The main questions on the minds of most people who follow the Scarlet Knights were 1. Clarifying the quarterback position and 2. Which transfers would be listed, indicating they are eligible to compete in 2020.
Below find a screenshot of what was provided by Rutgers Athletic Communications:
Immediate Transfer Impacts - Offense
On the offensive side of the ball JUCO transfer Cedrice Paillant is listed as the starting Right Guard, which many expected. This confirms he is eligible and could prove to be an immediate upgrade.
At Tight End, Jovani Haskins is listed as the starter. Haskins was expected to be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, though Rutgers fans had to see it to believe it. Jovani started games at West Virginia (20 career receptions) after originally beginning his career at Miami (FL), so he has top end talent needed to improve depth in the Tight End room.
Aron Cruickshank is an undergraduate transfer from Wisconsin who returned much closer to his hometown of Brooklyn, New York so it seemed he would be granted immediate eligibility. We hadn’t seen a confirmation until today though, as he adds an element of speed flashed on special teams with the Badgers, but rarely utilized in their run heavy offense. He is not officially listed as the slot receiver, but that’s probably where he will be lining up most of the time after RU’s three slot receivers in 2019 all departed the program.
At Quarterback, Nebraska Graduate transfer Noah Vedral is listed as a co-starter along with Art Sitkowski. Like Haskins, we expected Vedral graduated and all his paperwork was in order allowing him to suit up, this confirms it. For more on the QB situation, click here.
Immediate Transfer Impacts - Defense
The defensive line had the most added to its ranks and several transfers are listed on the two-deep: Malik Barrow (DE), Michael Dwumfour (DT), and Mayan Ahanotu (DT).
Barrow (Grad Transfer) has been considered to be somewhat of a tweener, so it will be curious to see if he lines up inside at times as well, especially after the return of Elorm Lumor who is listed as a starter on the other side. Dwumfour (Grad Transfer) was in the two-deep at Michigan and was expected to start. Ahanotu is listed as Dwumfour’s backup and despite being the son of a former NFL player remained mostly under the radar since being reunited on the banks with his position coach at Minnesota, Jim Panagos.
Not listed on the defensive line are Ireland Burke (Boston College) and Aaron Lewis (Michigan), both undergraduate transfers. There is no clarity on their eligibility status, other than they aren’t listed on the two deep. If Burke can play, his size may have a role in short yardage even if he is not listed. Lewis was a four-star recruit that was enrolled at Michigan in the spring before deciding to come closer to his family.
There were no transfers at linebacker, but in the secondary, graduate transfer Brendon White is the starter at one safety position. White was a starter at Ohio State two years ago and has been a leader since his arrival on the banks, so this seemed like a formality. Not listed though is Peyton Powell who came over from Baylor. Peyton (originally a four-star recruit) was a high school quarterback and also could have ended up at wide receiver, but was listed on the roster last week at defensive back. As with some other transfers there was no clarity on his eligibility.
When we get more clarity on Burke, Lewis, and Powell, we will provide it.
Brendan Bordner is listed as the co-starter at center with CJ Hanson after moving over from the defensive line this off-season. Rarely do players switch sides this late in their careers unless they have a chance to start at their new position, so this is a logical outcome under that line of thinking. Tunde Fatukasi and Reggie Sutton are listed at tackle with Bryan Felter at guard, the other players expected to be in the mix at the center spot.
Shameen Jones has been up and down in his career despite being a starter at Wide Receiver for parts of the last two seasons, but stuck around while so many of his classmates moved on. It appears he re-earned his starting role despite the turnover and increased competition. Hopefully the new offense will allow him to do more on Saturdays. Jones’s backup is Isaiah Washington who had a promising freshman year in 2019. Bo Melton and Paul Woods return to the two-deep as no surprise, but former preferred walk-on Christian Dremel earned the remaining WR spot.
I was worried Robin Jutwreten’s strong play late in 2019 could be overlooked by the new coaching staff but my fears were unfounded. Jutwreten beat out incumbent starter Julius Turner at defensive tackle. Turner is effective in short bursts, so hopefully this gets the most out of two players who can serve as examples of guys that have a proven body of work and actually improved under the previous coaching staff.
Guy Fava is listed as a co-starter with Justin Davidovicz at placekicker. Davidovicz has been a solid starter for two years in the role and three as the kickoff specialist, so Fava had to make a big push here. Naturally kicker is not a spot you normally rotate players, so we’ll see who gets the call in clutch situations, although in 2020, anything is possible including a kicker rotation.
Only three true freshmen are listed on the depth chart. It would be alarming if there were more considering this team hasn’t had spring practice for early enrollees or a normal training camp, so expecting anything out of guys who have never played a single college snap would be a red flag. Max Melton listed at corner is not a major concern considering corner is usually the spot freshmen can make the earliest impact, but two true freshmen in Felter and Fatukasi on the offensive line highlights the lack of depth at those spots. I like the potential of the 2020 recruits long-term, but it would be shocking if two guys were ready to play out of the gate since only two true freshmen OL in the last 20 years have made major contributions at RU in that time. This is pretty standard throughout the college football landscape.
Running back and Linebacker were mostly set, although Tyreek Maddox-Williams, a three year starter is listed as a backup to Olakunle Fatukasi, an incumbent starter himself. Other than those positions, there were starting jobs up for grabs at every position other than maybe cornerback. I still think Rutgers is presently in the bottom four in the Big Ten in every other position group outside of those two and specialists, but for the first time since 2014, you can see that there are at least Big Ten quality rotational pieces in place.
For example, the aforementioned Jutwreten may not yet be a quality Big Ten starter, though he definitely has proven capable of a Big Ten member of a rotation at his position and Rutgers now has depth there. The same can be said at most other positions where you see that by next season, RU will have Big Ten quality players as backups across the board and hopefully see development into a few stars, as in NFL quality players.
The biggest concern remains on the offensive line where everything I just said about the two-deep does not yet apply. There are two returning starters in Raiqwon O’Neal and Nick Krimin who were average at best in 2019 and every Big Ten team other than Ohio State would be fine with them as a starter or backup. After that though, there are eight unproven players that round out the two-deep. Offensive line is the one position where there are no quick fixes since you are only as strong as your weakest link / chemistry, and all the other improvements at other positions could be difficult to measure if the line gets manhandled. As I have written before though, Greg Schiano in his first tenure at Rutgers always found a way to get his offensive line serviceable after a poor season. It will be more difficult in the Big Ten so don’t expect miracles this or even next season, but there is reason for optimism.
Ultimately, I think the blanket extra year of eligibility will benefit Rutgers more than any other program in the Big Ten because more time to develop players and a potential rise to the 85 scholarship limit for 2021 gives them more lottery tickets. The attrition on the roster has been heavy and many reinforcements are already starting. So now more than anything it’s about coaching and the players’ personal willingness to get better. We’ll get our first checkpoint this weekend.
Saturday, Rutgers opens the season at Michigan State, noon ET on BTN. We’ll have plenty of more coverage previewing this matchup as the week progresses.