Projecting Rutgers’ 2023 depth chart with Northwestern kickoff looming

10-13 minutes 8/27/2023
Football season has officially arrived.
Rutgers broke training camp on Saturday and entered into game-prep mode, with its season opener against Northwestern at SHI Stadium coming in seven days. The Scarlet Knights have spent the past eight months preparing themselves for the Sept. 3rd battle, establishing the pecking order of their roster in preparation for a crucial 2023 season for head coach Greg Schiano and company.
Schiano said Thursday that there are still some ongoing position battles, namely in the “inside of the offensive line,” as camp came to a close. Even if decisions at those positions are made by the start of this week, everyone outside the Hale Center will not discover the pecking order at those positions or most others until Sunday: neither Rutgers nor Northwestern are expected to publicly release an official depth chart this week ahead of the contest.
So we decided to take a crack at making our own.
NJ Advance Media put together an inexact and unofficial projection of where the Scarlet Knights stand entering the 2023 season, with a depth chart representing a scenario in which the entire roster is healthy and the Scarlet Knights have every current player at their disposal.
For our offensive projection, we will use a formation with one tight end, one running back and three wide receivers, one of the many personnel groupings at offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s disposal that we chose for the purpose of our exercise due to its simplicity, not because of anything the Scarlet Knights showed during training camp.
Defensively, Rutgers lines up with five defensive backs when opponents play with three or more receivers. We’ll stick with that 4-2-5 formation for purposes of this preseason depth chart and consider each position group on a rotational basis.
Quarterback: Gavin Wimsatt | Evan Simon | Ajani Sheppard
Normally the most intriguing position to monitor at Rutgers, the quarterback battle was settled before the Scarlet Knights stepped foot inside the Marco Battaglia Practice Complex for their first practice of training camp. Schiano anointed Wimsatt as the starter publicly during July’s Big Ten Media Days event in July, leaving no doubt on who would be leading Ciarrocca’s offense come September.
With a little over a week remaining until the start of the season, Schiano is ‘pleased’ with the progress he made during training camp.
“I’m pleased to see that he understands things better,” Schiano said. “When you understand it better, you see it better; when you see it better, you make decisions more quickly. So what I see is a guy who is much more locked into what he has to do in his role and executing it more quickly.”
Running back: Sam Brown OR Aaron Young OR Kyle Monangai OR Al-Shadee Salaam
Brown has the makings of a breakout star in the league, something clear to anyone who watched his eye-catching performances as a true freshman a year ago. If he can stay healthy and avoid another major injury, like the foot injury that kept him out of the final five games, Brown has the size, vision and talent to be one of the best running backs Rutgers has had this century.
But Brown cannot do it alone, cannot be depended on to carry the ball 30-plus times every game. Luckily for the Philadelphia native, he is part of arguably the deepest room on Rutgers’ roster. Monangai is an experienced back who runs hard between the tackles, Young is a third-down back who can catch the ball out of the backfield and Salaam is a shifty runner who has shown he can be effective as a change-of-pace back.
Tight End: Johnny Langan OR Shawn Bowman | Victor Konopka OR Mike Higgins
Rutgers bolstered the struggling position through the transfer portal in the summer with Bowman, a transfer from Maine who should add some bulk and blocking ability. It will need him to live up to his billing, sixth-year senior Langan to have his best year of college football yet and Konopka to stay healthy and take a step forward after he recovered from the injury that kept him out of the final nine games of the 2022 season.
Wide receiver:
JaQuae Jackson | Naseim Brantley
Chris Long | Isaiah Washington
Christian Dremel | Ian Strong
First-year position coach Dave Brock has a lot of holes to fill, with Rutgers losing its top three receivers from last season — Sean Ryan, Shameen Jones and Aron Cruickshank — to graduation, the trio taking 1,077 receiving yards (58.3% of the team’s production) and seven touchdowns (63.6%) with them.
Rutgers added two lower-level transfers out of the portal in Brantley, who shined at the FCS level, and Division II standout JaQuae Jackson. The Scarlet Knights need solid production from both newcomers, and they would really benefit from either stepping up and becoming a primary target for Wimsatt to connect with.
Rutgers will need to get the same from its returning contributors, with any combination of Long, Washington, Dremel, Rashad Rochelle or Max Patterson needing to show significant improvement from their prior contributions.
With plenty of playing time up for grabs, wide receiver is a position where young players can carve out a role for themselves. Ciarrocca noted the Scarlet Knights have a trio of true freshmen at the position — Dylan Braithwaite, Davoun Fuse, Ian Strong — who will look to get snaps on the field in their first college football season, with the latter making the best case among the group thus far.
Offensive line:
LT: Hollin Pierce | Taj White
OG: Curtis Dunlap | Taj White
OC: Ireland Brown | Gus Zilinskas
OG: Kobe Asemoah OR Mike Ciaffoni
RT: Tyler Needham OR Kamar Missouri
The unit that will dictate the success of the Scarlet Knights offense in Ciarrocca’s first season back is still a work in progress.
Though there are positions seemingly solidified — left tackle, left guard, center — there are still battles being fought with 10 days to go until the season opener. Namely, Needham and Missouri are duking it out to take Pierce’s old spot and Asemoah and Ciaffoni are fighting for the spot alongside him.
“We’d like to play just five eventually, but if it’s too close to call, we’ll play more than that,” Schiano said Thursday. “We haven’t made any decisions on that stuff.”
Defensive ends: Wesley Bailey | Aaron Lewis
Rotational players: Mo Toure, Jordan Thompson, Kenny Fletcher
There should be a high ceiling and big expectations with both starters returning. Bailey and Lewis, who combined for 16 tackles for loss and five sacks last season, should be viewed as two of the Big Ten’s premier pass-rushing duos. According to advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, Lewis was one of the Big Ten’s highest-graded players at the position after producing 40 pressures and a 21.4 win percentage in 11 games.
Rutgers also should benefit in the pass-rushing department with the return of senior Mohamed Toure, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. A hybrid edge rusher who officially lands on the roster at linebacker, Toure led the team in sacks in 2020 and 2021. He’ll work into the mix at defensive end as well, and there’s no denying his return or positional ambiguity should provide a major boost.
“He’s such a multi-dimensional player,” Schiano said about Toure. “It wasn’t only on defense and third down. He’s the best left guard in the country on punt team. This guy is a phenomenal player, and he’s bigger, he’s stronger than we was. I’m really excited about getting Mo back. He was a huge loss.”
Defensive tackles: Mayan Ahanotu | Kyonte Hamilton
Rotational players: Isaiah Iton, Rene Konga, Troy Rainey
Rutgers made a three-tackle rotation work well last season and should do so once again. Who officially gets the starts, on paper, will be an interesting storyline to follow. Hamilton started 11 games at tackle and one on the outside last season. Ahanotu, meanwhile, was credited for one start but logged a high snap total in the rotation. That’s why the addition of Isaiah Iton, an Ole Miss transfer, has bolstered the depth and given the Scarlet Knights a similar look to 2021 for the interior of its defensive line.
Linebackers: Deion Jennings | Tyreem Powell
A position of need turned into a position of strength last season.
After losing Toure and Moses Walker to season-ending injuries, Jennings and Powell answered the call as first-time starters. Jennings led the team with 91 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Powell registered 71 tackles, three sacks and had at least four stops in every game. The duo returns alongside Walker as the team’s three main linebackers.
Cornerbacks: Max Melton | Robert Longerbeam
Rotational players: Kessawn Abraham, Eric Rogers, Charles Amankwaa
It took one play for this position group to provide its first season-defining play in 2022. One snap into the season-opening game against Boston College, Longerbeam hit quarterback Phil Jurkovec from his blindside and stripped the ball, making defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak’s first defensive play call a gutsy — and successful — one.
That’s why the trust is clearly there for the unit’s top two starters.
Melton, who has started 21 consecutive games dating back to 2021, returns as one of the Scarlet Knights’ most sought-after NFL prospects. On the opposite side, Longerbeam started every game when healthy and was impactful. Abraham made a start in Longerbeam’s injury absence. Two other names on this list are transfers who should add to the mix. Rogers arrived from Northern Illinois while Amankwaa transferred in from Akron.
Safeties: Desmond Igbinosun | Michael “Flip Dixon | Shaquan Loyal
Rotational players: Thomas Amankwaa, Joe Lusardi, Elijuwan Mack
Rutgers needs to replace two of its longest-tenured players in the back end after losing Christian Izien and Avery Young to NFL rosters. The duo appeared in 95 games as Scarlet Knights so the new faces will look to fill an existing void in experience.
Dixon, a transfer from Minnesota, has Big Ten experience, as does Igbinosun, who started nine games a season ago. Loyal made a start last season but expects to play a larger role, especially against the run.

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