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Syracuse football All-21st-Century Team: Defensive Line / Linebackers

The best of the 21st century from the other side of the trenches.

Syracuse Orange Dwight Freeney Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Moving onto possibly the most impressive group that the Syracuse Orange have produced in the 21st century, the defensive tackles, ends and linebackers.

Defensive Tackle Nominees (listed chronologically):

  • Eric Downing (1997-2000)
  • Christian Ferrara (2000-2003)
  • Arthur Jones (2005-2009)
  • Deon Goggins (2010-2012)
  • Jay Bromley (2010-2013)
  • Eric Crume (2011-2014)
  • Ryan Sloan (2011-2014)
  • Chris Slayton (2015-2018)

In the trenches, the Orange have always shown promise. They’ve sent some quality big men on both sides of the ball to the NFL. You take for granted that Syracuse has had some interior talent until you see years like this one, having to train two new interior linemen.

Christian Ferrara

Ferrara was a three year starter in the trenches for the Orange. He was part of the early 2000s teams that had a good bit of success on the back of the defensive line. His 30 tackles for loss (TFL) are good for fifth all time and he finished with 139 tackles, leading to an All-Big East selection in his senior season. He was a seventh round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers.

Arthur Jones

Big Art was a three time All-Big East selection and possibly the most dominant defensive lineman that has lined up for Syracuse. He finished his career with 38.5 TFL, ranking first for an interior lineman and third overall. He also tallied 145 overall tackles, good for tenth overall for down linemen. Even the numbers don’t do the elder Jones brother justice for the havok he rained on opposing offensive lines, always requiring a double team and usually fighting through it. He was a fifth round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.

Jay Bromley

A three year starter and 2013 All-ACC selection, Bromley finished his career with 25.5 TFL (13th) and 121 tackles. His senior season, he set the Syracuse TFL record with 14.5 on the year, ten of which were sacks. Jay was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Giants.

Eric Crume

A stout one technique, Crume played in over forty games for the Orange, including a starting role his senior year. His senior season he recorded 9 TFL, 2 sacks and 38 total tackles. He was a practice squad player through the NFL for three years post college.

Chris Slayton

Slayton started parts of all four years on the hill, garnering five his freshman year, and never giving it up if he was healthy the rest of his career. His numbers over the course were 107 tackles, 32.5 TFL (ninth all time), and 9.5 sacks. Beyond that, his senior year he was All-ACC and All-ECAC. Always demanding a double team, Slayton was an outstanding contributor to the Orange teams in the early Babers tenure.

The Depth Chart

  1. Arthur Jones / Jay Bromley
  2. Christian Ferrara / Chris Slayton

Of course Arthur Jones wins out, in unanimous fashion. Beyond that, it was a toss-up between Bromley, Ferrara and Slayton. Any of the above would have been a solid compliment to Art. Chalk one up for the eldest Jones brother.

DT Voting Breakdown

Rank Steve John Kevin
Rank Steve John Kevin
1 Arthur Jones Arthur Jones Arthur Jones
2 Chris Slayton Jay Bromley Christian Ferrara
3 Jay Bromley Christian Ferrara Jay Bromley
4 Christian Ferrara Chris Slayton Chris Slayton

Defensive End Nominees:

  • Duke Pettijohn (1997-2000)
  • Dwight Freeney (1998-2001)
  • Louis Gachelin (2000-2003)
  • Josh Thomas (2000-2003)
  • Ryan Lacasse (2002-2005)
  • James Wyche (2002-2005)
  • Jameel McClain (2004-2007)
  • Chandler Jones (2008-2011)
  • Ron Thompson (2012-2015)
  • Kendall Coleman (2016-2019)
  • Alton Robinson (2017-2019)

Possibly the strongest position in the century for the Orange, there have been a few game-changers at the position, including a number of Super Bowl winners after they left, in Freeney, Thomas, Lacasse, McClain and Jones.

Dwight Freeney

One of the best players to ever suit up for the Orange, and still holds that title even when eliminating the first two of his four years on campus due to the rules of the all-century team. He obviously made the final two years count, with a combined 30.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles. Freeney was all-conference and All-American as a senior, setting several NCAA records in the process.

Chandler Jones

The sack numbers don’t wow with just 10 over the course of three seasons. But Jones was also doubled much of the time, and his best games (perhaps 2011 vs. West Virginia, most notably) told you all you needed to know. He was and remains a freak athlete with impressive speed around the edge. This doesn’t factor into this ranking, but he’s now one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.

Alton Robinson

Robinson’s career is still in progress, but in 2.5 years, he has 17.5 sacks and 28.5 TFLs while forcing five fumbles and absolutely terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Constantly double-teamed, Robinson still manages to take over games for Syracuse and is well on his way to being a first- or second-day draft pick as one of college football’s top edge-rushers today.

Duke Pettijohn

Just one of Pettijohn’s seasons counts toward this list, but it was a good one. As a senior, the New York native was second-team All-Big East with 14 TFLs and 7.5 sacks, plus two passes defended and a fumble recovery. At SU, his athleticism coming off the edge put him in elite company, and eventually translated to him playing on both sides of the ball in the Arena Football League.

Jameel McClain

Though McClain spent his career on some truly bad Syracuse teams, he still managed to stand out nationally and draw plenty of attention as a fierce playmaker. He finished his SU career with 21.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and an interception. McClain’s junior year earned him second-team All-Big East honors while being one of just a handful of bright spots on a forgettable roster.

Ron Thompson

At one point in his career, the running joke was Thompson’s seemingly constant position changes. But he’d wind up settling in as a defensive end, collecting 20 TFLs and 10 sacks while defending 10 passes and forcing six fumbles. He exited before what could’ve been a truly special senior year, but still made his mark as a defensive standout that helped actively improve struggling Orange defenses as the program transitioned to the ACC.

The Depth Chart

  1. Dwight Freeney / Chandler Jones
  2. Alton Robinson / Jameel McClain OR Duke Pettijohn

Freeney and Jones was the easy one-two combo. I’m slightly surprised that Alton Robinson came in third, but at the same time, I’m not. He’s definitely that talented. McClain and Pettyjohn are two who I think flew a little bit under the radar and provide our first OR tag of the exercise.

DE Voting Breakdown

Rank Steve John Kevin
Rank Steve John Kevin
1 Dwight Freeney Dwight Freeney Dwight Freeney
2 Chandler Jones Chandler Jones Chandler Jones
3 Alton Robinson Alton Robinson Josh Thomas
4 Duke Pettyjohn Jameel McClain Alton Robinson
HM Ron Thompson Kendall Coleman --

Linebacker Nominees:

  • Morlon Greenwood (1997-2000)
  • Clifton Smith (1999-2002)
  • Kelvin Smith (2003-2006)
  • Derrell Smith (2006-2010)
  • Doug Hogue (2007-2010)
  • Marquis Spruill (2010-2013)
  • Dyshawn Davis (2011-2014)
  • Cameron Lynch (2011-2014)
  • Parris Bennett (2014-2017)
  • Zaire Franklin (2014-2017)

Another solid position of talent for the Orange, linebackers .

Zaire Franklin

Zaire made quick fans of two different coaches at Syracuse, and is one of just a handful of players to be a captain for three straight seasons with the Orange. Franklin had 31.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks over the course of his career, plus two interceptions and eight defended passes while helping hold together a defense that struggled at points. It’s little surprise he’s stuck with the Colts despite getting picked in the seventh round.

Cam Lynch

Lynch was the example whose shoes Franklin was recruited to fill at Syracuse. Similarly sized to one another, Lynch also had similar stats to Zaire’s, with 31.5 TFLs, 17 sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defended over four years. At 6’0”, he was a swift defender who could play well against the run or pass, but saw his best moments when turned lose on opposing passers, as many Scott Shafer-era linebackers were.

Doug Hogue

Hogue started his career as a running back — something he actually wasn’t half-bad at. But the switch to linebacker in his final two seasons paid some huge dividends and even got him drafted in the fifth round. In just two years on this side of the ball, he collected 26.5 TFLs and 12.5 sacks plus three picks. Plus, he came just short of 100 tackles as a senior. Looking back, he may be criminally underrated, in part because of the teams he was on.

Derrell Smith

The OTHER running back-turned-linebacker on the list, Smith spent three years on the defensive side and wound up with 24.5 TFLs and nine sacks to go with two picks. His 114-tackle breakout in 2010 was a big part of that team’s surge to a bowl game for the first time in six years. He also forced an impressive four fumbles as a junior.

Marquis Spruill

No, Spruill didn’t play running back, but he certainly stopped a lot of them, recording 41.5 TFLs — the second-most in school history — over the course of his career. Like many of the others here, he was a light and speedy athlete who excelled when given the green light to blitz; something he did pretty frequently. He earned All-Big East second-team honors in 2011 and All-ACC honorable mention in 2013.

Dyshawn Davis

Despite playing on several of the same teams as Spruill, he still managed to put up similarly big numbers, with 37.5 TFLs (plus 7.5 sacks, but put the focus on that first number). You can also copy and paste a lot of the same reasons for his success as the others on this list: Scott Shafer system that allowed athletic linebackers to wreak havoc.

Morlon Greenwood

Greenwood and Freeney teamed up to be a fierce duo in 2000, and Greenwood managed 98 tackles and All-Big East first-team honors while playing alongside the generational talent. He’s in the Nassau County High School Hall of Fame, which is pre-’Cuse but also notable. Greenwood had over 300 tackles in his career — not too far outside the top-10 totals in school history (though yes, three of those seasons took place before the time period in question).

The Depth Chart

  1. Zaire Franklin / Cameron Lynch / Doug Hogue
  2. Derrell Smith / Marquis Spruill / Dyshawn Davis OR Morlon Greenwood

Was there ever a doubt about Franklin ending up at the top here? One of the more beloved recent Syracuse players on and off the field, his work ethic and inspiring story easily lifts him to No. 1. There are a lot of draft picks on this list, and you could probably make a case for most of them getting top spots on his “roster” of sorts.

LB Voting Breakdown

Rank Steve John Kevin
Rank Steve John Kevin
1 Zaire Franklin Zaire Franklin Zaire Franklin
2 Cam Lynch Cam Lynch Cam Lynch
3 Doug Hogue Marquis Spruill Derrell Smith
4 Derrell Smith Doug Hogue Doug Hogue
5 Marquis Spruill Derrell Smith
6 Morlon Greenwood Dyshawn Davis