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Rutgers 2018: Players to Watch

Hey, Rutgers has a defense. That’s one-third of a team!

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, people, Rutgers has players to watch for 2018. The problem is only one of them plays offense.

The defense acquitted themselves fairly well last year, ranking No. 53 in S&P defense. In their four wins, they allowed only 15 points a game, and held Saquon Barkley to only 35 yards in the loss to Penn State.

Chris Ash — the co-defensive coordinator on the 2014 Ohio State National Championship squad — knows defense. Once he finds a competent passing game, the Scarlet Knights may finally go bowling for the first time in four years.

Our only offensive player on the list will be key if he’s able to discover it this year.

Tight end — Jerome Washington

Washington transferred from Miami (FL) and resembles former Hurricane Kellen Winslow in build and athleticism. Production is another thing entirely, as expected with a bottom-of-the-barrel passing offense.

At 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, he demonstrates surprising nimbleness for his size. He used that and stellar concentration to secure this catch against Nebraska.

As written before in the “Enemy’s Best Shot” series, “To manage 28 catches for 282 yards in Rutgers’ offense is almost worthy of a Heisman.”

If presumptive starting quarterback Giovanni Rescigno can get the ball to him, he provides a legitimate threat to linebackers and safeties matching up with him. More likely, he is a hidden gem for an NFL team to find in the late rounds of the draft.

Defensive end — Kevin Wilkins

As shown against Barkley and the Nittany Lions, the Scarlet Knights can match up against a good run game. Wilkins is the anchor for that.

He led all defensive linemen on the team with 44 tackles — 21 solo — with seven for loss. As Bill Connelly points out in his preview, the lack of sacks overall was more due to the coaches knowing “that any failed risk would result in more points than the offense could match.” Translation: Wilkins and company were told to react, rather than be aggressive with stunts.

At 6-foot-2, 306 pounds, he probably should be a tackle rather than an end, but for where he is now, at least the run defense is solid.

Linebacker — Trevor Morris

Morris has done yeoman’s work in the middle the last two years, accumulating 218 tackles, including 9.5 for loss.

He’s probably the only player to actually tackle someone at Ohio State, as seen in his 2016 highlights at 0:40.

The 6-foot-1, 232-pounder looks to become Rutgers’ second linebacker since the turn of the century to tally three straight 100-tackle-plus seasons (the other was Steve Longa from 2013-15) if he eclipses the century mark one more time.

Linebacker — Deonte Roberts

See above on Morris, just with slightly less stats.

Roberts neared the 100-tackle mark the last two campaigns, racking up 92 in 2016 and 96 a year ago.

He and Morris both measure around the 6-foot-1, 230-pound range and may sneak onto a pro roster with another productive season on a doomed roster.

Cornerback — Blessuan Austin

This pick isn’t only due to an amazing name. After a season-ending injury a year ago, the 6-foot-1 boundary corner figures to return to his excellent 2016 ways.

He ranked No. 4 is passes defended two years ago (15) and has secured three picks in his career.

Even without him, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann compiled a secondary that ranked top 40 on standard downs last year — basically, you had to run on early downs to have success against them.

Insert him, and the pass defense might go from simply solid to downright great.

Special addition to the list: The Piscataway Cannon Guys

With the Wolverines making the trip to Jersey this year, you want to hear the blast of cannons every time they score.

Sure, it’s just meant for the home team. It didn’t stop them from lighting it for the visitors in 2016.

Was this game actually fun?

(Note from editor Von Lozon, “Yes. Yes it was.”)