Rutgers hopes to end NFL Draft shortage
By EVAN BRUNO
College Contributor Network
After the 2013 NFL Draft concluded, The Rutgers football program earned bragging rights that not even Southeastern Conference powerhouses could boast about on the recruiting trails. Seven former Scarlet Knights were selected in the 2013 draft, the most of any program in the country.
Cornerback Logan Ryan and strong safety Duron Harmon were third round picks by the New England Patriots. The Chicago Bears drafted linebacker Khaseem Greene in the fourth round and in the seventh round, three ex-Knights were picked up.
The Washington Redskins chose running back Jawan Jamison, the Patriots drafted linebacker Steve Bearharnais, and corner back Marcus Cooper was selected by the San Francisco 49ers.
Since that record breaking draft, Rutgers has been in a drought. No players from the program were drafted in 2014. With the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago set to begin on Thursday evening, the dry spell for Rutgers may come to an end.
Several prospects have caught the attention of NFL scouts after solid play this season. Rutgers was able to hold its own in its inaugural campaign in the Big Ten Conference with an 8-5 record and a victory at the Quick Lane Bowl over North Carolina. The program's success bolstered the attention of several draft hopefuls.
Tyler Kroft has by far garnered the most attention. The 6-foot-6, 240 pound tight end has developed into one of the most complete players at the position in just two years as a starter. In the 2013 season, Kroft earned first-team all American Athletic Conference honors as a sophomore. He hauled in 43 passes for 573 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest knock on Kroft in 2013 was his struggles as a blocker.
Soon after, Kroft silenced the doubters. He bulked up for the 2014 season and worked extensively on his blocking skills. Although his blocking was now up to par, his offensive numbers did not improve last year as he was often blanketed by more than one defender in most games. He caught 24 passes for 269 yards and averaged 11.2 yards per reception. Kroft failed to reach the endzone in 2014 with no scores. Although he is not the top-rated tight end in this year's draft, Kroft should be selected in the third or fourth round.
Michael Burton was the heart and soul of the Rutgers offense in his four years "on the banks." Last season, Burton was one of the best fullbacks in the Big Ten and led a rushing attack that averaged 162.6 yards per game. At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, Burton is a bulldozer of a blocker and also good pass catcher out of the backfield, a skill valued by many NFL teams.
Throughout his career, Burton had 47 receptions for 401 yards and three scores. Unfortunately for Burton and other players at the position, fullbacks are no longer huge commodities at the NFL level because the league has become so pass oriented. With that in mind, Burton will likely be a 6th or 7th round selection at best.
Wide receiver Andrew Turzilli has garnered interest due to his size. At 6-foot-3, many NFL teams like Turzilli as a red zone threat at the professional level. He also showed serious deep threat ability at Rutgers in 2014 with 10 receptions for 347 yards and four touchdowns. Turzilli averaged 34.7 yards per catch, the most of any wide receiver in the country.
Turzilli jumped onto the radars of the New York Giants and the New York Jets. He should be drafted in the 7th round or signed as an undrafted free agent.
Quarterback Gary Nova's career as a Scarlet Knight is best described as a mixed bag. During his freshman season, Nova threw for 11 scores and split playing time with teammate Chas Dodd. In 2012, Nova threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Nova started all 13 games and led Rutgers to an appearance at the Russell Athletic Bowl.
But things changed in 2013 as Nova was benched in the middle of the season in favor of Dodd, after turning the ball over 14 times in just 10 starts. With his dream of reaching the NFL slipping away, Nova re-tooled his game during the offseason to prepare for his final year at Rutgers in 2014.
By revamping his mechanics, throwing motion and learning to become a better decision maker, Nova had a breakout campaign in his senior year throwing for 2,851 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week twice and set the school record for touchdowns in a career with 71.
Nova also broke the school record for longest completion with a 93 yard touchdown strike to Turzilli against Tulane this past September. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing at 220 pounds, Nova has the size to play at the next level. He has a strong arm and can make every throw. Nova also is deceivingly fast and rushed for three scores on the ground last season including a 15 yard rushing touchdown against Penn State.
After a strong showing at Rutgers pro day in March, Nova gained interest from the Jets and Giants. Both organizations invited Nova to workout at its respective pro days. Nova will likely be selected in the seventh round or as a free agent.
Kroft, Burton, Turzilli, and Nova give the Birthplace of College Football the best chance to end its draft shortage. Kroft is definitely a lock to be selected while Burton, Turzilli, and Nova could be picked in late rounds. All of them will receive camp invites along with former teammates strong safety Lorenzo Waters, guard Kaleb Johnson and center Betim Bujari if they are not drafted.
Evan Bruno is a freshman at Rutgers University. He works as a staff writer for his school newspaper the Daily Targum covering Rutgers athletics. Evan is from New Jersey and is a passionate fan of many New York sports teams. Follow him on Twitter: @evancb55