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Way-too-early Syracuse defensive depth chart projections for 2017

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Too early? Nope.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange’s National Signing Day just wrapped up last week. But that means it’s officially 2017 on the college football calendar, so we “can” start looking at depth charts for the upcoming season.

Whether we “should” is debatable, but that’s never stopped us before.

Based on everyone that’s supposed to be on campus this fall, here’s what SU’s defensive depth chart could look like when they kick off vs. Central Connecticut State in over 200 (!!!) days. We’re only gong two-deep here, but obviously plenty more players on the roster as well.

Syracuse defensive depth chart

Defensive end: Josh Black (So.) | Kenneth Ruff (So.)

Nose tackle: Kayton Samuels (R-Jr.) | McKinley Williams (So.)

Defensive tackle: Chris Slayton (R-Jr.) | Steven Clark (Jr.)

Defensive end: Jaquwan Nelson (R-Fr.) | Jake Pickard (R-So.)

Weakside linebacker: Parris Bennett (Sr.) | Shy Cullen (R-So.)

Middle linebacker: Zaire Franklin (Sr.) | Andrew Armstrong (So.)

Strongside linebacker: Jonathan Thomas (Sr.) | Ryan Guthrie (Jr.)

Cornerback: Juwan Dowels (R-Jr.) | Cordell Hudson (R-Jr.)

Free safety: Rodney Williams (R-Jr.) | Kielan Whitner (Jr.)

Strong safety: Antwan Cordy (R-Jr.) | Daivon Ellison (Jr.)

Cornerback: Devin Butler (R-Sr.) | Chris Fredrick (R-So.)

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

Some notes per position group below:

DE

There’s a lot of guesswork here that could easily be proven wrong. Five players — the four listed above, plus Kendall Coleman -- could all conceivably start, as could Chris Slayton. No matter who starts the game on the field, however, you’re going to see a lot of bodies shuttled in and out at the end spot. Last year’s pass rush was non-existent (16 sacks ranked 115th in the country), so it’ll be all hands on deck to fix that in 2017.

DT

Everyone’s back on the two-deep, but there’s also not much incoming, which means this depth chart could easily get tested once again. As mentioned above, Slayton could move out to the edge, but with four experienced options at tackle, it’s best he stays inside. Same as last year, these four will probably rotate quite a bit per situational need. If you can find ways to have Slayton, Kayton Samuels and Steven Clark on the field at the same time, you should.

LB

The starters are all known quantities in their last year on campus. So while that’s good in some ways -- veterans at the defense’s strongest position for 10 years running — it’s also going to create questions in case of injury and building experience for the future. Of the three second-teamers listed, Andrew Armstrong is the only one that saw extensive defensive snaps at SU last year, while Shy Cullen was a key contributor on special teams. Ryan Guthrie’s arrival actually comes just in time, because it can help this team ease younger players in.

CB

Injuries were unfortunate this past season, and attrition delivered a hit in the offseason. But they may be better off for it now, with an experienced and fairly young two-deep ready to go. The addition of Devin Butler from Notre Dame is a much-needed influx of both talent and some of his own experience that could help speed up the ongoing Tampa-2 transition. It may seem overly optimistic, but this group could actually make some real strides this season.

S

Same deal with the safeties regarding injuries last year. The strife in 2016 could yield gains for 2017 as we now have a two-deep of guys who could all start (and will all see the field plenty). There’s still progress to be made in terms of covering over the top, biting on fakes and a whole lot more. But at least last season provided a rock bottom to grow from.

***

Looks good? Bad? There’s actually a lot of carryover from last year here, but that hammers home just how young we are, and how much injuries played a factor in 2016.