In Knights Under Lights, The Daily Targum looks at players who distinguished themselves during their time on the Banks.
It was just last year when Rutgers fans were watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Christian Izien make big defensive plays on the Banks. Izien played for the Scarlet Knights for five seasons, from 2018 to 2022, and was Rutgers' starting safety for the final three seasons of his collegiate career.
Izien entered the draft after the 2022 season but went undrafted. After the draft, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. And after a strong preseason, he won the starting nickel cornerback job. It was a remarkable achievement as an undrafted free agent.
Many pundits and fans were unsure of what to expect from Izien in his first career start against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, but suffice it to say, he outperformed everyone's expectations.
The former Knight was everywhere for Tampa Bay, serving as a Blitzer off the edge and in coverage in the open field. Izien had his first impact play late in the first quarter, making an impressive tackle on rookie wideout Jordan Addison on third down to force Minnesota to punt the ball.
Izien's next big play came in the final seconds of the second quarter and helped keep the game tied heading into halftime.
In what appeared to be the half's closing drive, the Buccaneer's defense found themselves backed against their own goal line and about to give up points to the Vikings. That is until Izien made one of the most impressive reads of his career.
While covering Minnesota wide receiver K.J. Osborn, Izien opened his hips and broke on a well-thrown ball from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Though he arrived a step late, Izien was still able to snatch the pigskin right out of Osborn's hands at the goal line for an interception. He returned the pick for 14 yards before being tackled down.
Izien would add a pass breakup to his gaudy box score, finishing with three tackles, one pass deflection and one interception. Thanks, in part, to Izien's defensive efforts, the Buccaneers got an upset win over the Vikings.
Rutgers fans have grown accustomed to Izien's timely heroics as he headlined a revamped defensive unit following the return of head coach Greg Schiano. When Schiano arrived and Izien became a full-time starter, the Knights ranked 82, 56 and 95 on defense from 2020 to 2022. The year prior, under former head coach Chris Ash, Rutgers ranked 123 of 130 qualified teams in total defense.
The stability Schiano has brought to Rutgers' defense cannot be understated, but having a veteran defensive back like Izien made things easier.
Izien started his collegiate career playing special teams as a freshman. Izien began playing defensive back as a sophomore, earning the starting strong safety position halfway through the season and never looking back.
As a junior, Izien totaled four interceptions in just nine games, which was tied for third in the Big Ten. Though Izien would not get another interception in his final two seasons, he would prove to be an effective nickel cornerback and a strong tackler. In his final two seasons, he racked up an impressive 156 total tackles, 96 solo tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss.
The former three-star recruit was named to the honorable mention All-Big Ten Team in his final three seasons on the Banks.
Heading into the NFL Draft, Izien was given a prospect grade of 5.62 out of 8. Though he was projected to be a practice squad player, Izien has been proving doubters wrong since the beginning of training camp.
Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles' early faith in the former Knight has already paid off in a big way and will likely continue to benefit Bowles' defense.
Time will only tell just how bright the former Rutgers star can shine as a professional football player, but he is off to a fast start.
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