Anytime you add an All-Big Ten performer to the roster, especially for a program that has won just three games over the past two seasons like Rutgers, it’s a major development. So it wasn’t surprising to see Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank listed as a starting receiver for the season opening depth chart released on Monday, despite the fact that he only had 4 career receptions in two seasons in Madison.
Greg Schiano spoke this week about what his addition has meant to the program by saying, “He is very fast, that has been documented. Aron is a special guy.” Schiano continued, “The energy he brings to practice every day, he raises the level of everyone around him. He loves the game of football and competes his rear end off. He has been a key addition to the program. I’m very excited about the fact that we were able to get him. I think not only in the offense but in the return game, he is someone special.”
The 5’10” junior from Brooklyn, New York made a name for himself as a kick returner with the Badgers last season, when he produced two touchdowns and averaged 29.3 yards a return on 23 attempts. His kick return average ranked second in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. The highlight of his season was a 95 yard touchdown return in the 2020 Rose Bowl against Oregon, which showcased his breakaway speed on the national stage.
Cruickshank earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors from the media and coaches last season as a kick returner. Adding that type of talent to the special teams unit is a big upgrade for Rutgers this season and beyond. The Scarlet Knights only averaged 18.7 yards per kickoff return over the previous three seasons. The last Rutgers player that returned a kickoff for a touchdown was Janarion Grant for 84 yards against Howard in 2016. If Cruickshank can continue be a force in the return game now that he is in Piscataway, he will make a major impact in improving starting field position for an offense that hasn’t had that benefit in recent seasons.
He also proved useful in the run game for Wisconsin, rushing for 138 yards on 13 carries, including a 27 yard touchdown last season against Purdue. The ground heavy Badgers used him on jet sweeps and the Wildcat formation, which may awaken memories of Mohamed Sanu for Rutgers fans.
Wide receiver has been a position that has struggled to find playmakers in recent seasons, so Cruickshank will have an opportunity to fill that void. Count senior wide receiver Bo Melton as someone excited to have Cruickshank on the field this season. “He is explosive. You’ve seen him at Wisconsin with kick returns. You didn’t really see him in the slot. I think he will be a weapon for us.” Melton added, “He is really good, the way he plays. When he gets the ball in his hands, he will do a lot of good things. Having him here is a blessing for us and another weapon that we now have.”
With new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson implementing a spread offense that will look to push the pace against opposing defenses, adding a speedster who can be a multiple threat option is an intriguing development. His ability to produce yards after the catch on short passes out of the slot could be a key part of the passing game this season.
Schiano has talked earlier in the preseason about the need to upgrade speed within the program and finding playmakers. Adding Cruickshank gives Rutgers a player who can contribute in both areas in multiple ways. His impact on special teams should be immediate. While gaining stability at the quarterback position is essential to Rutgers improving offensively under Gleeson, finding ways to utilize a talent with a special skill set like Cruickshank will be vital as well. It’s likely the former 3-star recruit will have every opportunity to be a major contributor this fall, which could make Rutgers a much more interesting and dangerous team moving forward.