While SU has historically churned out quite a bit of NFL talent, the pipeline’s slowed a bit of late. That’ll happen when you’re stuck in the middle of a 15-year rough patch, but the on-field struggles have only translated to a lack of draft results in the last few years.
Just one Syracuse player -- punter Riley Dixon in 2016’s seventh round -- has been picked over the last three drafts. That’s not to say the Orange lacked for draft-worthy players (Amba Etta-Tawo, Sean Hickey and Ron Thompson come to mind) in those seasons. But the Scott Shafer recruiting years (as a head coach anyway) simply didn’t lead to a lot of top level talent.
The hope is that the trend can change this year, though it’s not going to be easy. No Syracuse player was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this year. And mock drafts are iffy on whether or not any former Orange standout will be selected.
All-ACC and third-team All-American pick Steve Ishmael seems like your most likely draftee, while Zaire Franklin, Jordan Martin, Parris Bennett, Ervin Philips and others could get some looks. Below, we break down the odds for each player and where they may hear their name called (if at all):
Steve Ishmael, wide receiver
As mentioned, Ish proved he was one of college football’s top wideouts this past year, yet scouts felt as if there were 44 receivers better than him in this year’s draft class. That might not make much sense to you (or Steve), but as Syracuse.com pointed out earlier this year, he’s using it for motivation.
Ishmael’s pro day went well, and he’s earned interviews with numerous teams around the league (Jets, Colts, Bengals, Ravens). But with so many receivers potentially in front of him, it’s going to go down to the wire next week.
The big questions will be whether or not scouts see his size and blocking ability as a way to offset moderate speed (ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at pro day) and some questions on his hands. He didn’t drop passes frequently at SU, but also wasn’t the most consistent downfield target. Still, his route-running is second-to-none, and that alone should make a good case for him.
I’d put odds of him getting selected at around 25 percent right now, unfortunately, so he’s a likely seventh-rounder if he’s called. Going the free agent route also wouldn’t be the worst idea, just because then he can pick the best fit for his skill set.
Zaire Franklin, middle linebacker
Franklin has been one of the faces of Syracuse football these past few years, with the numbers to back up being a three-year captain on defense. But that wasn’t enough for him to get the combine nod, as scouts seemed to prefer perceptively larger or faster linebackers.
His pro day is going to give teams more to think about, however. Franklin’s 30 bench press reps would’ve actually been tops at the combine, and many of his other numbers would’ve also put him among the top-six. Raw athleticism doesn’t replace scheme fit or lack thereof, but it certainly helps.
That scheme fit question will ultimately be what decides things for Zaire. While he showed himself to be versatile at SU and able to change to a coverage-based system (from a blitz-based one), that transition wasn’t always simple. With luck, his leadership and that ability to play well in a variety of roles helps him out.
He’s unlikely to be picked, but will be in-demand as an undrafted free agent.
Jordan Martin, defensive back
Martin was known for being a big hitter at Toledo before transferring to Syracuse as a grad student this past year. With the Orange, though, he became an expert deep coverage player at safety, helping ease the burden on SU’s young cornerbacks. His absence due to injury in the second half of the year was noticeable as the number of big plays allowed by Syracuse went up significantly.
At pro day, he showed leaping ability and a reasonable amount of speed. He’s very unlikely to get picked, but will have interest from teams.
Parris Bennett, linebacker
Bennett actually put up bigger numbers than Franklin for the past two years, but also didn’t have as much demanded of him in pass coverage. His speed on the edge is obvious, and we know he has the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Like Franklin, though, it’ll be a scheme fit that dictates where he goes and his success thereafter. He’s an undrafted free agent with upside.
Ervin Philips, wide receiver
Erv’s speed and versatility make him an intriguing prospect, though questions around his hands will linger (he dropped passes far more in longer routes than in the smaller space he typically operated in).
While his gaudy receiving numbers in two full seasons at wideout will impress, there also isn’t as much of that same short (to SU’s extent) passing game in the NFL. But for a team looking to add a slot receiver who can make plays in small windows, he could be a capable option. Undrafted free agent, sure, but one that could have a better chance than most at making a roster given the right system fit.
Jonathan Thomas, linebacker
Thomas was one of the fastest players on the team these past few years, and that should help him out, even if there will be lingering questions about whether he can play linebacker at the next level due to size and scheme concerns.
An impressive broad jump (would’ve been third-best at the combine) should help matters, as he can sell athleticism and how that translates to play-making ability. He’s undrafted, but the potential there might be enough for a team to take a flier.
So again, we’re sweating it out. Think anyone has a better chance at getting picked than we give them here? Share your own draft projections below.