By noon on National Signing Day, Syracuse had received faxes from all 22 Syracuse recruits who were not already enrolled in the University. Overall, this is Syracuse's strongest class in years, reflecting a bump from moving to a better conference that opened up the entire Atlantic coast, some previous South Florida & Midwestern ties for some the staff, and the staff's overall tireless effort. ESPN has Syracuse as having 3 four stars (Adly Enoicy, AJ Long & Alin Edouard) and 18 three stars. Syracuse raked in five recruits from Illinois & six from Florida. Here, I breakdown the strengths and weaknesses of the class by position group.
QB: Alin Edouard DT-QB 6'1” 180 lbs.
A.J. Long DT-QB 6'0” 180 lbs.
Strengths: Both quarterbacks in this class are rated 4 stars by ESPN and have the skills to come in and compete for playing time, especially Long who enrolled early and will have the benefit of spring practices. After Ridiculously Good Looking Charlie Loeb graduated, Drew Allen moved on and John Kinder transferred, Terrel Hunt is the only QB on the roster who has taken a collegiate snap. Syracuse has last years QB crop, Mitch Kimble & Austin Wilson who both redshirted and played on the scout team. While I definitely think Hunt has the upperhand in winning the starting the job, expect Edouard & Long to push Hunt. Both have good arm strength & accuracy despite their dual-threat designation.
Weaknesses: Size. Both Long & Eduoard are less than ideal height (but tell that Super Bowl Winning QB Russell Wilson) and bulk. Long said that working on bulking up was going to be his priority once he got on campus because he knew that's an area where he can improve. Both of these QB's have said they intend on leading this team but obviously, only one of them can, and only if one of them beats out Hunt. I hope their enthusiasm for the Orange doesn't fade if they don't get the opportunity to play right away.
RB: Ervin Phillips RB/HB 5'11” 170 lbs.
Strengths: Agility, quick change of direction & hands. At the collegiate level there are two main types of running backs: the Jerome Smith between the tackles downhill bruiser and the Prince Tyson-Gulley quick, cutback runner with ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Phillips fits the Tyson-Gulley mold to a tee. Phillips will be able to create mismatches catching the ball out of the backfield on screens or swing passes and even flexing out to slot on some plays. He also has the agility and vision to find cutback lanes running the ball and break some big runs.
Weaknesses: Doesn't have the size to be a between the tackles bruiser at the collegiate level. We've seen Jerome Smith make a college career of grinding out first downs on sheer size and strength. Phillips isn't that type of runner. Syracuse targeted some other recruits who would have been able to fill that bruiser RB type role, but struck out on them in this class. Expect Syracuse to look for a bigger back in next year's class.
WR: Adly Enoicy WR/TE 6'5” 220 lbs.
Jamal Custis WR 6'6” 215 lbs.
Corey Cooper WR 6'0” 195 lbs.
KJ Williams WR 6'2” 195 lbs.
Steven Ishmael WR 6'2” 180 lbs.
Strengths: Size & hands. Syracuse had quite a haul of pass catchers in this class that will contribute at Syracuse for quite some time. Between Custis & Enoicy, Syracuse will have the ability to create match-up nightmares based upon their size and strength only. Even Cooper, Williams & Ishmael have plus size for collegiate wide receivers and have a little more polish as route runners than Enoicy & Custis who have been able to really on their height advantage at the high school level. Above and beyond their height advantage, all of these pass catchers are said to have terrific hands as well.
Weaknesses: Speed. None of the receivers signed to Syracuse this year have that breakaway, “game changing” type speed of a guy like Brisly Estime, but then again, how many do? These receivers will have to use their strength and route running ability to create separation from defensive backs because they're not outrunning any DBs any time soon.
OL: Aaron Roberts OG 6'4” 285 lbs.
Denzel Ward OT 6'8” 320 lbs.
Strengths: Size & Nastiness. Syracuse needed to bulk up on the offensive line and Roberts & Ward bring size in spades. Often times offensive lineman need a year or two to pack on the pounds to compete at the BCS level; not these big boys. While any high schooler can benefit from a collegiate weight training program, these two bring BCS ready body types. Both these recruits also exhibit the nastiness needed to battle in the trenches against ACC's best.
Weaknesses: Technique & Polish. Often times high school lineman with BCS bodies don't need to be technically sound to dominate their smaller high school opponents. The end result is that those lineman need some technical refinement before they can contribute at BCS level. While Syracuse returns four of their starters on the offensive line this year, they are lacking in depth and may need one or both of these guys to be the “next guy in”, if not this year, soon.
DL: Wayne Williams DT 6'5” 330 lbs.
Chris Slayton DE 6'5” 250 lbs.
Jalen Harvey DT 6'3” 300 lbs.
Kayton Samuels DT 6'1” 310 lbs.
Strengths: Size & Strength. With the dismissal of Davon Walls & Markus Pierce-Brewster, graduation of Jay Bromley & Zian Jones and the injury to John Raymon, Syracuse found itself dangerously thin on the defensive line, particularly at tackle. Ron Thompson flipped from tight end to defensive end and played admirably, contributing solid minutes in the defensive end rotation. Micah Robinson, Rob Welsh & Eric Crume all had breakout years and stepped up when given the opportunity to contribute. True freshman Isaiah Johnson also came in and played well until he was slowed by a concussion. All four of the defensive line recruits come in the with size & strength to play at the BCS level, particularly the tackles.
Weaknesses: Speed & quickness: Syracuse use its four down lineman to constantly apply pressure to the opposing quarterback. In the past, Syracuse has benefited from speedy edge rushers like Dwight Freeney and Chandler Jones. Chris Slayton isn't that type of defensive end. He has the strength to hold his ground and set the edge versus the run and can collapse the pocket using his strength to push the opposing tackle backward, but does not bend the edge and beat his man with speed often. Syracuse is also accustomed to getting good penetration up the middle from the likes of Jay Bromley & Deon Goggins. Williams, Harvey & Samuels are more run stopping space eater type tackles. All three of the tackles could play their way into the rotation because of the lack of depth. I expect Wayne Williams to contribute immediately because of his size & experience playing on the prep school level.
LB: Colton Moskal OLB 6'1” 215 lbs.
Zaire Franklin ILB 6'0” 215 lbs.
Parris Bennett OLB 6'0” 210 lbs.
Jonathan Thomas OLB 6'3” 210 lbs.
Strengths: Speed, quickness & tackling ability. Syracuse has brought in more undersized linebackers with exceptional speed and quickness that they have become known for. Guys like Siriki Diabate & Marquis Spruill who may not have NFL measurables but have the speed and quickness to cover sideline to sideline in both the running & passing game. Each of the linebacker recruits are also considered strong tacklers.
Weaknesses: Size. This is nitpicking a bit because this class has adequate size and will bulk up with a college weight training program. The linebacker corps is the strength of this recruiting class and will make major contributions moving forward. All four of the recruits are rated a 77 higher by ESPN, making them “high” 3 star recruits. Thomas played some defensive end in high school, but would have to bulk up significantly (30+ lbs.) to play end at the collegiate level, but that experience at end bodes well for his blitzing ability.
DB: Juwan Dowels CB 5'10” 165 lbs.
Cordell Hudson CB 6'0” 160 lbs.
Antwan Cordy CB 5'9” 175 lbs.
Lamar Dawson CB 5'11” 175 lbs.
Rodney Williams S 5'10” 185 lbs.
Treevon Prater CB/S 6'0” 180 lbs.
Naesean Howard S 5'11” 190 lbs.
Strengths: Quantity & quickness. Syracuse's biggest defensive weakness last year was the secondary; although I don't think the secondary was as bad as everyone says and they were a victim of injuries and Shafer & Bullough's aggressive blitzing system. Syracuse secured seven commitments for the defensive secondary, hoping some of these recruits can push the current players for playing time and may be able to light a fire under the current players. Each of the cornerback recruits are considered sufficiently quick to cover in the short & intermediate route area & safeties quick enough to cover the deep middle of the field.
Weaknesses: Quality, size & speed. I believe Syracuse brought in so many recruits hoping they catch lightning in a bottle with one or two of them. None of the defensive backs are rated higher than a 74 by ESPN, meaning they are all “low” three stars (with the exceptions of Cordy who is not ranked). None of the recruits have great size None of the recruits are considered to have the blazing speed necessary to stay with speedy receivers down the field.