Our countdown of Roma's top U23 prospects took a bit of a backseat to our season previews and the tail end of the transfer market, but we're jumping right back into things with one of the club's newest assets, former Stuttgart defender Antonio Rudiger.
Who Is He?
Rudiger is a 22-year-old manchild, standing at nearly 6'3". Born in Berlin to a German father and a Sierra Leonean mother, Rudiger was snapped up by Borussia Dortmund when he was only 15-years-old. While Rudiger wasn't ultimately meant for BvB, Stuttgart snapped him up in 2011, making his professional debut in January of 2012.
Rudiger would go on to make 66 appearances for Stuttgart, including an impressive 30 league starts during the 2012-2013 season. Rudiger's domestic performances at such a young age didn't go unnoticed on the national scene either, as he was given his first caps last October during Germany's Euro 2016 qualification campaign.
Since then, Rudiger has suffered a spate of injuries, starting in December of 2014, which kept him sidelined for nearly five months. Though Rudiger eventually returned to the pitch late in the spring, he has suffered a few minor setbacks which will see the start of his Roma career delayed several weeks.
What Can He Do?
Well, we might as well start with the obvious, he's a physical specimen. Not only is Rudiger tall and pretty well sculpted, he's a phenomenal athlete for a guy his size, as evidenced by his spot appearances at fullback. While he sometimes relies too heavily on these tools to overcome his still nascent understanding of the game, he has proven to be prolific and pretty efficient in breaking up attacks.
During his lone season as a full-time pro, Rudiger amassed an amazing 108 headers, winning 55% of all aerial duels for Stuttgart in 2013-2014, gross statistics that exceeded Roma's central pairing, Leandro Castan and Mehdi Benatia, during that same season. Despite the total haul Rüdiger needs to improve his anticipation in these situations; a kid his size should win closer to 60% of aerial duels, but he's certainly off to a good start.
At this point in his development, Rudiger needs to improve his tackling efficiency, maintain focus and improve his understanding of the game; deficiencies common among young defenders encountering players older and more skilled than them for the first time in their careers.
What Can He Become?
At this point in his development, Rüdiger simply needs to prove he can stay on the pitch and build off his impressive debut as a first team footballer two years ago. Given that Roma is prepared to sink potentially €13 million in him, we can presume his road to recovery is relatively clear.
So, once that day comes, Rüdiger has the makings of an absolute wrecking ball. Blessed with size, speed and freakish athleticism, Rüdiger should be able to keep up with virtually any attacker, while his ability in the air should help Roma control the six-yard box like never before (though he does need to anticipate and become more efficient in this regard), and if his ability to read the game ever catches up with his physical attributes, he can be the type of player to single handedly snuff out an attack, while his sound passing and quick feet should enable him to contribute to buildup play.
Rüdiger may never be the world's foremost central defender, but he profiles as the sort of guy you can pencil into the lineup for a decade, helping the club reach greater heights thanks to his size, skill and intimidating presence.
Ultimately, Joachim Low's comparison to Jerome Boateng might be prophetic. Though he's comparatively rawer at this stage in his career, if Rüdiger can mirror Boateng's career, Roma will have an incredibly strong central pairing between Rüdiger and Kostas Manolas.
The first step for Roma, of course, is getting him back on the pitch and acclimated to Serie A.