The Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team’s spring activities have been cancelled just like all other NCAA spring athletic events. With the hope that fall football happens, even if it is delayed or there’s a limited summer training camp, we will proceed with our traditional spring position reviews. With the current worldwide global health crisis, we are living day to day, but hopefully both Rutgers Football and the world at large have brighter days ahead.
This series reviews the state of each positional group based on the best information we have today. In the absence of spring practice, naturally less intelligence is available than it has been in previous campaigns. Also, with the new transfer portal, eligibility questions are best guess and we won’t assume anyone who has already entered the transfer portal will return. The team’s official website does not currently have a 2020 roster posted.
We continue with the Wide Receivers.
Position coach: Tiquan Underwood
Key players lost: Mo Jabbie (Graduate transfer - TBD), Daevon Robinson (transfer - Robert Morris), Hunter Hayek (transfer - TBD), Eddie Lewis (transfer - TBD), Jalen Jordan (transfer - Maine)
Key players returning: Bo Melton (Sr.), Isaiah Washington (So.), Paul Woods (RSo.), Shameen Jones (RJr.), Everett Wormley (RJr.), Tyler Hayek (RJr.), Monterio Hunt (RJr.), Stanley King (RFr.), Christian Dremel (RFr.)
Newcomers: Aron Cruickshank (transfer - Wisconsin), Robert Longerbeam (early enrollee), Ahmirr Robinson (signed LOI)
What they did better in 2019: Make a few big plays.
This is a very low bar, but the Rutgers Wide Receivers scored five touchdowns through the air in 2019, more than the previous two years combined. Incredibly they had just one in 2018 (Shameen Jones) and two in 2017 (Janarion Grant and Dacoven Bailey, both in the season opener). So when Bo Melton had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in the season opening win against UMass, several long droughts were broken. Melton (30 catches, 427 yards, 2 TD) needs even more in 2020 as a senior.
In addition, true freshman Isaiah Washington (18 catches, 272 yards, 1 TD) did what most thought Daevon Robinson would do, get open enough and catch the ball when thrown to him as a bigger target. Washington’s 51 yard catch and run against Liberty may have been the biggest play of the game. Paul Woods is third leading wide receiver returning with nine catches and 48 yards in his first season.
Needs Improvement: #1 Make tough catches.
Last year’s #1 was to reduce drops. For the most part Rutgers did that compared to the previous campaign and I can remember a few 50-50 balls RU hauled in, particularly Bo Melton and Isaiah Washington. The Scarlet Knights never seemed to make those contested catches since the days of Leonte Carroo. The next step is to make receptions in traffic, by securing the ball to keep the offense moving. I don’t expect miracles with jump balls, especially not in the red zone, but strong hands are paramount.
There are plenty of other areas for improvement, like getting better separation, but I saw a lot better job of that in 2019 than we did in 2018 when defenders blanketed Rutgers receivers all year. That’s not to say RU wideouts were running around wide open, but a reliable, accurate quarterback would have been able to deliver the ball in rhythm to targets coming out of their breaks with proper coverage reads. Gleeson’s experience should scheme more guys open and allow all aspects of the passing game to improve.
Changes expected in 2020
Everybody was back in 2019 and it still didn’t help much. Big changes are coming in 2020 as season opening starters Daevon Robinson (split end) and Mo Jabbie (slot) have entered the transfer portal. The team’s starting slot receivers from 2017 (Hunter Hayek) and 2018 (Eddie Lewis) also elected to transfer. In an ideal world, Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank will be declared eligible for next season and play in the slot to fill at least one of those roles. The other slot role could be occupied by Flanker Bo Melton as they attempt to move him around the formation more as well as running back Aaron Young who got looks there in 2019.
Former Rutgers star Tiquan Underwood returns to his alma mater to coach the wide receivers. After being drafted by Jacksonville, Underwood played five years in the NFL then three more in the CFL. He began his coaching career at Lafayette in 2018 and spent last year on the Miami Dolphins staff. The last few wide receiver coaches struggled to get this group to put it all together, so hopefully Underwood’s relatability will help produce better results.
Schematically, new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson ran Mike Gundy’s version of the Air Raid at Oklahoma State last year, but added more wrinkles to exploit spread defenses. A lot of those looks include “11 personnel” which means three receivers will be on the field most of the time, but he is not afraid to play “12 personnel” (two TE, only two WR) if he feels that will be more effective. The big question will be if any quarterback-receiver combination can hit deep balls and open things up underneath.
Way too early predictions
Melton will be lined up in multiple spots throughout the formation more than he has been in years past when I can barely remember him being in motion very often. He still should remain the team’s starting flanker as the most talented receiver on the team. Isaiah Washington flashed as a true freshman and should be a reliable split end. The slot role will be split by running back Aaron Young and most likely Paul Woods. Woods at times was stuck behind Eddie Lewis, Hunter Hayek, and Mo Jabbie, all of who have moved on. Aron Cruickshank (if immediately eligible) will get plenty of opportunities to add more speed on the field.
Shameen Jones (17 career catches) with his experience is good enough to be a member of the two-deep, though in an ideal world he would be good enough to start at flanker and allow Melton to be the slot man. Everett Wormley (5 career catches) is the best blocker of the bunch, so he will probably get time with the attrition. Monterio Hunt returns from injury, but his game was never predicated on the deep ball, so he could emerge as a possession receiver in the new offense or else that role could fall to redshirt freshman walk-on Christian Dremel (two catches, 19 yards). As the season progresses, someone will finally emerge as a deep ball threat, the first time in half a decade. The biggest wildcard is Redshirt Freshman Stanley King who could be that guy, while Tyler Hayek has his last chance to do the same.
Below Average. Receiver can be turned around in a hurry, but it’s hard to be sure this is true for Rutgers right now. The number of upperclassmen is still rather high even after departures via the transfer portal and the 2020 class has players who may be ticketed for other positions. The only underclassmen who has proven himself a valuable member of the two-deep for years to come is Isaiah Washington. The 2021 recruiting class which is flirting with a top 10 national ranking looks great on paper with speedy athletes, but those are just verbal commits right now. So this pendulum will hopefully swing completely the other way one year from today.
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