After a second consecutive season with one player selected (Chris Slayton this time around) in the NFL Draft, the Syracuse Orange football program is making some progress in the way of producing pro talent again. However, the lack of it lately also goes to show how great of a job Dino Babers has done as head coach over three years and change.
But progress may start to speed up come next year. Or at least we’re hopeful it could. Because for as much as it’s great to exceed expectations without as many future NFL players, the more of them you have on your roster makes you more likely to win. And the more NFL players your program produces, the more likely that others will sign with you in future seasons.
So who could lead the way with that uptick come this time in 2020? There are several names that come to mind — some with more certainty than others. Obviously all of these guys won’t get selected. But they’re names that will come up as potential free agent adds next spring, at least.
Evan Adams, offensive guard
You can’t teach size, and Adams is an enormous dude on the inside at 6-foot-6 and 341 pounds. He’s started for the last three years and frequently overpowers defenders (95 knockdown blocks). You’ll see the inside of SU’s line get blown up here and there on gamefilm, but I actually think that’s more due to uncertainty at the center spot than Adams. There’s late round potential here if a few things improve this year.
Ryan Alexander, offensive tackle
We haven’t seen what Alexander can do against top-level competition really yet, and won’t until the season gets started this fall. But in his time in the the Sun Belt (South Alabama), he rounded into form as one of the conference’s top tackles while gaining 30 pounds to transition from a tight end prospect. That makes him more athletic than most, which could pay dividends. He’s not a draft pick... yet.
Kendall Coleman, defensive end
Coleman was a force last year, adding size while not losing anything with regard to speed, and became one of the ACC’s better pass-rushers. With injuries behind him and a propensity for getting into the backfield (12.5 TFLs last year, 10 sacks), he’s absolutely getting looks so long as production doesn’t dip with more eyes on him this year. He has day three potential right now.
Christopher Fredrick, cornerback
Fredrick has quietly assembled a really nice career for the Orange, and has rounded into one of the better cover men in the ACC. With some impressive receivers around the conference (especially on the Clemson sideline), he has plenty of chances to show himself capable of playing on Sundays. I’d be surprised if he didn’t at least get a combine invite.
Sterling Hofrichter, punter/kicker
Versatility’s key for a lot of players catching on in the league, and Hof has it by way of being able to handle both kicking and punting duties. Drafting punters isn’t super common, so perhaps he’s not picked like Riley Dixon was (largely for his trick play prowess). But he has as good a shot as most of these names here to grab a roster spot in 2020.
Moe Neal, running back
Neal’s size probably prevents him from getting picked unless he really impresses between the tackles and catching passes in the flat this fall. There’s a role for small, lightning-fast backs in the league. But given how much his game’s potentially analogous to that of Ervin Philips (except smaller), it’s hard to see him picked. He’s a definite free agent pick-up, however.
Sean Riley, wide receiver
Riley’s assessment as a prospect probably aligns pretty well with Neal’s, albeit with a little more special teams acumen. Riley’s not big, has showed some trouble hauling in passes in the past, and occupies a very specific slot receiver role on offense. There’s a place for that on teams. Just going to be tough to compete with more well-rounded, bigger wideouts on the draft board. Still a free agent signing, however.
Alton Robinson, defensive end
Robinson terrified opposing offensive lines last year, collecting 10 sacks and 17 TFLs. He and Coleman play similarly, though I do think Robinson’s game brings a slightly more obvious combination of speed and strength on the outside. He’s in line for a big year and shows himself fully capable of blowing past double-teams. Robinson may end up SU’s highest draft pick since Jay Bromley (third round in 2014).
McKinley Williams, defensive tackle
With Slayton gone to the NFL himself, it’s Williams’s show in the middle of SU’s defensive line for 2019. His athleticism and run-stopping abilities speak for themselves, but we’ll see what he does without Slayton taking up as much attention from the line this season. Should results stay the same (or improve), he has a shot to play himself into the conversation.
At first glance, this may seem like a lot of names, and it is. But the fact that we have an increasing number of players worth even a passing glance in this conversation is a step in the right direction?
Anyone else you’d toss in there? Share your own thoughts below.