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Syracuse Football 2015 Position Preview: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

Take a drink for every mention of “H-back.”

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse football season is getting closer and closer. In the lead-up to kickoff, we’ll be previewing every position group on the Orange squad, making sure you’ll fully prepared for September 4. Today, we take a look at the…

Syracuse Orange Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

It’s tough to assess exactly what the Syracuse receivers were in 2014. With four different QBs (five if you count Heisman contender Riley Dixon), two different offensive coordinators and a questionable system in place for the season’s entirety, how could you truly know what you had on the roster? Well, with luck, this fall allows us to reset expectations with an extensive group of players – all of whom hope to catch a few passes and perhaps assert themselves as the team’s top playmaker.

H-Backs (ahem... Express Backs)

Ervin Philips, Sophomore

The top returning rusher on the roster, Philips switches over to the H-back/slot receiver position this fall to try his hand at a spot that may do more for his talents carrying the ball on the outside. There’s little doubt the move will pay dividends given the fact that the sophomore is SU’s fastest player, and those who loved his game last year should be excited for what happens in this new role… which probably won’t differ too much from his old role. In 2014, he was at his best bolting around the edge and using his speed on some quick, successive play-calls. At the top of the depth chart, he’ll get more chances to do plenty of that.

Ben Lewis, (Redshirt) Junior

Lewis is another newcomer to the H-back role, but one who will also get ample opportunities to prove himself in the role now in 2015. Despite an inconsistent offense overall, Lewis showed himself to be a capable, speedy target lining up in both the slot and on the outside, who excelled far more with shorter routes than deeper ones. He was able to create separation in open space, however, which makes him an interesting wildcard as an H-back. Expect to see him shifted all over in the spirit of multiplicity for Lester’s offensive scheme.

Ashton Broyld, Senior

Broyld is Syracuse football’s enigma, and his drop to third H-back (especially considering he was the prototype for the position on the Orange roster) furthers that reputation even more so. Sure, the placement won’t matter much come the fall given Lester’s plans to put the most playmakers on the field at once. But you can’t help but wonder just how effective the mercurial back can be if he fails to be a consistent ball-carrier. After a year marred with injuries and a struggle for consistency, the senior has one more shot to make good on that promise SU fans have always seen in him.

Tyrone Perkins, Freshman

Tyrone, who came in as a running back, was recently switched to the H-back spot. You can read an overview of what to expect from him this season in last week’s running backs article.

Wide Receivers

Alvin Cornelius, (Redshirt) Junior

After coming on strong near the end of 2013, big things seemed to be on the horizon for Cornelius in a Syracuse uniform. But 2014 did not yield the results he (or we) had hoped for. Injuries, inconsistency and a crowded depth chart meant just three catches for him all year. There’s a whole lot more to be excited about (apparently) this year, though, as Cornelius has shown himself to be one of the team’s best performers in spring. As a reward, he’ll line up as a starter come September, functioning as an on- and off-the-field leader to a young group of pass-catchers.

Steve Ishmael, Sophomore

You, of course, remember when you really met Steve Ishmael. Those gorgeous touchdown catches against Florida State had Orange fans raving about his obviously high ceiling despite another tough loss to the ‘Noles. The formerly-dreadlocked freshman possessed the type of speed and soft hands on the outside we simply haven’t seen for some time at SU. Now a starting wideout in just his second season, he’ll no longer surprise anyone. All eyes are very likely to be on SU’s top target with each and every snap. If he can respond to the tests he’ll receive from the ACC’s top corners, he could be in for a very special year.

Brisly Estime, Junior

Brisly excelled as an upstart freshman wideout in 2013, but as an H-back in 2014, he seemed to be stuck in purgatory. No matter how fast you are on the outside, you can only take so many unblocked bubble screens, and the results for the promising sophomore were anyone’s worst-case scenario: injuries and ineffectiveness that failed to display his true talents. Back at wide receiver in 2015, we’ll see if he can recapture the energy that had us all so intrigued in the first place. Again, this move’s mostly about multiplicity, but Estime could really excel further on the outside again where he can avoid opposing team’s more physical defenders.

Sean Avant, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Avant worked himself into the rotation due to injury last year, and as a result, may have set himself up quite well to be heavily involved this fall now. While he fits the build of several other Syracuse wideouts (just under six feet tall and 190 pounds or so), he has an ability to catch the ball in traffic and get a bit physical with smaller defensive backs. With his elevated role within the offense, we’ll see if he can do that on a consistent, Saturday-to-Saturday basis. If he manages to even carve out a three-catches-per-game niche for himself, it could be a huge relief for this passing attack.

Jamal Custis, Sophomore

Custis was well-hyped going into his freshman season, and given some limited opportunities at tight end, he did manage to create some excitement about his important to the SU offense going forward. Switching back to his natural position of receiver this fall – especially given the logjam at tight end – he presents a terrifying mismatch for a lot of opposing teams. His 6-foot-5, 232-pound frame will make him physically imposing to defensive backs, and his speed to boot makes him a tough man to keep track of for most linebackers too. Never mind he’s one of the team’s best overall athletes (he could walk on to the basketball team, after all), and there’s a very good chance he surprises in 2015.

Adly Enoicy, (Redshirt) Freshman

Enoicy’s another young receiver ready to produce in this offense. Now, we just have to wait and see how much he’ll actually get involved this season. You can never count out injuries for Syracuse, of course, but even with those aside, the glut of pass-catchers on the roster at the moment could be prohibitive to Enoicy finding himself a ton of playing time. Still, he’s a talent off the bench and another big South Florida kid (similar measurements to Custis) who can help create mismatches all over the field. Keep an eye on him as summer camp wraps up next month.

Troy Green, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Green’s bounced around several positions on the SU roster, starting at quarterback, then tight end, and now settling in at wide receiver. Unfortunately, though, it’s tough to say if this is finally the winning position for him on the Orange roster. He lacks the speed and size of some of his cohorts at wideout, but as a converted QB, he probably stands a great chance to know the playbook inside and out. Expect to see contributions on special teams and from there, we’ll see where else this potential jack-of-all-trades is plugged in.

Tight Ends

Josh Parris, (Redshirt) Junior

The top question for Parris in 2015: Can he stay healthy? Because if so, he has the potential and physical traits to be a dangerous weapon for the Orange offense, as we’ve seen him be in spurts already. His large frame lets him make space for himself on short routes, and for Terrel Hunt, seeing a body like that as a safety valve is a godsend. We’ll see where the tight end role nets out for Lester’s offense long-term. But if it stays true to a two-tight end setup, Parris should find himself on the field plenty, as both a blocker and a pass-catcher.

Cameron MacPherson, (Redshirt) Junior

"Macky’s little brother" has a real shot to make a name for himself in the SU offense this fall. Currently listed as the second tight end in a two-tight end set, that should mean a ton of playing time for the Georgetown (booooo hisssssss) transfer. As mentioned with Parris, though, it really depends on how Lester uses those two tight end slots. If he’s true to the positions (seems unlikely), we’ll see him a ton. If not, we’ll see him a little less, and maybe more so as a blocker. Still, MacPherson’s come a long way since arriving at SU and it’ll be interesting to see him carve out a unique role within Lester’s scheme.

Tyler Provo, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Like every other tight end on the roster, Provo’s involvement really depends on how much this team is going to utilize the actual players on the depth chart at the position. Provo appeared in six games this past season, though, so regardless of how many passes thrown his way, expect to see him on the field in some capacity. Like the other tight ends, he’s a big target who’ll be called upon to block well most of all. He’s an interesting player to watch as final depth charts shake out and position roles are more defined going into the year.

Trey Dunkelberger, Sophomore

Dunkelberger’s an exciting addition to the roster that can potentially out-play his current placement on the depth chart – especially given his height (6-foot-5) and his January start to learn this offense quickly. Whether it’s on special teams or jumping into a larger tight end rotation, he’s simply too talented not to see the field. Even if that involvement’s minimal this fall, 2015 is about setting the stage for what should be a very promising career in Orange.

PJ Batten, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Batten’s bounced around from tight end to linebacker, and back to tight end, so hopefully this is the position that sticks for the South Florida product. Given the fact that he’s fifth on the tight end depth chart, it appears a bit unlikely he’s involved in the offense. But perhaps a recurring role on special teams still gets him some valuable time on the field.

Jacob Green, Senior

Minimal involvement since he arrived as a walk-on, plus a glut of players at the position means he probably doesn’t see a ton of passes coming his way in 2015. Perhaps Green carves out a niche on special teams, but based on the way this depth chart shakes out (with him sixth out of six players), his catches against Wagner might be the last we see from him on offense, unless the Orange suddenly start blowing teams out in the first half.

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On paper, Syracuse’s H-backs, wide receivers and tight ends seem to have a clear line of demarcation – but as always with college football, nothing is as "obvious" as it appears before the games are played. The 2015 Orange pass-catchers are a nice mix of experience, potential and overall youth, and this group’s success will directly correlate to the success of Lester’s system. There are obviously some individual players (Ishmael, Phillips, in particular) who stand out. But this entire unit will be called upon to lift up this offense – not just one guy.

Given how bad the passing game was in 2014 (105th in the country), literally anything will mean an improvement, at least in terms of raw production. Where SU’s larger receivers unit can show itself most valuable is by going beyond those simple numbers-based marks. An ability to create for themselves, make Hunt’s job easier and open up the inside running game are what will ultimately decide the "value" of this assembled cast – something that should be exciting to watch develop as the year progresses.