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Rutgers Football signs over a third of Top 20 New Jersey recruits in 2021 class

Greg Schiano and the coaching staff made in impact in the Garden State and it immediately upgraded the talent of the roster.

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

On the first day of the 2021 early signing period, Rutgers announced that 23 players officially joined the program. All signings were expected, which included 22 high school student-athletes in addition to Kansas State transfer Joshua Youngblood.

There are no other recruits currently verbally committed to Rutgers in the 2021 class and while it’s unclear how many spots are still available, it’s likely head coach Greg Schiano will add players one way or another for next season’s roster in the coming days and months. He wouldn’t comment on how many spots remained when asked on Wednesday.

As to where the 2021 recruiting class stands on the first day of early signing period, Rutgers is currently ranked 41st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten per 247 Sports Composite Rankings, which doesn’t include the transfer Youngblood. They could move up or down a few spots in the next couple of days with the early signing period running through Friday, December 18.

While the 2021 class for Rutgers was ranked in the top 20 nationally earlier in the cycle as many players committed in the first few months, this group is still on pace to have the best national ranking in nine years. While the 2017 class finished ranked 42nd nationally, this class is ranked much higher in a very important way.

The average player rating for the 2021 recruiting class that signed on Wednesday is .8535. That is significantly higher than the 2017 class, which had an average player rating of .8371. The 2017 class was top heavy with three 4-star recruits in Micah Clark, Bo Melton and Tyshon Fogg, but roughly 25% of the class had no star rankings at all. Even Schiano’s first recruiting class since returning, the 2020 class that was ranked just 61st nationally had a higher player average rating of .8425.

Rankings are of course subjective and are no guarantee for future success. The 2017 class is a great example of that, as Clark was the highest rated recruit but never contributed on the banks. However, the current Rutgers team is getting major contributions from several 3-star prospects that include Olakunle Fatukasi, Mike Tverdov, Shameen Jones, Brendan Bordner, Naijee Jones, C.J. Onyechi and Billy Taylor.

That being said, there is a direct line towards success with higher ranked recruiting classes versus lower ranked classes in the long term.

The good news is this class has the highest rated player average (.8535) rating for a Rutgers recruiting class since the famed 2012 class, which was at .8760. That class was saved in the final days despite Greg Schiano leaving to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers right before national signing day. Former head coach Kyle Flood was credited with keeping that class together once he replaced Schiano and the program benefitted. There several major contributors in recent history that were part of that class, including Darius Hamilton at no. 1, Leonte Carroo at no. 5, Quanzell Lambert at no. 6, Julian Pinnix-Odrick at no. 12 and Steve Longa at no. 17.

There is one significant common trait between the 2012 class and 2021 class that should give Rutgers fans hope that the roster will be improved in the long term. This current class includes seven prospects ranked in the Top 20 in New Jersey per 247 Sports Composite rankings. The last time Rutgers signed more than three prospects ranked in the Top 20 in New Jersey 2012, which had nine.

In the 2021 class, Rutgers signed two players in the top 6 in New Jersey: no. 5 Alijah Clark, no. 6 Khayri Banton. They are the highest ranked Garden State recruits to sign with Rutgers since the 2017 class with Clark and Melton. The other five top 20 signees are no. 11 Jordan Thompson, no. 15 Keshon Griffin, no. 16 Al-Shadee Salaam, no. 19 Desmond Igbinosun and no. 20 Shaquan Loyal. You can read profiles on each here, but all seven have an average player rating higher than the class average of .8535. The seven players averaged a rating of .8723, with Clark and Banton topping .9000.

This is an important indicator that recruiting is vastly improved under Schiano compared to the tenures of Chris Ash and Kyle Flood. The other encouraging piece is that it took a long time for Schiano to establish the program in his first tenure in regard to routinely landing a half dozen or more Top 20 prospects from New Jersey. While the 2011 class had seven prospects in the top 20, the classes of 2009 & 2010 signed just five top 20 recruits combined.

Schiano spoke about the importance of recruiting New Jersey on Wednesday, saying, “Everything starts and finishes with New Jersey. That’s where we are. We have a lot of good football players in our region.”

He continued, “For us to be successful, we have to be successful in our backyard. It’s a start. It’s not where we need to be, but it’s certainly a start. The trajectory is going like this (pointing up) and we need to just keep chopping away at all the little things. It’s about relationships.”

Rutgers may just be getting started in successfully recruiting New Jersey once again under Schiano, but a major reason for optimism is that he and his staff are already recruiting the home state about as well as he did at the end of his first tenure. Eleven players total from New Jersey signed on Wednesday.

The remarkable thing is that the program is just two months removed from a 21 game Big Ten losing streak and the overwhelming majority of the recruiting class that signed with Rutgers on Wednesday was committed before they won three games over the last two months. This class was signed in the midst of a global pandemic as well where visits to campus haven’t taken place since March.

The rebuilding process will take time and improving the talent and depth on the Rutgers roster is the most challenging part of it. However, it’s clear with the 2021 recruiting class that signed on Wednesday, Schiano and his staff are on their way to doing just that and should have even more success in the future.