On Monday, legendary college football writer Phil Steele released his Preseason All-Big Ten teams. For many years, Steele has published arguably the best and most comprehensive college football preview magazine in the industry. The good news is that he included four Rutgers players on his all-conference teams. However, there was a glaring snub as Steele left off the most important defensive player for the Scarlet Knights in Aaron Lewis.
It was great to see defensive back Max Melton named to the Second Team by Steele. Melton was named an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last season in having 33 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. The corner was 7th in the Big Ten with 1.0 pass defended per game. He was also a standout on special teams in leading the nation with three blocked punts and recovering a fumble. He was previously named a preseason Third Team All-Big Ten selection by Athlon Sports. Rutgers would benefit greatly if Melton can have the best season of his career this fall.
Linebacker Deion Jennings was named preseason Third Team All-Big Ten, which he was also named by Athlon Sports. Jennings led the Rutgers defense last season with 91 tackles and had four games with double digit totals. He also had 8.5 tackles for loss and 6 pass breakups. Jennings was given the Homer Hazel Award as Rutgers’ MVP last season and was co-MVP of the defense along with Lewis.
Both defensive lineman Mayan Ahanotu and linebacker Tyreem Powell were named preseason Fourth Team All-Big Ten selections. Neither were selected by Athlon Sports, so it was great to see they were included by Steele. Ahanotu is a returning captain and has been a consistent presence in the trenches for Rutgers, having played in 34 straight games over the past three seasons. He had nine tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass breakup last season. Ahanotu won the Douglass A. Smith Second Effort Award this past spring as the most improved defensive player and could be poised for the best season of his career. Powell started every game last season, producing 71 tackles, six for loss and four pass breakups.
Just to make it clear, it’s refreshing that Rutgers has so many defensive players included by Steele. The Scarlet Knights went through several lean years recently when RU struggled to have any players named to these type of lists. And so my point is I don’t think Steele is showing any kind of disrespect to Rutgers in leaving Lewis off of his preseason All-Big Ten teams. I just think he made a big mistake. A really big mistake.
In fact, Steele even named Lewis Third Team All-Big Ten after last season. The league’s coaches and Pro Football Focus did the same last fall, while the media named him an honorable mention selection. The best transfer of Schiano 2.0, was named to Athlon’s Preseason Second Team All-Big Ten last month. He was Rutgers’ best defensive player. last season and was drawing double and triple teams at times in November. The defensive end had 55 tackles including eight for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. His consistency showed in having a tackle for loss in seven games and having at least five total tackles in five games.
Lewis was the eighth highest graded edge rusher in college football last season by Pro Football Focus. While he was graded fourth best in the Big Ten by PFF, he is the second highest graded edge rusher returning in 2023.
The idea that there are eight better edge rushers in the Big Ten heading into this season seems hard to fathom. Not to mention in my opinion, Lewis is arguably the best player in the Rutgers program. At the end of the day, this really doesn’t matter. However, Lewis deserves better and ultimately has the chance to show how good he is in the season ahead. His performance will have a great deal to do with whether the Rutgers defense can take another step forward in the 2023 campaign.
In addition, Wesley Bailey was left off and is a minor snub after a breakthrough season last fall. He was named Preseason Fourth Team All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports.
Training camp is expected to begin for Rutgers in early August.
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