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Syracuse football: Checking in on 2017’s scholarship situation

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Now that 2016’s over, we shift focus to 2017.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in November, Syracuse Orange Football Coach Dino Babers said that he expected to have an incoming recruiting class of around 25 to 27 players. The roster didn’t allow for that number at that point, but it does now. Recent transfer announcements — including this week’s from Kenterius Womack and Corey Winfield -- put SU at 60 scholarship players for 2017 (25 below the FBS limit of 85).

Of course, it’s not just about hitting the 85 number either, though. Each position needs to be stocked well into the next four years, so you’re not left with depth and experience issues in the future. We saw how some attrition on the defensive line left Syracuse pretty short in that area, and it showed, especially when players started getting injured.

So what do the Orange need for 2017 to properly round out the class? First we look at the current roster breakdown, broken out by players remaining at each position for the next four years.

POS 2017 2018 2019 2020
QB 3 2 1 1
RB 3 3 1 0
WR 8 5 2 0
TE 1 0 0 0
OL 12 11 8 4
DL 10 10 7 1
LB 9 5 4 1
DB 12 11 5 1
K 1 0 0 0
P 1 1 1 0
LS 1 1 0 0

Offensive line, defensive line and defensive back all appear to be in good shape, though obviously the team could use some major upgrades (likely via JUCO adds) to help the young players develop there. Those three areas were Syracuse's biggest trouble spots in 2016. While having a ton of depth there is a good start, that depth needs to be able to be put to use right now. There are still questions around that, but you saw progress as well at all three spots this year.

Some areas where Syracuse needs an influx of bodies: linebacker, wide receiver and running back. The latter two are actually strengths of the team at current, and will be again in 2017. But the depth at those positions is actually pretty shallow past 2018. That's where Babers is already doing work on the recruiting trail. He's made running back a priority as well, given the lack of depth and production going forward.

While 2017 is the year Babers expects SU to "arrive" within his system, 2018 may provide the biggest and most immediate payoff for the Orange under this regime. Syracuse loses some key pieces after next season, but take a look at next year's seniors. The list isn't very long:

PLAYER Pos. Final Year
Chauncey Scissum DB 2017
Alryk Perry LB 2017
Zaire Franklin LB 2017
Jonathan Thomas LB 2017
Parris Bennett LB 2017
Jamar McGloster OL 2017
Cole Murphy K 2017
Zack Mahoney QB 2017
Kendall Moore TE 2017
Sean Avant WR 2017
Ervin Philips WR 2017
Steve Ishmael WR 2017

That means a (likely) small 2018 recruiting class, but also means a 2018 roster stacked to the gills with players that understand the system and have been operating in it (on either side of the ball) for years. The loss of players like Franklin, Bennett, Philips and Ishmael is going to hurt. But with the depth SU's building, it can be counteracted with some key additions this coming February.

The 2017 recruiting class has nothing set in stone so far. So keep that in mind. But right now, the 20 verbal commitments for Syracuse break down this way:

POS Recruits
QB 1
RB 3
WR 6
TE 1
OL 2
DL 3
LB 2
DB 2
K
P
LS

Loading up on wide receivers this cycle helps backfill so the post-2018 dropoff there isn't so bad. Same goes for running backs. The team would have just one remaining after 2018 as well. As addressed right at the top, though, there are still 5-7 spots to fill. So what positions seem likely there?

Tight End

Babers has already said he'll look for two tight ends this cycle, though the second may be a JUCO add. I think "tight end" is a loose term for this offense. More than likely, it's a bigger and more physical receiver who can block in a pinch.

Offensive Line

Syracuse has depth here. But as mentioned, it's all pretty young. Several of those players struggled this season when tossed into the fire, so there are no guarantees that improvement will be stark next year when the team replaces two more senior contributors (Jamar McGloster and Omari Palmer). This is another place where a JUCO add makes sense. Though even without one, Babers likely adds another O-line guy via traditional recruiting means.

Defensive Line

Sounding like a broken record, but: JUCO help. The team's building depth, but needs results in the meantime. Calling on a JUCO defensive end to help out in the meantime could be a plus. SU could still use another one of the spots on an incoming freshman, however.

Linebacker

With two already, it would be nice to add a third for depth purposes. Linebacker has been the best spot in the defense for at least a decade now, and if this Tampa-2 defense is going to stick, it'll have to continue that way. Getting players to come in and learn under guys like Franklin and Bennett before the leave is key.

Defensive Back

The talent's actually gotten better on the roster, and you could see some promising players in the early parts of their careers this year. But after 2018, a lot of those names are gone. And given the way Syracuse has suffered injuries in the secondary, it's never a bad thing to have more options. There's potential for a JUCO add here, though the team may be better off just adding an incoming freshman.

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Sad to see certain players go? Have a different take on 2017 recruiting priorities? Weigh in below.