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Rutgers has opportunity to market to wide receivers in transfer portal



Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

With spring camp now complete for Rutgers football, a major priority needs to be addressed with a position of concern. While there are 15 wide receivers on the current roster, only two have more than two career receptions at the FBS level. That reality exists for several reasons.

Rutgers relied heavily on its top three receivers last season in Sean Ryan, Shameen Jones and Aron Cruickshank. The trio caught 84 combined receptions last season, accounting for 50% of all completed passes. They also combined for 1,077 receiving yards, which was 58.3% of the entire team’s total. RU averaged just 154 yards passing last season, but the three former players averaged 89 receiving yards per game. All three had big moments at times, but they are all gone now after exhausting their eligibility.

Recruiting in recent years at the position was a struggle under former offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson. And with new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca not being hired until January, Rutgers missed out on most of the first transfer portal cycle.

The most experienced returning receiver on this season’s roster is Isaiah Washington, who joined the program during the Chris Ash era. In 45 games over four seasons, Washington has 49 career catches for 606 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, his season bests are 19 catches in 2021 and 272 receiving yards in 2019. He had just 3 catches for 59 yards and a score last season. Inconsistency and ball protection have been issues in his Rutgers career.

The second most experienced receiver is Chris Long. In 23 career games, he has 15 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown, all of which occurred last season. There is belief that Long can make a big jump this season after showing his big play ability in flashes last season.

The only other receivers on the roster who have registered catches at Rutgers are Christian Dremel (2 catches, 25 yards), Max Patterson (2 catches, 6 yards), Rashad Rochelle (1 catch, -2 yards) and Nasir Montgomery (1 catch, 6 yards). The good news is these three do have potential to increase their production in the fall. Dremel was named the most improved offensive player this spring. Patterson stood out in the Scarlet-White Game with two touchdown catches. Rochelle has a lot of potential and could become a playmaker out of the slot. Montgomery is not projected on the two deep as of now but could become a bigger contributor on special teams.

One newcomer who the staff hope can become a major contributor next season is Naseim Brantley. He transferred in soon after Ciarrocca was hired in January. Last season, he led Western Illinois with 53 catches and for 893 yards and nine touchdowns. He registered four 100+ yard games in total while averaging 89.5 receiving yards in 10 games and 16.9 yards per reception. Previously, he was a First-Team All-NEC selection at Sacred Heart. He didn’t play this spring as he’s recovering from an ankle injury. However, Brantley is expected to be ready to go for training camp and should compete for a starting role.

In addition, Gunnison Bloodgood transferred in this past January as well from FCS school Morehead State. Joining as a preferred walk-on, he totaled 25 receptions for 305 yards and a touchdown in 11 games last season. Whether he can make his way up the depth chart remains to be seen. Sophomores Fitzroy Ledgister, Jordan Smikle and Bryce Kissi round out the bottom of the group.

Four intriguing freshmen join the mix for next season. Dylan Brathwaite showed off his breakaway speed in the spring game on Saturday and had one catch. Ian Strong and Davoun Fuse are a pair of 6’4″ athletic receivers who Rutgers hope to develop over time. Ofurie brings much needed speed as well.

A real positive is that head coach Greg Schiano brought in Dave Brock as wide receivers coach. His experience is top notch having developed Marques Colston at Hofstra, Hakeem Nicks at North Carolina and Jordy Nelson at Kansas State as more recently coaching Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and former Rutgers standout Mohamed Sanu with the Atlanta Falcons.

During spring camp, Brock said “I think the guys are working really hard, and we’re just trying to develop the group and everything’s ground up. We’re trying to do a really good job of evaluating each person individually and then kind of the selective room to kind of see where we are.”

He added, “We’re going to put ourselves in a position to develop the players that are here and get them in a position to play at a high level so we can win. That’s the challenge, that’s the goal. I think that ultimately will be the result.”

Despite having the right coaches in place, at the end of the day the offense needs multiple playmakers. While the potential is there for several receivers to step up this fall, Rutgers would be taking a big gamble in relying on that possibility alone. With spring now over along with Ciarrocca and Brock in place, it’s time to act. Schiano indicated in an appearance last week on the Big Ten Network that adding to the position through the portal before next season is possible.

“Young but talented – got a bunch of young guys,” Schiano said when asked about the wide receiver group. “We might do a little bit in the portal. We have one already, may end up getting another one or two. But it’s just really until the young guys grow up. And I think they’re growing fast.”

Schiano was more clear on Saturday following the spring game, although he didn’t recite the need at receiver specifically.

“I can’t really get into that right now,” he stated. “But I think you guys kind of know what we’re trying to do, but that’s kind of private,” Schiano emphasized. “We are going to do everything we can.”

It’s fair to think along with his comments on BTN that doing “everything we can” includes prioritizing the need for a proven wide receiver. And that’s the positive that Rutgers can market to potential transfer portal candidates.

Any receivers they target would have the opportunity to carve out a major role next season. And Rutgers can use past history to show it’s possible. Both Sean Ryan in his one season and Aron Cruickshank in three seasons became major contributors. They transferred in from West Virginia and Wisconsin, respectively. Not to mention having the chance to play for such a well regarded receivers coach as Brock, there is plenty to like for players who are looking for a fresh start. Even though Ciarrocca’s offense will likely be run heavy and the quarterback situation is still in progress, Rutgers needs playmakers in the pass game. Obviously, program fit is always important, but marketing the opportunity to step in day one and play a big role is key in finding proven receivers looking for a new home.

The rest of the offseason is critical for the Rutgers offense to take necessary steps forward before the 2023 season begins. With a schedule that includes many winnable home games, a strong start this fall is crucial to having a successful season. Obviously having current receivers develop as contributors is necessary and a goal. However, adding one or two established receivers who can potentially fill big roles for the offense as well is a key part in it all coming together for the Scarlet Knights.

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  1. BataliBoli98

    May 3, 2023 at 11:25 am

    I just wish that it isn’t going to be such a hard sell. Come to our program that will assuredly look to be run heavy and without a proven QB. At least last year the intrigue of Wimsatt could be a selling point. After watching his tape there is no way that a legit portal WR would feel all that confident. That said, it is obviously worth the effort since what we have returning is not too inspiring. Go RU!

  2. Henry Rutgers

    May 3, 2023 at 11:52 am

    If I had seen dropped balls that should have been caught, I would be more concerned. I went to one practice and the spring game so you may have better insight than me. I was happy to see the catchable balls caught.

    It seemed to me that we had a lot of dropped passes last year and rarely went across the middle or to the tight ends. With an improved o-line and a new offensive system the talent may be on the sideline already. I get that if you go by the stat sheet, it’s an area of concern though.

    • BataliBoli98

      May 3, 2023 at 2:25 pm

      Yes — the seam pass was almost non-existent. The vast majority of passes were quick hitters to the perimeter. I also hope that with a healthy Wimsatt that they roll the pocket more often and if the pass isn’t there have him run for 4 to 5 yards and live to fight another day.

      • thevinman

        May 4, 2023 at 12:15 pm

        A big part of the lack of over the middle passing ans short dump offs to the side was a lack of TEs.

  3. pj43

    May 8, 2023 at 4:04 pm

    All good points in the comments. I’m thinking that the OC will emphasize Brown in the run game (assuming he’s healthy) and Wimsatt in the RPO while using that to implement a mainly quick short route passing game that doesn’t require the OL to be exposed to too much deep pass blocking responsibility or Wimsatt to have to make the accurate deep throw. My bet is that he’ll find an effective TE option on this roster to be a primary target for his QB. I’ll say it again – I believe there’s young talent here & the experienced coaching staff now in place to teach & develop it. But it’s a lot to ask for all of that to come together this season.

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