Jerome Washington, tight ends taking control of Rutgers receiving core
Before the season started and training camp came about, one of the more barren groups on the Rutgers football team was the tight end unit.
With Nick Arcidiacono graduating and Matt Flanagan transferring to Pitt after last season, there was room for transfer Jerome Washington and then-freshman Nakia Griffin-Stewart to step up, but it wasn't a sure thing.
At least through the first three games, that has happened.
It starts with junior Jerome Washington, who transferred to the Scarlet Knights in the summer of 2016 from Miami and is in his first year of eligibility at Rutgers. The New Jersey native has both reaped the benefits himself and sent them on to the rest of the team.
"Jerome has been a great addition to the offense," said head coach Chris Ash. "He's a great combination of a receiver and a run blocker. He can play on the line. He can flex out. He can do a lot of things for us. He's got great hands, really good route runner and really excited."
Through three games, Washington has exceeded both Arcidiacono's and Flanagan's outputs from all of last season. Arcidiacono finished 12 games last season with 10 total receptions, resulting in 1 touchdown, while Flanagan had less of an impact, catching six passes with 0 touchdowns to show for it.
With only three games in his rear view mirror, Washington has already been the beneficiary of 12 receptions — one of them for a touchdown — with 108 yards to boot. And unlike a lot of the team, his production has been spread out across all three of the fixtures so far this season, registering at least three receptions in each game. Even in only his first year of eligibility, Washington has been a definitive leader not just within his position group, but on the offense as a whole.
With the wideouts getting involved less than expected through the beginning of the season, the tight ends have been a primary course of action for graduate transfer Kyle Bolin and that starts with Washington.
Washington himself attributes that to his sound relationship with his fellow transfer.
"We always talk on the sidelines about what we can do to improve our execution and just like figuring out how we can maximize our talents," he said. "So it's definitely a good relationship."
And though Washington has featured the most at the position so far, sophomore Nakia Griffin-Stewart and fifth-year senior Myles Nash have played their roles well in both providing depth and production.
In just his first career reception in a Knights uniform last Saturday, Griffin-Stewart found himself in the endzone off of an 18-yard pass from true freshman quarterback Johnathan Lewis.
In fact, all of the receiving touchdowns for Rutgers against Morgan State came through the tight end position, as Washington nabbed a 9-yarder himself from Bolin.
Though Nash has not played as much at the position yet, his attention has been focused on both offense and defense, and his presence at the back end of the tight end rotation is incredibly valuable to a team that Ash maintains is not as deep as he would like.
But it should be emphasized that the production coming out of the group this season starts with Washington. He is tied with fifth-year senior wide receiver Janarion Grant in receptions and only trails him by five yards on the season. On a unit that was not expected to see much meaningful action and produce so efficiently — especially so early — Washington has been both the spark and the stable force setting the tone.
His contribution above all else has not gone unnoticed among the coaching staff. Ash especially has prophesied his production since the minute he stepped foot in Piscataway.
"We felt like he was going to be able to do what he's doing right now, really all through last season when we watched him on the scout team when he was ineligible to play because of the transfer," Ash said. "We really were hoping that we were going to get this type of player, so it's nice to see that it's actually turned out that way."