This is the second of a three-part series.
Part 1: Can Rutgers rebuild its defensive line?
Rutgers has gone to the graduate transfer quarterback well several times in recent seasons without much success.
Ditto for bringing in junior college linemen or a veteran tight end. Immediate production from heralded incoming freshmen has also been hard to come by.
But Greg Schiano’s first recruiting class since returning to the Scarlet Knights has a chance to buck those trends.
Here is a closer look at some of the new faces – recruits and transfers – that have a chance to step onto the field and provide an instant impact this fall (and be sure to click here for a look at the defensive linemen that can also contribute from Day 1):
QB Noah Vedral: The Nebraska transfer’s smarts are his most sought-after gift. He graduated in three years with a near-perfect GPA, and he can process quickly, which is one of the key components Schiano and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson sought in a quarterback. Vedral (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) is a smart player who can be brought along, especially with the entire spring being scrapped. He’s also an accurate thrower with the athleticism to extend plays. Vedral had two years of eligibility remaining prior to the blanket waiver.
Neither Artur Sitkowski or Vedral have played a down for Schiano or Gleeson, so they start on even footing. Vedral’s running ability, past ball security and experience in a no-huddle, hurry-up scheme similar to Gleeson’s make him a slight favorite to some. Either way, Rutgers has a chance to find a multi-year starter after recent instability at the position.
WR/DB/QB Peyton Powell: Powell (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) signed with Baylor out of high school in Texas, but left the Bears before the start of the 2019 regular season. He committed to Utah before flipping to Rutgers during the early signing period. He could play multiple positions. His athleticism is tough to defend at quarterback, and his elite speed will come in handy at wide receiver or defensive back. He runs a 4.48-second laser-timed 40-yard dash and a 10.7 in the 100-meter. Rutgers got longer and more athletic with this pickup. Powell has four years of eligibility remaining. He is a cousin of Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
The spring practice plan may have been to let Powell start with the quarterbacks, but he may be directly impacted by Vedral’s arrival. Powell seems destined to land at another position, and he has the ability to star at several spots. Wide receiver or safety seem like two potential fits where Rutgers will have needs.
WR Aron Cruickshank: Cruickshank, a Wisconsin transfer, is one of the fastest, most explosive players in the Big Ten. The Erasmus Hall product returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in the Rose Bowl last season. Cruickshank (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) had two years of eligibility remaining with a redshirt prior to the blanket waiver.
Cruickshank will transform Rutgers’ return game. The speedster threatens to turn every kick into six points. Can become a playmaker on offense, too? The Scarlet Knights are going to give him a bigger receiving role than he had at Wisconsin. How often will Gleeson utilize Cruickshank and Bo Melton on the field at the same time?
TE Jovani Haskins: The Bergenfield product will finish his college career at Rutgers after transferring from West Virginia. (He initially signed with Miami out of high school.) Haskins (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) has one year of eligibility remaining aside from this season’s blanket waiver.
Haskins’ arrival was not as heralded as some of the other Rutgers transfers this cycle, but he may have a straighter path to a starting job than most. The tight end group is not terribly deep. Converted quarterback Johnathan Lewis has shown promise at the position but lacks experience and is coming off an Achilles injury that cost him the entire 2019 season. Matt Alaimo did not do much with extended playing time last fall, managing six catches for 60 yards in 12 games. If Haskins can block and re-assert himself as a receiving threat, the job could be his.
S Brendon White: White comes to Rutgers from Ohio State, where he was a Rose Bowl MVP during Schiano’s time as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound playmaker can cover, but he should play close to the line for the Scarlet Knights, providing flexibility. He had one year of eligibility left prior to the blanket waiver.
White has yet to play a down for Rutgers, but he may already be the Scarlet Knights’ best defensive player and their top prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft. White’s impact for the Buckeyes only diminished last season because he was a poor fit for their defensive scheme under now-Boston College coach Jeff Hafley. He has proven he can thrive in Schiano’s system and he will be featured at Rutgers. White is a shoo-in starter in the defensive backfield.
OT Cedrice Paillant: The New Rochelle native has great size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) to go with his upside. The junior college transfer from Monroe (N.Y.) College is physical, can create space and finish plays. Paillant is light on his feet for a player so large, can get to his spot when he pulls and has played both inside and outside. He has strong hands and can uncoil on contact. He had two years of eligibility prior to the blanket waiver.
Paillant figures to compete for the right tackle spot with Raiqwon O’Neal set as the left tackle. Paillant rates as a favorite over Reggie Sutton, who showed promise as a blocking tight end in 2018 but did not play much last season due to injuries.
OG Marquis Morris: Morris (6-foot-4, 325 pounds) played both ways at Bergen Catholic and redshirted at William & Mary last season. The North Plainfield space eater is tough to move off the line of scrimmage, and his Power Five frame adds to Rutgers’ depth inside. Morris figures to be in the mix to compete for a two-deep spot immediately. It’s tough to forecast Morris cracking the starting lineup at this point, but his size is intriguing and he should have a chance to earn a backup job.
WR Ahmirr Robinson: Robinson (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) has the tools to become a productive Power 5 receiver. The Union product and three-star recruit is long, athletic, and has a fluid quality to his game. And he doesn’t shy away under pressure. He won wide receiver MVP at Rivals 3-Stripe Camp-New Jersey, and was one of the top performing receivers at The Opening New Jersey Regional.
Robinson would ideally redshirt under normal circumstances. But the Scarlet Knights desperately need playmakers and many of the veterans have failed to emerge, so he could get his chance to make an early impact given the impact of the blanket waiver.
OG Tunde Fatukasi: The brother of Rutgers linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi is an athletic, physical interior offensive lineman who can bend. He can also play weakside offensive tackle in a pinch. Fatukasi took his game to another level as a senior following dramatic weight loss.
It’s rare for a true freshman offensive lineman to get serious playing time in the Big Ten, and Rutgers should also have enough interior depth to allow Fatukasi to develop. But he could emerge as a factor at center, where Rutgers has a wide-open spot following Mike Maietti’s graduate transfer to Missouri, given the blanket waiver rule.
OG Bryan Felter: Felter (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) is tough, nasty and played for one of New Jersey’s flagship football programs, helping Bergen Catholic win its first Non-Public Group 4 title in 13 years. The three-star recruit’s blend of physicality, technique, and leadership make him a great fit for his in-state school. Like Fatukaski, Felter should be able to mostly develop this season unless he becomes a factor at center, makes a big push up the depth chart or Rutgers decides to use the blanket waiver rule to its advantage.
OLB Tyreem Powell: Powell, a three-star recruit from Vineland, played safety and quarterback out of team need last fall. He is a long, athletic, and versatile playmaker. Powell (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) also displays leadership qualities, is a big hitter and has a knack for making plays. He flipped to Rutgers from Virginia Tech after Schiano was hired. Powell could find a role on defense immediately, although it may not be as big as fans want it – similar to another Vineland product, Isaih Pacheco – due to the depth at the linebacker position.
CB Chris Long: Long (6-foot, 170 pounds) has quick twitch, good hands and speed, which separate him from his peers. The Willingboro product and three-star recruit’s best fit may be at wide receiver where he’s more natural, but you can argue that his greater upside might be on the defensive side of the ball, where he will start with the Scarlet Knights. Long’s athleticism will help Rutgers no matter where he lands. He flipped from Temple after Schiano was hired. Long should be able to make an immediate impact for the Scarlet Knights.
CB Malachi Melton: A standout two-way player at Cedar Creek who really came into his own as a senior and has tremendous speed. Melton (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) can also make an impact in the return game. Schiano flipped the three-star recruit from Purdue and continued the Melton family legacy at Rutgers. Brother Bo is a senior wide receiver, dad Gary played for the Scarlet Knights as well and mom Vicky was a Rutgers basketball player.
Bo Melton went through growing pains playing as a true freshman. Will Malachi Melton have to worry about the same situation? Rutgers would likely prefer to let him develop, especially with other veterans in the mix, but the status of their corner depth may not allow for it.
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Todderick Hunt may be reached at [email protected]. James Kratch may be reached at [email protected]. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.