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Present and Future of the Rutgers Football Recruiting Class of 2020

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Who else will get playing time in 2021?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State
Max Melton played in his very first game against Michigan State and never looked back.
Raj Mehta-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 previously covered Chris Ash’s four classes (first here, second here, third here, fourth here). We continue with Greg Schiano’s first recruiting class since he was rehired, albeit with just having weeks to put it together. The 2020 Rutgers Football recruiting class was only ranked 61st nationally, yet up four spots from the previous year following a 2-10 season (0-9 in the Big Ten) and coaching change.

Played immediately in 2020

1. Bryan Felter - OG, Bergen Catholic, Westfield, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 24 National OG Ranking: 62 (RU ranking: 5th)

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

Felter impressed as a true freshman not looking as stiff as some doubters expected, playing in eight games, starting six. He has a promising future and is well ahead of schedule for a typical offensive lineman. Some projections don’t have him listed as a starter in 2021. Based on what I saw last year, he will be getting significant action this season, whether he starts at right guard or not.

2. Malachi “Max” Melton - CB, Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 23 National CB Ranking: 73 (RU ranking: 3rd)

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

The younger brother of star WR Bo and child of two former Rutgers athletes, getting Max seemed inevitable especially once a respected coaching staff was in place. He leapfrogged many veterans to play in all nine games, starting six at cornerback. He made 17 tackles (one for loss) and recovered a fumble. His future is incredibly bright even as the team added reinforcements at corner in 2021. So he may lose some reps, though corner is a premium position and as many who can contribute will get action on game day. He has a bright future.

3. Cedrice Paillant - OT, Monroe College, New Rochelle, NY

2020 POST (NY) Overall Ranking: 4 National OT Ranking: 15 (RU ranking: 10th)

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

Paillant joined the team with one specific role in mind, to be an immediate starter on the offensive line. He played all nine games, starting at left guard in seven. He seemed to be less effective as the season went along and is in a bigger battle for playing time in 2021, though with two years of eligibility left and prototypical size for a guard he could still improve. Schiano recently commented that Cedrice has the talent and athleticism, he just needs to be more consistent. Expect him to be a starter again.

4. Robert Longerbeam - ATH, TC Williams Alexandria, VA

2020 State (VA) Overall Ranking: 26 National ATH Ranking: 86 (RU ranking: 9th)

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

Longerbeam played quarterback as a senior in high school and it was expected he would play wide receiver at RU. The team need was more in the defensive backfield though so Longerbeam was pressed into duty at safety and cornerback, appearing in five games. He did not register a statistic and was one of the few members of the class who did not look ready when inserted. To his credit, he showed resilience in spring practice and earned the Frank Burns award honoring a player for mental and physical toughness during spring football. Longerbeam is the type of versatile athlete who projects well long-term in the program even if it’s not until 2022 when he gets a bigger jump.

5. Chris Long - ATH, Willingboro, Willingboro, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 17 National ATH Ranking: 41 (RU ranking: 1st)

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

Long was upgraded by some sources to a four-star recruit after an incredible senior season as a wide receiver. Rutgers wide receivers with Tiquan Underwood have made huge strides, but as a result of the lack of defensive depth at cornerback, Long joined the aforementioned Max Melton on the two-deep. He only played in two games on defense, though I have him higher on this list than guys who played in more games on special teams because of the talent and premium position he plays.

6. Jamier Wright-Collins - OLB, Kennedy, Paterson, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 45 National OLB Ranking: 131 (RU ranking: 18th)

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

Wright-Collins was good to go at the start of last season, playing all nine games on special teams and registering three tackles. He is the type of athlete that Schiano had so much success in developing his first time around, Wright-Collins could possibly become a goal line running back this year or beyond, although he could move back to linebacker should the need arise down the line.

7. Kyle Monangai - RB, Don Bosco Prep, Roseland, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 47 National RB Ranking: 120 (RU ranking: 20th)

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

Monangai was overshadowed by Jalen Berger at Don Bosco but was more statistically productive in their final season with the Ironmen. He was way down the depth chart at running back but showed versatility by playing five games, mostly on kickoff coverage, making his first career tackle. The staff has had positive things to say about him as a running back though the offensive line might need a little more seasoning before his skills will really be a fit in the offense. The news on Kyle lately is how much good weight he added. He is battling Wright-Collins for the third running back spot and Schiano said recently he has had a good training camp.

8. Victor Konopka - SDE, Blair Academy, Kinnelon, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 34 National SDE Ranking: 79 (RU ranking: 13th)

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

Konopka was basketball player at Don Bosco who originally committed to West Point before taking a post-graduate year at Blair. It is there where he played football for the first time in years. He wasted no time once arriving on the banks, showing enough physical upside to play in four games on special teams last year. He is currently getting reps with the second team as a tight end. He could end up being a complete steal.

9. Ahmirr Robinson - WR, Union, Vauxhall, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 30 National WR Ranking: 189 (RU ranking: 12th)

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

Robinson played at the same high school as Mike Tverdov. The incoming staff liked him and he decided to stay committed after the coaching change. He is stuck in a logjam at wide receiver but played in four games on special teams in 2020 and could see more time this season in a similar role. Longer term his niche will be a vertical threat who can break off his routes strategically for easy completions.

10. Tahjay Moore - WDE, New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Ranking: 37 National WDE Ranking: 91 (RU ranking: 16th)

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

Moore was expected to blueshirt but got to Rutgers in 2020 and played in one game on special teams. His size and physical ability has him at tight end right now as the staff tries to develop his potential for the long term.

Looking for action in 2021

11. Tyreem Powell - ATH, Vineland, Vineland, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 20 National ATH Ranking: 45 (RU ranking: 2nd)

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

Powell was a late flip from Virginia Tech and probably would have played as a true freshman if there was not a log-jam in front of him at linebacker. He earned the Douglas A. Smith Award for his showing during spring practice as the most improved defensive player. He has such a long body and projects as a Jamal Merrell type linebacker. He should play on several different special teams units in 2021 because the staff will have trouble keeping him off the field, even if he doesn’t get many snaps on defense. His big breakout will likely come in 2022 after RU graduates four seniors at linebacker.

12. Tunde Fatukasi - OG, Erasmus Hall, Far Rockaway, NY

2020 State (NY) Overall Ranking: 13 National OG Ranking: 108 (RU ranking: 14th)

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

Tunde Fatukasi joined his brother Olakunle on the banks and was listed as the backup left tackle when the first depth chart was released last year. He ended up not playing a game though is pushing for the same spot on the two-deep with in game action in 2021. He’s a big, strong guy who surely has a place on field goal protection to get his feet wet.

13. Evan Simon - QB, Manheim, Mt. Joy, PA

2020 State (PA) Overall Ranking: 12 National QB Ranking: 36 (RU ranking: 6th)

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

Evan was one of the bigger quarterback gets for the program in the last decade. He looked too good for his high school competition as a thrower and a runner in space. Both he and Cole Snyder have shown enough to move Johnny Langan to a hybrid position guy rather than the backup quarterback should Noah Vedral go down. Simon based on his size, arm strength, and mobility has the best long-term upside of any QB on the current roster. The staff has not yet announced the backup quarterback for the season opener yet.

14. Wesley Bailey - WDE, Clearwater Academy (FL), Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)

2020 State (FL) Overall Ranking: 140 National WDE Ranking: 55 (RU ranking: 7th)

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

Bailey played his final high school ball in Florida, but it was the Canadian connection that was just as responsible for him landing at Rutgers. He was a huge priority for Schiano to try and get the type of long-limbed defensive ends that he covets for his defense to work most effectively. Bailey did not play in 2020, though as soon as he is disruptive as a defensive end playing time on Saturdays will come.

15. Rene Konga - SDE, Colonel, Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)

2020 Canada Overall Ranking: 1 National SDE Ranking: 42 (RU ranking: 4th)

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

Konga was an under the radar add who dominated his high school competition in Canada. He has surprising athleticism for a defensive lineman, especially now as a three or five technique. There’s a chance he gets into the defensive line rotation as early as this year, but if not it’s likely because he needs more seasoning before approaching his long-term ceiling.

16. Eli Mack - S, St. Joseph’s, Newark, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 27 National S Ranking: 86 (RU ranking: 8th)

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

Mack was originally committed to the previous coaching staff as a hard-hitting safety. He didn’t see time in 2020 as a true freshman and may need more time to improve in coverage but I’d expect him to get time on special teams in 2021. The long term outlook along the lines of a Joe Lefeged or Zaire Kitchen is likely his path, so his best days may be two years away.

17. Jessie Parson III - APB, New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY

2020 State (NY) Overall Ranking: 14 National APB Ranking: 21 (RU ranking: 15th)

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

Parson was originally planned to blueshirt like Moore but with the pandemic was on the banks in 2020, though he did not see action. He flashed some speed but is probably a year away from contributing on offense. There’s a chance he could play on special teams this season. The way Sean Gleeson likes to carve out a wide variety of niches for different players gives Jessie a better chance to contribute early than he would have with previous coaching staffs.

18. Troy Rainey - DT, Harding, Bridgeport, CT

2020 State (CT) Overall Ranking: 14 National DT Ranking: 144 (RU ranking: 19th)

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

Rainey was a big get literally, projected as a nose tackle to clog up space a few years down the road. As Rutgers was able to add more depth on the defensive line, his personal ceiling was realized sooner than later on the offensive line. There are a lot of players looking to crack the two-deep on the offensive line and Rainey has gotten good press this offseason. However, it will take time and if he’s on the travel roster this season it’s probably for field goal protection with his size and strength.

19. Shawn Collins - TE, Montclair, Montclair, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 38 National TE Ranking: 82 (RU ranking: 17th)

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

Collins had originally committed to the previous regime as a tight end based on upside alone since his high school team didn’t throw the ball much. He is now one of the long-bodied defensive ends Rutgers is trying to develop a few of to get the defense back to the program’s recent peaks. He didn’t play in 2020, but has the athleticism to play on special teams much earlier than defense in all likelihood.

20. Kamar Missouri - DT, Mergenthaler Vo-Tech, Baltimore, MD

2020 State (MD) Overall Ranking: NA National DT Ranking: NA (RU ranking: 22nd)

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

Missouri was not even listed by most recruiting services. He committed very late and we scrambled to even get information on him at the time. He looked like a developmental player that if given time and in a stable program has upside as a lineman. Now on the offensive line, RU fans are glad he didn’t end up in Group of Five or even FCS to potentially torment the Knights a few years down the line.

21. Isaiah Wright - DT, St. Peter’s Prep, North Plainfield, NJ

2020 State (NJ) Overall Ranking: 29 National DT Ranking: 96 (RU ranking: 11th)

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

Wright was injured as a junior but returned to dominate more as an offensive lineman than on the defensive side. As a result he moved over to offense this off-season permanently where he is probably years away from playing meaningful snaps. He does have the size to play on special teams as soon as this year.

No longer with the program

Jack Del Rio - OLB, Clearwater, Clearwater, FL

2020 State (FL) Overall Ranking: 281 National OLB Ranking: 136 (RU ranking: 21st)

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

Del Rio (no relation to the former NFL coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars) was recruited specifically by the Chris Ash staff to play as a coverage linebacker but transferred out last summer with the 2020 season in doubt.

Transfers in this cycle

Starters: Noah Vedral (QB - Nebraska), Aron Cruickshank (WR/KR - Wisconsin), Jovani Haskins (TE - West Virginia), Michael Dwumfour (DT - Michigan), Brendon White (S - Ohio State)

Two-deep: Aaron Lewis (DE - Michigan), Ireland Burke (DT - Boston College), Mayan Ahanotu (DT - Minnesota)

Others: Marquis Morris (OL - William & Mary), Malik Barrow (DT - UCF), Peyton Powell (DUAL - Baylor)

Notable Walk-ons

Hollin Pierce - The Trenton Central product played at Fork Union before enrolling at Rutgers and after winning the the Mark Mills Second Effort Award in Spring may crack the offensive line rotation this fall.

Joe Lusardi - The Summit product was forced into action against Maryland at safety.

20/20 Hindsight

1. The first thing that jumped out was the number of athletes whether they officially be listed as such or just players could could end up at multiple positions. This reminded me of some early Schiano 1.0 recruiting classes where the spots players were projected by recruiting services turned out to be more wrong than right which is a testament to the coaching staff tuning out noise from the outside. Many of these 2020 players have already moved into other positions. As Schiano has said in the past, it takes the first year or even two years for most players to get acclimated to the program. Often they help in positions of need while keeping in mind on the big picture of where they are best served long term.

2. Re-establishing pipelines with “state of Rutgers” high schools was high on the new coaching staff’s agenda as soon as they were hired. In North Jersey alone, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s (Montvale), and St. Peter’s were all represented in this recruiting class. I recall seeing a coach at another Big Ten school saying something I also heard from Schiano in the past; that it makes a big impression for a 15 year old potential future recruit when they see the roster of their ‘state’ university and included is at least one player from their school. Obviously you won’t just take a kid just for the school, but the good staffs have a way of being able to see those little details without compromising the big picture. Sometimes they can even get players to walk-on who had scholarships available elsewhere. Wisconsin has the reputation for being the best at this, but Nebraska, Iowa, and Penn State all check that box regularly.

3. Much of the coaching staff including Sean Gleeson were not even hired when most of these players signed. So the players didn’t even know what offense they would be running yet jumped onboard a ship that wasn’t even on the water yet. That speaks volumes to Schiano, Campanile, Brown, and the recruiting staff and their ability to sell a vision. Not only sell in the first place but whether the storm of a pandemic and uncertainty around last season which was critical with all the defections in the 2018 and 2019 classes previously covered.

4. Family. Every coach talks about culture and family, but usually it’s lip service. This class added two brothers of players who are already on the team which can be interpreted both as the staff values personal relationships AND the commits themselves had positive enough recommendations from their family members at home. Not to pile on, but former defensive coordinator Jay Niemann couldn’t even flip his own son Nick, so how do you explain that in the living rooms of other families on the trail? Like #2 above, you can’t just add your buddies at the expense of more talented players and coaches, but the good programs always seem to be able to fit this into the grand vision, too. For the Rutgers “family, trust, chop” mantra, this hits the first two right on the head.

Current and future thoughts

The transfers in this cycle deserve their own post at some point with how important they were to Rutgers winning as many conference games as they had in the previous four seasons combined. Five unquestioned starters and three other members of the two-deep in 2020 were transfers who joined the program after Greg Schiano was hired. Throw in two of the offensive line starters last year were in this class, which should not go unnoticed, and it’s obvious how quickly the talent level jumped in mere months after the new staff arrived.

This class has almost its entire story still to be written and only one player has defected thus far. If you’re not going to be good, be big, and if you are not big, be fast. This was the mindset it appears. Rutgers is not Ohio State so trying to beat them and other Big Ten perennial powers straight up with lesser athletes was never going to work. This class, despite its low ranking, has the ingredients you want to see. Physically gifted linemen who are raw and maybe can develop even with lower rankings, as well as speedy skill guys even if they are undersized, along with an overall focus on the skill positions. For it to work, coaches need to develop those raw athletes and figure out ways to use the players they have factoring in current limitations. The staff did that in 2020 and needs to do more of it in 2021 while also expanding the playbook.

This class is nowhere near where we hope the 2021 and especially 2022 class will be upon arrival or when all is said and done, but has enough flexibility and players with upside that it will be a key building block in the foundation of the rebuild.

NOTES:

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

Poll

After the 2021 season, who will be #1 on this list?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Tyreem Powell
    (4 votes)
  • 26%
    Victor Konopka
    (39 votes)
  • 25%
    Bryan Felter
    (37 votes)
  • 41%
    Max Melton
    (61 votes)
  • 3%
    Chris Long
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Other, will post in comments.
    (0 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now