In selecting the top five, we judged players based on on-the-field performances and development in practice, but limited to players who appeared in games.
Sam's take: True freshman quarterback Gary Nova – By the end of the year, Nova really started to "get it." Concepts like throwing the ball away or protecting the ball to take a sack eluded him in his first days as a starter. But by the end of the year, after losing his job and getting a chance to develop, the little things started clicking.
Brian's take: Junior WLB Khaseem Greene – He led Rutgers in tackles, as the Big East co-defensive player of the year and was seemingly everywhere, all of which should come as no surprise since he is a natural for the position, especially the way Rutgers likes to play it. Still, his season was extraordinary, and it came at a new position.
Sam's take: Sophomore defensive tackle Isaac Holmes – He battled conditioning issues early in his career but emerged as a solid backup to Scott Vallone at the nose tackle position. Look for Holmes to remain a solid part of the defensive line rotation this spring.
Brian's take: Junior CB Logan Ryan – The talent was always there, and he had opportunities in 2010 to win the job but consistency was a huge issue. But by the end of 2011 he developed into Rutgers' top cornerback, and showed he could be trusted along in coverage. He breaks on the ball quick, reacts well in breaking up passes when a receiver gets his hands on them, and improved his tackling.
Sam's take: Red-shirt freshman safety Lorenzo Waters – He went from having a lot to learn to being a top candidate to replace David Rowe in the secondary. He still needs a solid spring, competing against Wayne Warren and Rashad Knight, but has a lot of physical ability and developed well as a backup from camp to the end of the season.
Brian's take: Sophomore SLB Jamal Merrell – In the spring, he was close to an afterthought. By the time training camp took shape, he was a starter. He is long and moves well in space, which makes him ideal in coverage. He will need to get stronger to be more effective against the run, but he came out of nowhere to fight off Kevin Snyder's challenge to start and make the position one of strength the next few years.
Sam's take: Sophomore strong-side linebacker Jamal Merrell – He went from an afterthought as Ka'Lial Glaud's backup at linebacker to a 13-game starter. Though he does not fit the prototypical build of a linebacker, the converted wide receiver used his size and speed to finish eighth on the team in tackles (44) and force the most significant fumble of the season.
Brian's take: Red-shirt freshman OG Betim Bujari – He played one game as true freshman before injury knocked out the rest of his 2010 season, and he also battled an injury midway through the 2011 season. However, by the Pinstripe Bowl it was clear Bujari found his mark. He is athletic and strong, and a natural at guard. He also is adept at pulling, which works great in the pro-style offense.
Sam's take: Sophomore cornerback Logan Ryan – He went from one of four corners in the mix for a first-team spot to budding star in the secondary. Teams like North Carolina exploited Ryan's inexperience early in the season. But when Iowa State tried to do the same with top receiver Darius Reynolds two weeks ago, Ryan was having none of it. The third-year player held Reynolds to two catches, broke up a pass in the end-zone and picked off his third pass of the season.
Brian's take: Red-shirt freshman WR Brandon Coleman – He was sensation in the spring but almost fell out of the rotation early in the season. By the end of it, though, Coleman was a big-play, down-the-field threat who found his confidence and his hands. He still needs to use his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame better, but he is learning that aspect. And, he already proved he can be a huge threat in the passing game.