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Player to Watch: Rutgers Scarlet Knights WR Janarion Grant

Runner. Receiver. Returner. He’s a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey.

NCAA Football: Howard at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Before we dive-in to this week’s Player to Watch, I want to express my gratitude to all of you for your support in reading my Message to Hawkeye Nation that posted on Monday morning.

That being said, coming off a good performance makes this a classic letdown spot for me. It’s also Rutgers, so that makes it even worse. I’ll try my best, but I’m not promising anything.

B1G play is finally here. It’s time to get back on the horse. Iowa gets a fresh start this week, and they’ll need to regain their focus in order to contain this week’s Player to Watch.

Name: Janarion Grant (#1)

Year: Senior

Position: Wide Receiver

New Mexico v Rutgers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Despite playing in every game in 2015, Grant only accounted for 352 yards receiving and 80 yards rushing. However, the changes made to the Rutgers offense under first-year head coach Chris Ash have caused Grant to be a bit of a revelation, and the players in the Iowa locker room have noticed. Robe Howe from HawkeyeNation.com had a chance to discuss the week’s opponent with Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann, who certainly isn’t overlooking Janarion Grant:

Niemann is right. Through just three games in 2016, Grant has proven to be a threat to opposing teams as a receiver, as a runner, and as a returner.

2016 statistics

Receiving: 15 receptions, 112 yards, 7.5 average

Rushing: 15 rushes, 143 yards, 9.5 average, 3 TD’s

Kickoff Returns: 6 returns, 195 yards, 32.5 average, 1 TD

Punt Returns: 7 returns, 112 yards, 16.0 average, 1 TD

Yes, that is just the year 2016. Grant has pumped out 5 touchdowns, including 2 touchdowns coming from punt/kick returns.

It will be interesting to see how Iowa decides to handle this guy. Considering the Hawkeyes have historically had a difficult time defending players who can both run and catch the ball, those numbers are a bit concerning to me. Luckily, Iowa has revelation of their own at place-kicker. With Ron Coluzzi literally knocking kickoffs through the uprights, Iowa should be able to avoid having to defend against a potentially huge kickoff return.

I think the difficulty will come in punt coverage and defense. The last time Iowa faced a dynamic player who was a returner, runner, and receiver...he ran for 172 yards on 18 carries, caught 4 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and returned 1 punt for a 63-yard touchdown.

That player’s name?

Christian McCaffrey.

No, I am not suggesting that Janarion Grant is the equivalent of Christian McCaffrey. Not even close. However, I am saying that Iowa needs to be careful with how they choose to defend Grant. No matter where he lines up, Grant will be a threat to the Hawkeyes. They’ve stepped onto the field ill-prepared for a similar kind of player before, and they lost the Rose Bowl Game because of it.

Can Iowa learn from their lackluster (to say the least) performance on New Years Day? Similar to Stanford, the Scarlet Knights should be able to utilize their man as both a playmaker and a decoy at the line of scrimmage, but the Hawkeyes will need to keep an eye on him on every snap. Assigning one of their linebackers that has a little speed to stalk Grant could be the answer. This could be Niemann, who’s injury restrictions in the Rose Bowl prevented the Hawks from taking this approach, but I think he is the player that can effectively contain Grant on Saturday.

Good thing he has been studying how to do it.