By Ian Berg
This past Friday Rutgers held their annual pro day where their players from the 2018 team, as well as players from past years, had the opportunity to ooh and ahh scouts from all 32 teams that were in attendance. There was a total of 21 Scarlet Knights participating in the pro day. 14 from the 2018 roster and 7 from years past.
Knights Top Prospects
Rutgers Free Safety Saquan Hampton was the Scarlet knights MVP in 2018 and received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He attended the combine in Indianapolis where he showed off his speed and explosiveness with a 4.48 forty time and jumping 10’ 4” in the broad jump. He continued to show off why he deserves to go in the early-mid rounds of the NFL draft by jumping 36.5 inches in the vertical jump. His explosiveness translates nicely to his game as he has a quick trigger that allows him to be a force in the run game and breaking on receivers like in the video below.
While running through the position drills Saquon showed good ability to back peddle open his hips, turn and run like in the video below where he opens his hips and runs with All-Big Ten wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Another Rutgers prospect to watch during their pro day was Blessuan Austin who was named 2016 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He is also another NFL prospect on the Scarlet Knights. He was considered a first or second round pick before he tore his ACL this past season against Nebraska. He participated in a limited pro day but participating at all showed great toughness and will to compete considering he is 5 months removed from surgery. He ran the forty in 4.65 and showed good explosiveness jumping 35.5” in the vertical and 10’ 3” in the broad jump. Look for him to be taken off the board on day three of the draft.
Under The Radar Prospects
Tariq Cole of Long Island was a three-year starter at left tackle for Rutgers. He was named 2016 and 2017 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He has the body of an NFL lineman measuring at 6’ 5” and 324 pounds you can tell just by looking at his frame and seeing him move that he has NFL potential. Tariq was able to bang out 27 bench press reps showing off his strength but put up below average numbers in the vertical with 25”, forty times of 5.42 which are less important for a lineman. He did have average times posting a 4.82 time in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.85 in the 3 cone drill. The Raider scouts and Giants scouts seemed very interested in Tariq as they both need line help. Tariq will fit best in a gap/power blocking scheme. Talking to sources at Rutgers Cole is very coachable. I have to brag and say I played against him in high school and he was out of shape and could hardly move at 375. If he is able to make the same improvement as he did to college he has all the tools to be an NFL caliber offensive linemen.
Kiy Hester is another Safety for the scarlet knights who has NFL potential. He was a 2017 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player. Kiy ran an average 40 time running 4.67 at 209 pounds. Yet all of his other tests came in below average showing a lack of quickness and change of direction running 7.18 in the 3 cone drills, 4.33 in 20 shuttle. He didn't participate in the Broad Jump but he jumped 30.5 in the Vertical Jump showing below average explosiveness that will be needed to be a safety at the next level. I expect him to go undrafted and be a UDFA/camp body.
The Gem In The Rough Prospect
This is my favorite part about pro days. You get to go see all of these players who didn't get their chance either on the field or at the combine to show off their skill sets. This is where guys like Alvin Kamara showed off his skills at the combine after being underused at Tennessee and where guys like Phillip Lindsay show off at their pro day where they have gone under the radar because they are undersized and don't play at a big-time program. The reason why I use running backs as my example is that Jonathan Hilliman showed up prepared to put on a show and that is exactly what he did. A graduate transfer from Boston College at 5’ 11” 216 Hilliman put up 20 bench presses and ran a 4.44 with no shirt on looking like he was chiseled by Michelangelo himself. He jumped 10 feet in the broad jump and 34.5 in the vertical showing off his explosiveness. He had a good career in a crowded backfield at Boston College being named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference third-team and the ECAC Co-Rookie of the Year his freshman year. He decided to transfer to get more touches at Rutgers but that, unfortunately, didn't work out well for him only receiving 83 carries this past year. Hilliman’s impressive numbers on his pro day got the attention of some scouts. He will be a priority UDFA that will get scooped up from a team and hopefully for his sake he finally gets in an uncrowded backfield where he can get touches and gets a chance to prove himself.
Most Intriguing Prospect
Unless you were a player for Rutgers or worked for the team in 2017 you probably have no idea about who Vance Matthews is. He was a member of the 2017 team that got a few workouts with NFL teams in 2018 but never got signed. He was back to prove himself during Rutgers pro day and that’s exactly what he did. He jumped 10’ 6” in the broad jump, with a 33.5 vertical at 6’ 2” weighing 205 pounds. I figured he was just an explosive athlete that couldn’t run or cut. I was quickly proven wrong when he ran a 4.65 forty and a 6.96 3 cone drill. His 3 cone drill which shows off his bend and change of direction would have been good enough for sixth at the NFL combine. I then figured he couldn’t run routes or catch the ball. I was proven wrong again when I saw him go through the player drills. He was cutting in and out of routes smoothly showing off his good hands snagging the ball out of the air while making a couple of tough toe dragging catches on the sidelines. I had to do some more digging on Matthews as he put up the best numbers on the day but only had four games where he had a catch at Rutgers over his career. I talked to an ex-wide receiver at Rutgers and he informed me that Matthews was a walk-on who was in an extremely talented WR class with 3 NFL wide receivers. My source went onto tell me how Matthews had a high football IQ with great ability to diagnose and read defenses coverages and possesses all the skills to succeed in the big ten but was limited in reps because of his crowded WR class. I don’t think Matthews will be an NFL player but with the rebirth of new football leagues such as the AAF and XFL. I believe that if he gains weight and gets an opportunity he can have a chance of contributing on the field in one of these leagues.