Rated a four-star prospect and the 25th ranked wide receiver in the 2012 recruiting class by the 247 Sports Composite, it wouldn't be accurate to say that Rutgers star Leonte Carroo flew under the radar. After verbally committing to Rutgers in August of 2011, Carroo wound up a member of RU's last Big East recruiting class prior to their move to the re-branded American Athletic. He also happened to be a part of former head-coach Greg Schiano's last Rutgers recruiting class, which Schiano left to take the reigns for the Tampa Buccaneers mere weeks before signing day 2012. Despite Schiano's departure, Carroo kept his pledge to the Scarlet Knights, although he also considered Cal, Boston College, and even spoke of talking to Urban Meyer.
Needless to say, Carroo's decision has worked out in spades in the three years since. And now, he might be the best wideout in the Big Ten, and if Rutgers has a shot to upset the Buckeyes this season, Carroo figures to be the reason why.
The words 'explosive' and 'dynamic' are used Ad nauseam in relation to wide receivers, but they are perfect descriptors for Carroo's style of play. Listed at 6'1, and over 200 pounds, he has ideal measureables for the position, with the film and numbers to back it up. After playing special teams exclusively as a freshman, he stepped into a starting role in 2013 and made an instant impact. In his first collegiate start, Carroo torched Fresno State for 135 yards on five catches, three of which went for touchdowns, including this acrobatic snag:
Catches like that are prevalent in Carroo's highlight film, as he not only has the speed threaten defensive backs, but can also proficiently track the ball downfield. Despite missing RU's final three games due to injury, Carroo made the most of his 28 catches, gaining 478 yards, and scoring 9 touchdowns. Carroo was explosive, if a bit inconsistent. His 52.9% catch rate wasn't great, and 20 catches and all 9 touchdowns came in only four games.
The departure of Rutgers top two receivers gave way for Carroo to emerge as Rutgers' go-to man in their inaugural Big Ten season. He more than delivered in new Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen's scheme, becoming the main threat in the nation's 15th ranked passing S&P+ unit. Carroo had twice as many targets, receptions, and yards as any other RU player in 2014. For his efforts, Carroo earned First team All-B1G honors from the media. His catch rate was still below 60 percent, but Carroo more than made up for it by gaining over 1000 yards, and averaging a spectacular 11.6 yards per target. Carroo is at his best deep downfield, but punished defenses in a variety of ways in 2014.
The aforementioned deep ball:
And showcasing great hands and athleticism:
Carroo's 19.7 yards per catch was good enough for second in the conference, behind Ohio State's Devin Smith, and ranked 2nd nationally among receivers with at least 50 receptions, behind only UCF's Breshad Perriman. But despite the breakout year and gaudy numbers, Carroo decided to return for his senior season. While that is a major positive for the team, 2015 presents a new set of challenges, with the two foremost being the development of a new starting quarterback and offensive coordinator.
After six years of playing alongside Gary Nova, (3 at Don Bosco Prep and 3 at RU) Carroo will have to get used to playing pitch and catch with someone else. He isn't worried about the shift, and expects whoever wins the job to be more than capable. The two options are redshirt sophomores Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, with Laviano emerging "a little bit ahead," after Spring practice, according to Head Coach Kyle Flood. In limited play last year, Laviano completed 11 of 28 passes for 101 yards and an interception, while Rettig redshirted after transferring from LSU. Carroo didn't participate in the RU spring game, so there wasn't a chance to view him with either quarterback, at least in a game situation.
The offensive coordinator spot is also breaking in someone new. Ben McDaniels steps in the role after serving as Rutgers' wide receivers coach last season. That experience brings a sense of continuity to the offense and McDaniels has seen first hand the important role Carroo plays in it. McDaniels was heavily involved in 3rd down game planning last season, and Carroo did some nice work on the money down, catching 13 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
Rutgers players have maintained that the offense will remain mostly the same. This particular coaching change isn't anything new for the veterans, given that McDaniels is their fourth offensive coordinator in the last four seasons. How much McDaniels trusts the new quarterback remains to be seen, but Carroo is still the offense's best option, and McDaniels would be well served to find creative and easy ways to get his star the ball.
But, even if he does, it might not be enough to match Carroo's 2013's numbers. Rutgers plays four games versus defenses that finished 2014 ranked in the top 20 of Defensive S&P+, plus strong units in Wisconsin and Michigan. That doesn't sound ideal for breaking in a starting quarterback. If the QB play is shaky, or other members of the offense don't step up, Carroo's opportunities may be limited.
The good news is that the possibility of other playmakers emerging is there. 6'6 receiver Carlton Agudosi starred in spring practice, and provides the offense a different style of wideout to attack defenses. The ground game should get a boost, as running back Paul James returns from an ACL injury that cut his 2014 season short. In 2013, James averaged 6.1 highlight yards per opportunity, and nearly put up 1000 yards of total offense. Rutgers ranked 54th in rushing S&P+ last season, and while the offensive line wasn't anything special, a healthy James takes pressure off the passing game.
Barring something drastic, Carroo will likely set the RU career receiving touchdowns record, finish in the top three in career yards, and ultimately have his name called early in next year's NFL draft. His diverse skill set opens up a lot of doors for the Rutgers offense, but will the new quarterback be able to get him the ball, and will other options step up to stop defenses from keying solely on him? And even if they do, are they good enough to match up with some of the top defenses on their schedule? With all the question marks facing Rutgers' offense, it's unlikely that Carroo matches the numbers he put up last season. The quarterback situation doesn't bode well for his efficiency numbers, and a dip in yards per catch, as well as yards per target sounds more likely than the alternative.
Despite that, Carroo is one of best receivers in the Big Ten, and a strong case can be made that he stands alone at the top. Ohio State will need to find a way to slow him down, and so will the rest of the conference. Otherwise, Rutgers could have a sneaky good offense.