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Rutgers has to rebuild after a decade-long slide, but at least it's got athletes

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For Rutgers, 2016 is about positivity and progress. Find the former, create the latter.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. 10 years is a long time

This fall marks the 10-year anniversary of Rutgers' finest season. The inventors of football had gone through a devastating stretch over the previous 20 years, and it had only gotten worse since joining the Big East.

From 1996-2000, Terry Shea went 11-44, and five of his 11 wins came in one season. Rutgers was behind in every way a program could be behind when Greg Schiano took over in 2001. And after two more dreadful seasons under Schiano, the Scarlet Knights began to put the pieces together. In 2003, they won five games for just the second time in nine years. In 2005, they finished 7-5 and attended their first bowl in 27 years and only their second ever.

In 2006 came two miraculous months. Rutgers won at North Carolina and crushed Illinois. The Knights moved into the AP rankings and survived a rising USF team on the road. Up to 15th in the country, they took down No. 3 Louisville on a Thursday night in Piscataway. Jeremy Ito pointed at the sky cam, fans rushed the field and Rutgers was a top-10 team.

It's almost literally been downhill ever since. The Knights lost two of three to end the 2006 regular season and finished 11-2 and 14th in S&P+. They were 20th in 2007, 32nd in 2008, 76th in 2009 and 87th in 2010. They rebounded in 2011, and Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And under Kyle Flood, they tried desperately to stay above water for three years before drowning in 2015.

Off the field, Rutgers has been a PR mess in recent years, garnering headlines mostly because of an abusive basketball coach and an athletic director who basically said every possible wrong thing from the moment she was hired. And last fall, the football program dealt with constant issues. Flood contacted a faculty member about a player's gradesFive players were arrested and dismissed right before the season beganStar receiver Leonte Carroo was arrested for assault, then had the charges dismissed a month later.

When both Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann were fired in late November, it was a relief to fans and a show of mercy to Flood and Hermann. It was time to hit the reset button, time to attempt big steps to stem what has been an almost decade-long slide.

Schiano, strangely enough, is now Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator at Ohio State. The job came open when Meyer's last DC, Chris Ash, took the Rutgers job.

The 42-year-old Drake alum has methodically worked his way up the coaching ladder, from Drake graduate assistant to Big Ten head coach. He got his big break in 2011 at Wisconsin, getting promoted to defensive coordinator under Bret Bielema. He moved to Arkansas with Bielema for a year, then landed on Meyer's staff as co-coordinator in 2014.

Ash's record as a coordinator is difficult to parse. In two years heading the Wisconsin D, he saw the Badgers' Def. S&P+ first fall from 48th to 56th, then rise to 16th in 2012. In one year at Arkansas, he inherited a unit that ranked 55th and watched it stumble to 78th. In two years at Ohio State, the Buckeyes ranked 11th in 2014 and seventh in 2015.

If there's any trend there, it's that year one sees a reset and year two sees improvement. We're probably going to see something similar at RU. He inherits the bones of a potentially efficient offense and a strong run defense, but the pass defense might have been the worst in FBS last year, and let's face it: After all of last season's negativity, restoring morale, building a healthier culture, etc., might take a little while.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 101 | Final S&P+ Rk: 105
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Norfolk State N/A 63-13 W 80% 100% +33.4
12-Sep Washington State 54 34-37 L 35% 20% -1.5 -5.0
19-Sep at Penn State 47 3-28 L 3% 0% -9.2 -15.0
26-Sep Kansas 127 27-14 W 65% 99% +0.3 0.0
10-Oct Michigan State 9 24-31 L 41% 23% +13.4 +7.5
17-Oct at Indiana 61 55-52 W 36% 26% +23.1 +3.0
24-Oct Ohio State 3 7-49 L 8% 0% -19.7 -21.0
31-Oct at Wisconsin 32 10-48 L 3% 0% -11.8 -17.5
7-Nov at Michigan 8 16-49 L 5% 0% +4.0 -8.0
14-Nov Nebraska 36 14-31 L 9% 0% -4.4 -7.5
21-Nov at Army 108 31-21 W 67% 93% +8.3 +5.5
28-Nov Maryland 76 41-46 L 29% 31% +2.2 -4.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 25.7 87 38.1 116
Points Per Game 27.1 78 34.9 104

2. ...and then the bottom dropped out

Despite all that was going on in and around the program in September, Rutgers wasn't that far from playing solid ball early on.

The Scarlet Knights nearly beat a nine-win Washington State team because of Janarion Grant's heroics (he returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter) but fell via last-second touchdown. They were tied with eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State until another last-minute score. They unleashed an amazing comeback against Indiana, falling behind by 25 points, then scoring 28 points in the final 17 minutes to win, 55-52.

Then, exhaustion apparently set in.

  • First 6 games:
    Record: 3-3 | Average percentile performance: 43% (~top 75) | Yards per play: Opp 6.6, RU 6.3 (-0.3)
  • Last 6 games:
    Record: 1-5 | Average percentile performance: 21% (~top 100) | Yards per play: Opp 7.1, RU 4.8 (-2.3)

A bad defense got worse, and an exciting offense forgot how to move the ball. Part of that had to do with injury -- Leonte Carroo, back from suspension, missed two games with a high ankle sprain and was ineffective in two more. Oft-injured running back Paul James injured his ankle, too.

Still, this team was just out of gas. Rutgers did beat Army and played a fantastic first 28 minutes against Maryland (up 31-10) before fading (outscored 36-10). The Knights were ready for the offseason and ready for a change.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.21 92 IsoPPP+ 102.4 58
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.9% 39 Succ. Rt. + 107.3 37
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.6 117 Def. FP+ 31.5 103
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 75 Redzone S&P+ 112.0 30
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.2 ACTUAL 18 -2.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 84 52 37 58
RUSHING 65 58 45 61
PASSING 86 43 37 53
Standard Downs 43 37 49
Passing Downs 81 73 85
Q1 Rk 69 1st Down Rk 72
Q2 Rk 50 2nd Down Rk 63
Q3 Rk 51 3rd Down Rk 40
Q4 Rk 66

3. A Drew Mehringer offense

After seeing the success of the Meyer and Tom Herman offense at Ohio State, with their mobile quarterbacks and diverse pass attacks, it makes sense that Ash would want to bring that style of attack with him to New Jersey: Ash brought in Drew Mehringer, a Herman protégé, as offensive coordinator.

A former Rice quarterback, Mehringer was a student assistant when Herman became Rice's offensive coordinator in 2007, then followed him to Iowa State as a graduate assistant. He was offensive co-coordinator at James Madison in 2014 before becoming Herman's receivers coach at Houston last fall.

One assumes we know where Mehringer wants this offense to go. Houston's offense last year emulated Ohio State's: run-first and up-tempo with a healthy dose of power on standard downs and verticality on passing downs. It's an incredibly fun attack when you've got the right pieces.

Rutgers has ... some of the right pieces. Junior running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks are interchangeable and efficient, with a solid 44 percent opportunity rate (percentage of carries gaining at least five yards) between them. Senior receiver Carlton Agudosi is a big-bodied, big-play option in play action. And while Janarion Grant hasn't done much damage as a receiver, he's so dangerous as a return man that you know he's got potential.

The offensive line, meanwhile, had top-50 run-blocking and pass-protection ratings and returns four of five starters.

Neither of two returning quarterbacks -- Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig -- have shown optimal mobility, however, and outside of Agudosi, there isn't a proven big-play guy on the roster. (Oh, the things Merhinger could have done with Carroo and a healthy James ...) So that will likely limit options in year one. And there are enough senior receivers and linemen that 2017 will present its own set of obstacles, too.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Chris Laviano 6'2, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8597 187 307 2247 16 12 60.9% 24 7.3% 6.2
Hayden Rettig 6'3, 215 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9312 14 25 233 2 0 56.0% 1 3.8% 8.7
Zach Allen (TCU) 6'3, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8361
Giovanni Rescigno 6'3, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7985
Michael Dare 6'5, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8584
Tylin Oden 6'5, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8564

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Robert Martin RB 5'11, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8681 141 763 6 5.4 4.6 43.3% 2 1
Josh Hicks RB 5'10, 204 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8625 130 674 4 5.2 4.0 44.6% 3 2
Desmon Peoples (2014) RB 5'8, 170 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8591 115 447 3 3.9 3.1 33.9% 1 0
Paul James RB 99 544 5 5.5 6.8 36.4% 0 0
Chris Laviano QB 6'2, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8597 41 161 0 3.9 2.9 36.6% 7 2
Justin Goodwin RB 5'11, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8303 11 20 1 1.8 1.8 36.4% 1 0
Janarion Grant WR 5'10, 176 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 8 80 0 10.0 8.3 62.5% 1 0
Hayden Rettig QB 6'3, 215 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9312 6 7 1 1.2 3.7 33.3% 0 0
Trey Sneed RB 5'10, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8663







4. More than enough backs

A mobile quarterback gives defenses one more weapon to account for, and even filtering out sacks, Laviano's rushing numbers weren't very impressive last year. But he (or whoever wins the starting job -- it could technically still be TCU transfer Zach Allen, Rettig, redshirt freshman Michael Dare, or incoming freshman Tylin Oden) doesn't have to be Braxton Miller II for the offense to be interesting. He just has to punish defenses overcompensating to stop an efficient set of running backs.

Martin and Hicks averaged 23 carries per game and a decent 5.3 yards per carry, Desmon Peoples is quick and bouncy, though he hasn't been particularly effective in his career to date. And Justin Goodwin has been an athlete without a position in his career; he rushed for 521 yards in 2013 but ended up with more short receptions than carries last fall. Add in incoming freshman Trey Sneed, and you've got a solid running back corps.

Again, though, big plays are a wonderful bailout. They give you margin for error, and it's doubtful Rutgers will have much of that. That means the offense will have to pull off a few more mistake-free plays to put points on the board. Easier said than done.

While losing Carroo hurts, there's still quite a bit of continuity in the passing game. Even without a ton of known explosiveness, that's not a bad thing. Andre Patton is a solid possession weapon, and both Grant and Goodwin have untapped potential.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Leonte Carroo WR 56 39 809 69.6% 18.1% 14.4 64.3% 60.7% 2.36
Andre Patton WR 6'3, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8494 56 34 432 60.7% 18.1% 7.7 57.1% 50.0% 1.30
Janarion Grant WR 5'10, 176 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 45 35 352 77.8% 14.6% 7.8 40.0% 37.8% 1.81
Carlton Agudosi WR 6'6, 217 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8317 33 17 313 51.5% 10.7% 9.5 48.5% 39.4% 2.23
John Tsimis (2014) WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8377 33 19 188 57.6% 9.8% 5.7 51.5% N/A N/A
Charles Scarff TE 6'5, 248 Jr. NR NR 22 14 100 63.6% 7.1% 4.5 40.9% 40.9% 0.96
Justin Goodwin RB 5'11, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8303 22 13 93 59.1% 7.1% 4.2 36.4% 22.7% 1.56
Matt Flanagan TE 6'6, 255 Jr. NR NR 20 12 126 60.0% 6.5% 6.3 85.0% 60.0% 1.01
Nick Arcidiacono TE 6'4, 242 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8330 18 12 92 66.7% 5.8% 5.1 83.3% 50.0% 0.87
Paul James RB 8 6 40 75.0% 2.6% 5.0 62.5% 25.0% 1.85
Sam Bergen FB 7 5 49 71.4% 2.3% 7.0 100.0% 57.1% 1.20
Robert Martin RB 5'11, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8681 7 5 17 71.4% 2.3% 2.4 71.4% 28.6% 0.77
Vance Matthews WR 6'3, 210 Sr. NR NR 5 4 38 80.0% 1.6% 7.6 80.0% 60.0% 1.15
Josh Hicks RB 5'10, 204 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8625 4 4 25 100.0% 1.3% 6.3 100.0% 75.0% 0.82
Dontae Owens WR 6'0, 194 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8289 1 0 0 0.0% 0.3% 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Julian Pinnix-Odrick TE/TE 6'5, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8748
Nakia Griffin-Stewart TE 6'5, 237 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385
Rashad Blunt WR 6'1, 191 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8185
K.J. Gray WR 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8457

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 104.4 3.01 3.19 41.6% 73.5% 17.8% 138.0 3.0% 7.4%
Rank 46 45 70 31 28 41 31 24 64
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Keith Lumpkin LT 12 38
Chris Muller C 6'6, 319 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9164 12 37
J.J. Denman RT 6'5, 308 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9002 12 12
Dorian Miller LG 6'2, 292 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8823 11 11
Derrick Nelson C 6'3, 292 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222 10 10
Marcus Applefield RG 6'5, 304 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8377 2 2
Zack Heeman LT 6'7, 300 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8302 1 1
Tariq Cole LG 6'6, 314 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8436 0 0
Jack Shutack OL 6'5, 272 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8439

Zach Venesky C 6'3, 282 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8438

Jonah Jackson OL 6'4, 290 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7970

Manny Taylor OL 6'5, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7951

Nick Krimin OL 6'6, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8553

Mike Lonsdorf OL 6'7, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8132


5. A line you can lean on

It really isn't hard to talk yourself into this offense's potential. The Scarlet Knights were pretty efficient last year, and they return two interesting quarterbacks, quite a few nice skill guys, and all but one member of last year's offensive line two-deep.

Rutgers' line stats were better than its overall offensive stats -- 46th in Adj. Line Yards, 58th in Rushing S&P+; 31st in Adj. Sack Rate, 43rd in Passing S&P+. And now the line returns three-year starting center Chris Muller, five others with starting experience, and nearly a full line's worth of redshirt freshmen.

Rutgers struggled with big plays and wasn't able to do much once behind schedule last year. That might not change much this year, but the Knights will have a lot of options on standard downs and a good line to help ensure those options.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.48 123 IsoPPP+ 75.3 128
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.4% 110 Succ. Rt. + 87.9 110
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.3 104 Off. FP+ 28.8 92
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 100 Redzone S&P+ 93.1 97
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.6 ACTUAL 16.0 -0.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 112 128 110 128
RUSHING 84 98 77 114
PASSING 119 128 121 127
Standard Downs 126 108 127
Passing Downs 118 103 123
Q1 Rk 124 1st Down Rk 127
Q2 Rk 107 2nd Down Rk 125
Q3 Rk 124 3rd Down Rk 124
Q4 Rk 110

6. An Ash-Niemann defense

Ash's choice of Jay Niemann as his defensive coordinator makes sense from a stat perspective. They go way back -- Niemann was Ash's defensive coordinator at Drake -- and in roundabout ways, they seem to express the same philosophy on defense: attack the run on standard downs and the pass on passing downs. Try to make opponents go unorthodox.

Against Ohio State and its killer secondary, opponents had to continue leaning on the run. Niemann's NIU defenses, meanwhile, were speedy and undersized, and opponents tended to go off script, throwing more than normal on standard downs and running more on passing downs.

Rutgers is its own unique case. With star tackle Darius Hamilton rejoining an experienced line after missing 2015 with injury, the line could be a legitimate strength. The linebacking corps is starting over, but linebackers' jobs will be pretty easy considering the blockers eaten up by Hamilton, fellow tackles Sebastian Joseph and Kevin Wilkins, and ends Quanzell Lambert and Kemoko Turay.

The pass defense, on the other hand, has less to like. That's the most diplomatic way to put it.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 101.1 2.79 3.34 34.7% 66.0% 23.7% 69.9 3.0% 5.1%
Rank 55 48 76 28 65 19 110 110 104
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Darius Hamilton
(2014)
DT 6'3, 283 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9881 13 38.5 5.3% 11.5 6.0 0 0 1 0
Quanzell Lambert DE 6'1, 257 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9039 12 32.5 5.0% 7.5 2.5 0 2 0 0
Julian Pinnix-Odrick DT/TE 6'5, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8748 12 26.5 4.1% 3.0 1.0 0 3 2 0
Darnell Davis, Jr. DE 6'2, 250 Jr. NR NR 12 19.5 3.0% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sebastian Joseph NT 6'4, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8131 12 18.5 2.9% 5.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Djwany Mera DE 12 16.5 2.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Kevin Wilkins NT 6'2, 295 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8344 12 11.0 1.7% 4.5 0.5 1 0 0 0
Kemoko Turay DE 6'5, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8085 11 8.5 1.3% 3.0 2.0 0 2 0 1
Jimmy Hogan DE 6'4, 255 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8224 10 3.5 0.5% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Jon Bateky DT 6'3, 270 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8296 10 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Myles Nash DE 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8622








Eric Wiafe DT 6'5, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8208
Kamaal Seymour DT 6'6, 297 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392








Willington Previlon DT 6'5, 271 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8221








Ron'Dell Carter DE 6'2, 268 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8091








7. Welcome back, Darius!

When Rutgers broke through in 2006, the Scarlet Knights ranked fifth in Def. S&P+ and featured three linemen with at least 13 tackles for loss (Eric Foster, Jamaal Westerman, Ramel Meekins). A sturdy, active defensive front has powered a few good RU defenses through the years (11th in 2011, 13th in 2012).

The line, however, struggled mightily in 2014, and the defense followed suit. And while it was decent against the run in 2015, the pass rush completely fell apart. Hamilton missed the season with a knee injury, and Turay, a 2014 breakout star in the pass-rushing department, battled injury in fall camp and never got on track. He recorded 8.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks as a freshman, but he managed only 3 and 2 in 2015.

If Hamilton and Turay are healthy, the pass rush improves by default, and the line gets quite a bit deeper. There probably isn't 2006- or 2012-caliber play here, but it appears the line will be the closest thing to a defensive strength. Linebacker is a concern -- Quentin Gause was Rutgers' best run defender and the primary reason why the Knights were 19th in stuff rate -- but the line (literally) comes first.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Steve Longa WLB 11 96.5 15.0% 5.0 2.0 0 2 2 0
Quentin Gause SLB 12 78.0 12.1% 12.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Kaiwan Lewis MLB 12 56.0 8.7% 4.0 0.0 2 0 0 0
Deonte Roberts WLB 6'1, 234 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8119 12 8.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Isaiah Johnson MLB 6'1, 231 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7923 12 5.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trevor Morris LB 6'1, 208 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7923 12 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Marquez SLB 6'1, 243 Sr. NR NR 12 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Eric Margolis SLB 6'3, 231 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 11 2.5 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Najee Clayton LB 6'1, 217 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0 0 0 0 0
Greg Jones LB 6'0, 204 Sr. NR NR
T.J. Taylor SLB 6'3, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.7993
Brandon Russell LB 6'0, 234 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7919
Solomon Manning LB 6'2, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8577
Elorm Lumor LB 6'3, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8478
Jonathan Pollock LB 5'11, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8385








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Isaiah Wharton CB 6'1, 204 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 12 47.5 7.4% 3 0 1 10 0 0
Anthony Cioffi FS 6'0, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8059 11 41.5 6.4% 3.5 1.5 4 3 0 0
Kiy Hester SS 6'0, 202 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9054 10 30.5 4.7% 1.5 0 1 5 0 0
Blessuan Austin CB 6'1, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8306 11 30.0 4.7% 2 0 1 4 1 0
Saquan Hampton FS 6'1, 199 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8344 12 26.0 4.0% 1 0 1 2 0 0
Andre Hunt SS 6'0, 200 Jr. NR NR 12 21.5 3.3% 2.5 1 1 2 0 0
Davon Jacobs SS
4 15.0 2.3% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Jarius Adams CB 5'10, 182 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8295 10 10.5 1.6% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Ronnie James CB 6'0, 196 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8211 4 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ross Taylor-Douglas
(Michigan)
DB 5'11, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8811
Isaiah Wharton CB 6'1, 204 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683
Sandy Anya CB 5'10, 188 Jr. NR NR
Charles Snorweah CB 5'10, 174 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8336
Kobe Marfo CB 5'11, 175 Jr. NR 0.8400








9. Almost everybody's back ... for better or worse

Last September's arrests wiped out any possible experience in the secondary, and you see the effects above. Four of the top five tacklers in the secondary were freshmen, the sixth was a sophomore, and two more freshmen saw time in the rotation. Even if all of those freshmen were blue-chippers, that would have resulted in breakdowns and up-and-down play. They were not all blue-chippers.

With no pass rush to fear, opponents were able to do simply nasty things to the Rutgers pass defense. They completed 67 percent of their passes on first down and 72 percent on second. Things improved at least a little bit on passing downs, but only so much.

In all, Rutgers allowed 58 passes of 20-plus yards, fifth-worst in FBS and worst among teams that only played 12 games. The Scarlet Knights ranked 128th in IsoPPP+ allowed, 128th in Passing S&P+, 127th in First Down S&P+, and 126th in Standard Downs S&P+. And that was with a semi-competent run defense.

Among the car crashes and massive breakdowns, however, these DBs did make quite a few plays on the ball. It came at too much of an expense, but each of the top six DBs defensed at least three passes, and corner Isaiah Wharton defensed 11. Four DBs also made at least two tackles for loss.

This is a pretty athletic unit, especially when you add in Michigan graduate transfer Ross Taylor-Douglas. If it sticks together, it could actually do quite a bit of damage. But when you get burned that much in one year, it's hard to imagine you improving too much the next. If Rutgers can get its pass rush back in order and raise its Passing S&P+ ranking back up to double digits, that's a good sign of things to come in 2017. Baby steps first, though.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Joey Roth 58 40.0 6 21 9 51.7%
Tim Gleeson (2014) 6'2, 200 Sr. 32 40.3 2 6 11 53.1%
Michael Cintron 6'3, 219 So. 3 51.0 0 0 0 0.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Chris Gough 55 59.6 11 5 20.0%
Kyle Federico 7 47.9 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Kyle Federico 35-38 9-11 81.8% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Janarion Grant KR 5'10, 176 Sr. 40 24.6 3
Justin Goodwin KR 5'11, 200 Sr. 4 15.3 0
Janarion Grant PR 5'10, 176 Sr. 12 13.9 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 86
Field Goal Efficiency 70
Punt Return Success Rate 12
Kick Return Success Rate 30
Punt Success Rate 102
Kickoff Success Rate 103

9. At least you've got Janarion

Rutgers was between mediocre and bad in the kicks-and-coverage department last season and now must break in new legs. Senior punter Tim Gleeson is back after dealing with a back injury, but the placekicker will be brand new.

But Rutgers still has Janarion Grant. "Dynamic" feels like an understatement in describing someone who, over three years, has averaged 24.8 yards per kick return (with four touchdowns) and 10.5 yards per punt return (with two touchdowns). He can hide a bunch of defensive efficiency issues, and he's back for one more go-round.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Washington 10 -23.6 9%
10-Sep Howard NR 43.7 99%
17-Sep New Mexico 102 8.8 69%
24-Sep Iowa 38 -7.7 33%
1-Oct at Ohio State 14 -22.9 9%
8-Oct Michigan 6 -18.9 14%
15-Oct Illinois 76 0.0 50%
22-Oct at Minnesota 42 -13.6 22%
5-Nov Indiana 56 -3.5 42%
12-Nov at Michigan State 22 -20.1 12%
19-Nov Penn State 28 -10.9 27%
26-Nov at Maryland 62 -9.5 29%
Projected wins: 4.1
Five-Year F/+ Rk -8.7% (76)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 60 / 53
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / -3.5
2015 TO Luck/Game +0.6
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 85% (81%, 90%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.9 (0.1)

10. There's potential here

Honestly, if you look at the sum of the parts, there's quite a bit to like about the Rutgers roster. Chris Laviano completed 61 percent of his passes as a sophomore, and his backup (Rettig) is a former blue-chipper. There are two steady running backs and two more with lots of potential. There are two or three steady receivers and two more with potential. Offensive line should be a strength, and defensive line might be, too.

The less said about the defensive back seven, the better, but that's still a good base of talent considering "new coach inherits demoralized, 4-8 roster" situation.

Still, the offensive personnel isn't a perfect match for the new offensive style, and the back seven of the defense might indeed still be quite poor. And with a schedule that features four top-40 opponents and trips to Washington and Ohio State in the first six weeks, those weaknesses will probably dig the Scarlet Knights a pretty big early-season hole.

For Rutgers, 2016 is about positivity and progress. Find the former, create the latter. There are quite a few seniors on this team, and it's conceivable that Ash might struggle for a couple of years before he gets the right class and unit balance. But if he can in the meantime simply establish a nice offensive identity and begin rebuilding a once-proud defense, that's something.