
    (22 votes)
  • 49%
    9 to 11
    (54 votes)
  • 30%
    8 or less
    (34 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now