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3-star Defensive End Ryan Keeler commits to Rutgers Football

The top DL from Illinois pledges for the 2021 class.

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Illinois at Rutgers
Rutgers stole a potential gem from Big Ten rival Illinois.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Rutgers Football team remains sidelined from games this fall, but the coaching staff continues to put in work on the recruiting trail. Head Coach Greg Schiano and Defensive Line Coach Jim Panagos added another player to the 2021 class that is now 22 members deep. The top Defensive Lineman from Illinois, Ryan Keeler, committed via Twitter on Tuesday:

At 6’5” and 250 pounds, Keeler plays at Nazareth Academy, though the entire state of Illinois has elected to cancel its fall high school football season. He chose Rutgers over Michigan, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, and Virginia, the biggest contenders for his services at this stage of the process. Ryan had 21 total Power Five offers including nine Big Ten schools. It was a strong relationship with Panagos during a visit to Minnesota last year that steered him toward the Knights. He is ranked the 18th best prospect in Illinois’s 2021 class and 40th best strong-side defensive end in the nation per 247 Sports composite rankings.

Keeler is a higher three-star prospect with a similar skillset to recent addition Aaron Lewis, particularly in his ability to line up anywhere on the offensive or defensive line and have an impact. Ryan has a good motor and surprising quickness, but what makes him so difficult to block is the variability in his approach while also keeping his center of gravity low. He is able to “sit down” in run support preventing offensive linemen from moving him out of the gap they want to use on that given play while also keeping one arm free to make a play. At times it looks like he’s not actively pursuing the ball carrier, but he is maintaining gap integrity and then explodes to the ball carrier when the play then reaches his area. Against the pass though he does not appear “passive” at all with a natural feel for stunts and multiple pass rush moves to flush the quarterback out of the pocket. More than anything, he’s a gamer who plays with the passion and fire that Schiano and Panagos need to add to the team.

Despite the impressive offer list, it’s evident why Keeler with his prototypical size is a high three star recruit and not a four-star. The first reason is that he has quickness, but probably not enough raw explosiveness to be a pure pass rusher off the weak side. As a result, he will play either a strong-side defensive end or grow into a defensive tackle. Shifting more inside will test Keeler’s strength that appears elite at the high school level, but will need to be even greater as he grows into a man in the Big Ten. At times, he can get away with basically stiff-arming blockers to keep his other arm free while at the same time not necessarily keeping his feet moving downhill. If he does lack the first step required at defensive end, he has the lateral quickness to end up effective on the offensive line also.

Like most linemen Ryan is difficult to project, but these potential deficiencies are very much a glass half empty way of looking at his future impact. He is at worst a versatile trench body to provide depth like Manny Taylor did in his career. Keeler most likely will be able to contribute in the rotation by late in his third season like a former multi-year starters in Djwany Mera or Charlie Noonan. Best case Ryan develops into a real difference maker at multiple spots on the line like Justin Francis.

Keeler arrives at Rutgers to a defensive line group that has filled its ranks with reinforcement after reinforcement since Greg Schiano and the new coaching staff arrived following the conclusion of the 2019 campaign. It’s clear Rutgers is adding as many big people as possible to try and lift themselves out of the Big Ten cellar. The bevy of transfers possess varying levels of remaining eligibility, so to ensure there is continuity, Ryan is the fifth defensive lineman commit in the 2021 class, joining Keshon Griffin, Henry Hughes, Cam’Ron Stewart, and Zaire Angoy. The 2021 class is currently ranked 36th nationally and 8th in the Big Ten per 247 Sports.

Here are some of Keeler’s highlights: