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Present and Future of the Rutgers Football Recruiting Class of 2019

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Will this be a breakout season for so many on the cusp?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois
Langan and Aaron Young got a lot of work each of the past two seasons.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers Football kicks off the 2021 regular season September 2 against Temple, so we hope to blend the past, present, and future in my biggest undertaking in a while to get geared up for the season. We continue with Chris Ash’s fourth and final recruiting class (first here, second here, third here). The 2019 Rutgers Football recruiting class was only ranked 65th nationally, down nine spots from the previous year following a 1-11 season (0-9 in the Big Ten).

For this group it was easier to simply split into two groups: those who are still here and those who have moved on:

Still with the program

1. Mohamed Toure - ILB, Pleasantville, Pleasantville, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 26 National ILB Ranking: 46 (RU ranking: 6th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 1*, Two-deep: 2*

Toure followed his cousin Kemoko Turay to the banks and earned a relatively quiet redshirt as a true freshman, appearing in only two games. He exploded in 2020 in the season opener, registering two strip sacks against Michigan State in the first quarter. As a situational pass rusher, Mohamed led led the team with 4.5 sacks while adding 20 tackles (five for loss), two passes defended including a critical interception that set up the game winning score against Purdue, and the aforementioned two forced fumbles. His role should expand in 2021 and he could start over more experienced players at Sam linebacker.

2. Isaiah Washington - WR, Trinity Christian, Jacksonville, FL

2019 State (FL) Overall Ranking: 149 National WR Ranking: 119 (RU ranking: 7th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 1, Two-deep: 3*

Washington showed some promise as a true freshman, starting 11 games, tallying 18 catches, 272 yards, and a touchdown. As those around him improved, Isaiah was targeted less, though still played in nine games in 2020 with nine more catches and 96 yards. He will surely be in the two deep in 2021 and will be targeted more in the red zone at the very least. At best he could be a breakout star, especially with the hands and agility he showed on this highlight from the spring game ...

3. Aaron Young - RB, Coatesville, Coatesville, PA

2019 State (PA) Overall Ranking: 11 National RB Ranking: 41 (RU ranking: 1st)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 3*

Aaron followed his brother Avery to Rutgers, flipping at the 11th hour and becoming the top ranked prospect in this class. He was immediately called upon to be a two-deep slot receiver (15 catches, 113 yards) in addition to being third on the team among running backs in rushing (153 yards). With the new coaching staff and amazing improvement by the team’s receivers in 2020, Aaron operated almost exclusively out of the backfield (96 yards, TD) though his polished route running made him more of a threat through the air (23 receptions). His big highlight came with the game winning touchdown against Purdue and he hopes to add more to that as RB2 in 2021 and his career total of 21 games played.

4. Chris Conti - ILB, DePaul, Wyckoff, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 43 National ILB Ranking: 80 (RU ranking: 17th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Conti joined RU as a potential long-term answer at middle linebacker the day Tyshon Fogg is out of eligibility. Fogg returns in 2021 as do several other super senior LBs so despite Conti’s breakout performance in the spring game, he could be a year away from significant snaps on defense. He has already played nine career games on special teams (making five tackles) and should do more of that in 2021.

5. C.J. Hanson - OG, St. John Vianney, Jackson, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 36 National OG Ranking: 81 (RU ranking: 13th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 2*

Hanson was ranked higher by several recruiting sources and was considered a member of this class the staff had to get. He appeared in two games as a true freshman and two more in 2020, mainly at center. He remains in the thick of the offensive line starting position battles and his development is right on schedule for a typical offensive lineman.

6. Zukudo Igwenagu - OLB, Worcester Academy (Worcester, MA)

2019 State (MA) Overall Ranking: 2 National OLB Ranking: 58 (RU ranking: 3rd)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 1*

Igwenagu was the top rated commit for a while in this class before the late commits from Young and Kay’Ron Adams. He played in four games across his first two seasons on special teams and as an elite physical specimen, the staff moved him to tight end so he can get more playing time in 2021.

7. Cole Snyder - QB, Southwestern, Lakewood, NY

2019 State (NY) Overall Ranking: 12 National QB Ranking: 62 (RU ranking: 14th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 1.5*

Snyder came to Rutgers from upstate New York after impressing John McNulty with his cold weather throwing and leadership abilities. As we go back to time and again, multi-sport athletes from northern New York are often under-recruited. He impressed as an early enrollee in the 2019 spring game, but played in only one game that season, the finale against Penn State when he completed all three of his passes for 35 yards. Despite a standout 12-15, 150 yard, 2 TD performance in the 2021 spring game, he still remains in a tight battle with Evan Simon for the QB2 spot. He even added a rushing score, highlight below.

8. Brian Ugwu - WDE, Hillside, Hillside, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 27 National WDE Ranking: 74 (RU ranking: 9th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Ugwu was rumored not to have a spot in the recruiting class for a while despite being a standout at any number of positions on both sides of the ball. Once he joined the Scarlet Knights, Brian played in three games across his first two seasons (making one tackle) and is now listed as a defensive end. He doesn’t have the length that is ideal for Jim Panagos, but is such a good overall athlete we should see him being able to make plays in the Big Ten in the same vein as CJ Onyechi.

No longer with the program

9. Darius Gooden - CB, West Side, Newark, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 44 National CB Ranking: 189 (RU ranking: 18th)

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Gooden like many others in this class was viewed as a potential diamond in the rough, in his case based on his size as a cornerback. He has not played in either of his first two years and sat out the spring game due to injury, but he is the type of raw player the Ash staff could identify but failed to develop. Let’s hope the current staff can maximize his ability. On Thursday, Gooden announced he was entering the transfer portal.

10. Kay’Ron Adams - RB, Harding, Warren, OH

2019 State (OH) Overall Ranking: 32 National WR Ranking: 46 (RU ranking: 2nd)

Seasons on the banks: 2, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 1

Adams was a later member of this class with an NFL bloodline whose recruiting ranking shot up twice: both in his junior and senior years of high school. He joined the crowded backfield as a true freshman yet was ahead on the depth chart of the aforementioned Aaron Young and was the backup to Pacheco by mid-season. With the offensive line struggling and no passing game to speak of, Adams just took the ball and ran toward where the hole should be as quickly as possible. It worked to the tune of 48 carries, 161 yards, and a touchdown in nine games. In 2020, he was second on the team in rushing among running backs again (159 yards, 1 TD), but it was his 62-yard receiving touchdown against Purdue that got Rutgers momentum they would never relinquish. Despite his role as RB2, he entered the transfer portal in January and landed at Umass in one week.

11. TJ Robinson - S, Riverview, Riverview, FL

2019 State (FL) Overall Ranking: 175 National S Ranking: 107 (RU ranking: 11th)

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 1

Robinson came up to Rutgers from the Sunshine State hoping to have the success of a Bless Austin under the previous coaching staff. He was physically ready right away, playing in only four games to preserve his redshirt but making the most of his opportunity with five tackles. With the 2020 season in doubt last summer, he was in the transfer portal for less than 24 hours before he was scooped up by his hometown USF though was forced to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.

12. Monterio Hunt - WR, Northwest Mississippi CC, Walnut, MS

2019 POST MS Ranking: 29 National WR Ranking: 42 (RU ranking: 19th)

Seasons on the banks: 2, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Hunt did not jump off the screen in his JUCO film, but showed an ability to smoothly catch and run, especially when finding soft spots in zone coverage. So his upside may have been limited, but his exact skill set was the one Rutgers simply could not find to gain easy yards against zone defenses. Unfortunately he was injured and missed the entire 2019 season. He did get into two games in 2020, but entered the transfer portal August 23 having already graduated with two years of eligibility remaining.

13. Malachi Burby - DT, Cheshire Academy, Cheshire, CT

2019 State (CT) Overall Ranking: 10 National DT Ranking: 103 (RU ranking: 12th)

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Burby came from the same Connecticut program as current Knight Sam Vretman. He appeared in two games as a true freshman, but entered the transfer portal the same week as Greg Schiano was rehired. In 20-21 he played three games for Rhode Island, making two tackles.

14. Devin Baldwin - SDE, Southfield A&T, Southfield, MI

2019 State (MI) Overall Ranking: 33 National SDE Ranking: 80 (RU ranking: 10th)

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Baldwin looked like he might be a steal from the state of Michigan. At the time I wrote that he was probably the biggest diamond in the rough in the class and he played in two games as a true freshman. A week before the 2020 season began, he entered the transfer portal, landing at Umass in less than two months.

15. Omari Cooper - OT, Mesa College, San Diego, CA

2019 POST CA Ranking: 41 National OT Ranking: 29 (RU ranking: 16th)

Seasons on the banks: 2, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Cooper was brought in as a plug and play with such a big need on the offensive line, but he did not play in either of the last two seasons and is no longer listed on the roster. He did earn his degree and was a 2021 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.

16. Stanley King - WR, Woodrow Wilson, Camden, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 20 National WR Ranking: 112 (RU ranking: 5th)

Seasons on the banks: 2, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

The Under Armour All-American was unstoppable at the end of his high school career, being named first team All-State. He couldn’t crack the rotation in two years on the banks though and transferred to Northwestern State.

17. Donald Williams - S - Camden, Camden, NJ

2019 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 19 National S Ranking: 74 (RU ranking: 4th)

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 1*

Williams got his feet wet and showed potential as a true freshman in 2019 (appearing in three games), but was not on the roster in 2020 and entered the transfer portal in January.

18. Anton Oskarsson - OT, Rig Academy Uppsala, Kumla, Sweden

2019 State (INTL) Overall Ranking: 1 National OT Ranking: 153 (RU ranking: 15th)

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

With the success of Sam Vretman and Robin Jutwreten, Chris Ash’s staff went back to Sweden for a third time. Anton redshirted as a true freshman and was not on the roster in 2020 (covid opt-out I believe). He is not currently on the roster nor reported in the transfer portal.

19. Rayyan Buell - DT, Hornell, Hornell, NY

2019 State (NY) Overall Ranking: 6 National DT Ranking: 76 (RU ranking: 8th)

Seasons on the banks: 0.5, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Buell was a project who moved well for someone of this size but he left Rutgers after just one spring. He ended up at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

Transfers in this cycle

1. Johnny Langan QB, High School (.8451), transfer from Boston College

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 1, Two-deep: 3

Langan was given a legitimate opportunity to play quarterback at Rutgers and ended up starting eight games in 2019 including a memorable victory against Liberty when he threw for 192 yards and ran for 118 more. In 2020, he served as the 3rd string QB but played in every game during short yardage situations, running for 201 yards and four touchdowns, throwing for two more scores. In 2021 the staff said he is not in the mix as the backup quarterback, but will get looks in goal line formations in the shotgun as well as lining up at other positions such as running back and tight end.

2. Drew Singleton - OLB, High School (.9626), transfer from Michigan

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 1, Two-deep: 3

Singleton was New Jersey’s highest rated player before he committed to the Wolverines. After just missing out on the two-deep at Michigan he transferred home to Rutgers. More important than his size for the position, it was his hustle and enthusiasm (34 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack) even when the team was getting beat downs that seemed to energize the defense to will their way through the 2019 season. In 2020 he got less game action (15 tackles) as O3 became a superstar and Drew’s limitations in coverage were often substituted for nickel packages. In 2021, expect him to get time in situations when opponents are trying to wear Rutgers down with the run game, though he is trapped in a log jam with many other more than capable linebackers.

3. Matt Alaimo - TE, High School (.8742), transfer from UCLA

Seasons on the banks: 3, Starter: 1, Two-deep: 3

Alaimo was the only healthy scholarship tight end in 2019 once he received a waiver to play. He showed an ability to get open, though was not usually found by the revolving door at QB, tallying just six catches for 60 yards. In 2020 he was the second-string TE, catching seven passes for 23 yards. He looks to add to his 21 career games and 12 starts in a more crowded group in 2021.

4. McLane Carter - QB, High School (.8395), transfer from Texas Tech

Seasons on the banks: 0.2, Starter: 0.2, Two-deep: 0.2

Fractions and decimals are often confusing in this series, but Carter gets a pass. He led the Knights to a season opening victory to kickoff the 2019 season over UMass (340 yards, 2 TD), but was injured in the second contest against Iowa and never played another down for the program.

5. Zach Feagles - P, High School (.8129), transfer from Miami (FL)

Seasons on the banks: 2, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Feagles split time as the Hurricanes punter as a sophomore after starting as a true freshman. He served at RU’s holder in four games during the 2020 season. He is not on the 2021 roster.

6. Kyle Penniston - TE, High School (.8894), transfer from Wisconsin

Seasons on the banks: 1, Starter: 0, Two-deep: 0

Penniston was injured and never played a down for the Knights after arriving with a lot of hope having been a starter at Wisconsin.

Notable Walk-ons:

Christian Dremel - The Wide Receiver from Caldwell developed quick chemistry in practice with Snyder. He has seven career catches and could be on the two-deep again in 2021.

20/20 Hindsight:

1. Though the transfer portal did not exist in its current form (transfers needed to get a waiver to play), Chris Ash made the best of his opportunities to bring in players from other Power Five programs who had not reached their potential. And yet none of them are expected to be 2021 starters (though three of them did start in 2019), so take that with a grain of salt. Bringing four of New Jersey’s prized sons back home started a trend that Greg Schiano was glad to continue.

2. Where’s the beef? For the success Ash had with even his two-star linemen in the 2016 class, this was a complete whiff in the trenches other than Hanson who still has a bright future. Five of the ten players no longer with the program were linemen, so you give credit for trying to bring in big fellas and yes they take time to develop, but the gaping hole left at the line of scrimmage required a lot of transfers in 2020 & 2021 to stabilize the program.

3. To his credit, Ash did learn his lesson eventually, this was how great Rutgers players of yesteryear arrived on the banks. This class had 14 swings for the fence looking back at the content from the signing period. In other words, only five of the 19 commits I viewed as having very high floors (Snyder, Hanson, Conti, Hunt, and Ugwu) whereas everybody else offered physical potential that may have been uncovered in a healthy environment. Unfortunately to develop raw athletes you need consistency around them which did not exist in Piscataway in 2019.

Current and future thoughts

This class hasn’t gotten a fair shot yet. Their freshman season was disrupted by their coach’s firing four games in and to just get through the season, decisions were made to go with older players. Then the new staff arrived and in a Covid shortened campaign with no spring practice or training camp, Schiano and company again leaned on their juniors and seniors (which worked for the most part so it’s hard to argue).

But where does that leave the 2019 contingent now? With Hunt and Gooden entering the transfer portal this week, eleven players have left the program and just eight have stayed. Of those who remain, only Aaron Young is a sophomore eligibility wise, whereas the other eight are still considered redshirt freshmen. So they have time theoretically, especially after the plethora of 5th and 6th year seniors depart after this 2021 season. Unfortunately with the low numbers, the best case scenario where the nine remaining players end up starters or at least two-deep contributors down the line is almost a carbon copy of the 2018 group. Hanson and Igwenagu particularly are the main players I will have my eye on because they have the physical ability to match the blue bloods in the conference and are nowhere near their peaks.

With the transfer portal and player empowerment, it’s a new era in college football so we may see more recruiting classes like this one again at Rutgers and elsewhere in the coming years. Hopefully Rutgers continues on an upward trajectory and the lessons learned from this class are never forgotten again.

NOTES:

For the rankings in this article, I arbitrarily chose 247 Sports.