The top 10 Rutgers football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. DT Darius Hamilton, Sr.
The anchor of the run defense and the leader of the team was out for almost all of last season with a knee injury. At 6-3 and 283 pounds he’s got good size and excellent quickness, but he’s not a massive presence on the interior – that’s not his job. Two years ago he came up with 45 tackles with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, turning into the team’s leading pass rusher, and now he’s healthy again. His injury turned into Rutgers’ gain – at least now – going down in the first game of last year and getting enough time to heal up and return to be the star of this year’s defensive front.
2. WR Janarion Grant, Sr.
A decent receiver, the 5-11, 176-pound Florida native finished third on the team with 35 catches for 352 yards and a score after coming up with 312 yards on 25 grabs as a sophomore, but his real worth is as a next-level return man.
Insanely quick with a freakish knack for making his first man miss, he’s been a three-year star in both phases, averaging 10.5 yards per career punt return – averaging 13.9 yards per try with a score last season – and averaging 24.9 yards per career kickoff return with three touchdowns last season. With his skills, he’ll be used even more in all phases with more potential as a runner and receiver.
3. OG Chris Muller, Sr.
It’s a line that needs a ton of help and has to find a way to rebuild and start to do more, but Muller is the all-star guard to work the ground game around. A starter in almost every game from the start, the 6-6, 319-pound anchor has the build of a tackle and was expected to be one out of high school, but he became a guard right away and hasn’t moved out of the spot on the right side.
4. CB Isaiah Wharton, Soph.
The secondary needs a ton of help and a whole lot more production, but Wharton had his moments as a redshirt freshman coming up with 57 tackles with ten broken up passes and a pick. A quick, great-sized 6-1, 204-pound athlete on the outside, he needs to continue to grow into one of the team’s key defenders to work around over the next few years.
5. QB Chris Laviano, Jr.
Locked into a quarterback battle that never settled itself last year and should still be a question mark throughout this season, he’s a smart, good veteran with 6-2, 214-pound size and a big enough arm to stretch a defense. While he didn’t do much of it last season, he’s a good enough runner to get on the move and not be a sitting duck, but his real worth is for the passing game completing 61% of his passes for 2,247 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. So what’s the problem? Interceptions. He threw 12, spreading them throughout the year. But he was good enough to hit the 200-yard mark six times closing out with a 344-yard, four score day against Maryland.
6. RB Robert Martin, Jr.
The Scarlet Knights needed help for a woeful running game, and Martin provided it with a team-leading 763 rushing yards and six scores as a part of the rotation. While he wasn’t a regular starter, he was effective whenever he got his chances averaging 5.4 yards per carry using his 5-11, 202-pound size to get physical when needed. Good for double-digit carries in just about every game, he came up with 102 yards against Kansas and dominated Indiana with 124 yards and three scores on just 17 carries, but he couldn’t find a ton of room to move over the last six games.
7. QB Hayden Rettig, Jr.
The former LSU transfer was supposed to step in and take the offense by storm, but it hasn’t happened yet. The 6-3, 215-pounder from Los Angeles sat out all of 2014 but couldn’t take over the starting job last year, starting just once and finishing with 233 yards completing 14-of-25 passes with two scores on the season. A big-time recruit for LSU, he has the size, the five-star skills, and the next-level arm to grow into a statistical star, but he hasn’t been consistent enough in practices and hasn’t been able to push out Chris Laviano.
8. RB Josh Hicks, Jr.
At 5-10 and 204 pounds he’s got nice size and the style to blast away when needed, but he’s a speedster. The former Florida high school sprinter started out his Rutgers career doing a little of everything, and was even thought about as a possible safety, but he turned into a full-time running back by the end of his 2014 season closing out with 202 yards and a score in the bowl win over North Carolina. Last year he ran for 674 yards and four scores, but two of them came in the opener against Norfolk State, and two more came in the win over Kansas. Eventually, though, he gave way to Robert Martin and the workload diminished.
9. DE Quanzell Lambert, Sr.
The defensive front has a desperate need for more of a pass rush, and Lambert has to help try to provide it. How bad were the Scarlet Knights at getting into the backfield with Darius Hamilton out hurt? Lambert led the team with 2.5 of the team’s 14 sacks. A better run defender than a playmaker in the backfield, he came up with 43 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss in what was a bit of a breakthrough season for him, but the team needs even more.
10. S Anthony Cioffi, Sr.
A corner early in his career and moved to safety coming up with a team-high four picks with 45 tackles. Far more effective at his new position, he’s got that corner speed at safety with 60 tackles in his first year and two picks on the outside, but now it’s his job to be more of a difference-maker for a woeful secondary. He’s not going to be a thumper, but at 6-0 and 200 pounds he’s got decent size and took to his new position.