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Syracuse football 2019 position preview: Defensive backs

This group went from a liability to a strength very quickly. Can they keep it up?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Syracuse at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2019 Syracuse Orange football season is just a couple weeks out, and we’re nearly done with position previews for every group on this year’s SU roster.

Each week leading up to the season, we’re profiling one group and every player on the roster this fall. Last week, we looked at how Syracuse is going to hit reset at linebacker once again. This time:

Defensive Backs

Going into last season, the Orange secondary appeared to be a bit of a liability. They allowed copious amounts of big plays, were experienced but inconsistent and didn’t seem to have the scheme to help them out, either. What a difference a year makes, though.

Even taking into account some very early struggles against Western Michigan, Syracuse’s defensive backs were much improved both individually and as a group in 2018. Opposing completion percentages dipped from 60.9 to 55.1, and interceptions rose from four to 18. They allowed 0.4 fewer yards per completion, and of course, saw the arrival of a breakout star and All-American in Andre Cisco. Beyond Cisco, you saw vast improvements from Christopher Fredrick and Evan Foster, plus the emergence of Ifeatu Melifonwu. Now, this looks like an impressive group that will team with the defensive line to carry what should be a strong unit overall on that side of the ball.


Syracuse v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Christopher Fredrick, (Redshirt) Senior

Going into last year, there were thoughts (around here, at least) that Fredrick could make a bit of a jump into the upper echelon of ACC cornerbacks. And while things may have started a bit rocky, the veteran did just that as a leader in the secondary who improved nearly every week. On the year, he had 56 tackles, three picks and four pass break-ups, along with a TFL. Playing to get himself further on the radar of NFL scouts this year, we could see even bigger numbers.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Pro potential is in the family genes, and Melifonwu has already shown that potential even in limited action with Syracuse so far. Check out the numbers David Hale highlighted today there too, for more proof. He allowed less than 50% completions and zero touchdowns, while breaking up four passes. It shouldn’t surprise that he grabbed one of the starting corner roles in the preseason depth chart.

Trill Williams, Sophomore

Trill will be the starter at nickel corner this year after impressing in spot action last year. He collected 31 tackles, plus 2.5 TFLs and two interceptions and with linebacker even more uncertain this season, we’ll probably see even more of the 4-2-5 formation that keeps him on the field. That’s great, as we’ll take any excuse to get the playmaker more snaps.

Scoop Bradshaw, Senior

Scoop was moved out of the starting role opposite Fredrick in the early depth chart, but that may not mean we’ll see a LOT less of him. Due to the pace of play the Orange endorse on offense, it creates more defensive snaps as well. So even with Melifonwu potentially starting, he’s still in the rotation to keep fresh legs out there and his experience should be a huge boost off the bench.

Carl Jones, Senior

Jones is one of the fastest players on the team (4.29-second 40 time), though we’ve yet to see a ton of what he can do on the defensive end as he’s played more special teams. Now he’s going to be a bigger part of the CB rotation and put it to use a bit more frequently. Personally, very curious to see how often he’s tossed out there this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Camping World Bowl - West Virginia v Syracuse Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Allen Stritzinger, Junior

Stritzinger’s done an impressive job transitioning to the defensive side of the ball, starting a game last year and now backing up Trill at nickel back. He picked off WVU last year, and while his time was limited, he always looked capable of making plays when out there with the defensive unit. We’ll likely see more of him in 2019.

DuWayne Johnson, (Redshirt) Senior

Johnson’s a tall defender (6-foot-3) who should be able to slot into this ball-hawking secondary as needed, though last year he didn’t get a ton of action in his first year on campus. This season’s contributions are probably going to be mainly on special teams, but given how critical that group’s been to Syracuse’s success of late, it’s far from a bad thing.

Adrian Cole, Freshman

Getting on campus early gives Cole a little bit of a leg up in terms of freshman trying to break onto the depth chart, but there’s still a long way to go with so many experienced options in front of him. Given the fact that several seniors will move out of the way in 2020, this year may be a redshirt season to further learn the system.

Garrett Williams, Freshman

Another two-way athlete in high school and track star at that level as well, Williams is in a similar boat to many of the other young DBs on the roster. He has plenty of promise, but also a lot of names stopping him from getting reps with the defense. If not special teams this year, he’ll learn plenty with a redshirt.

Kyle Strickland, (Redshirt) Junior

Though he’s a walk-on, Strickland has been a core part of the special teams unit (kickoffs), and is poised to do so once again. Given SU’s success covering returns, he’s played an instrumental role.

Jake Wright, (Redshirt) Freshman

Wright didn’t see the field last season, and we’ll see if he works his way into special teams in 2019. At 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, he’s a bigger option than most of Syracuse’s defensive backs right now, so he could be smart coverage addition.


Andre Cisco, Sophomore

How do you follow up an All-American freshman campaign? Cisco’s about to give it a shot, even if he doesn’t equal last year’s nation-leading seven interceptions. But beyond the INTs, he also improved over the course of last year, broke up 11 passes and collected 60 tackles. He’s also transformed his body this offseason to add a LOT more muscle, which should help become a more bone-jarring tackler as well.

Evan Foster, Senior

Going into 2018, there were some questions around Foster’s abilities as a starting safety. And then he — like many in the secondary — improved by leaps and bounds and teamed with Cisco to become a feared group at the back of the defense. His 86 tackles were a big number, and with luck they actually dip a little bit this year with more passes defended. Like Fredrick, he’s looking to impress NFL evaluators this season.

Devon Clarke, (Redshirt) Junior

Clarke’s been a bit injury-plagued during his career, and missed 10 games in 2018 unfortunately. He’s once again poised to be able to jump in and contribute at safety, perhaps providing a breather for starters and keeping everyone fresh. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he definitely has the size to make an impact, even just here and there.

Eric Coley, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Coley has stayed under the radar in large part, but looked impressive in his limited action last season. He’s stated to serve as the backup free safety to Andre Cisco right now, and that’s a great sign for his progress at SU so far. He’s quick and puts length to use, and we’ll definitely see him pop up out there to give Cisco a break where needed.

Antwan Cordy, (Redshirt) Senior

Cordy was not on the preseason depth chart, but is also too good of an athlete to keep completely out of the rotation, and may wind up getting some time at nickel depending on what’s needed there. Last year, he was an effective part-time punt returner, while picking up 27 tackles, two TFLs and three pass break-ups. You’ll see him out there somehow.

Cam Jonas, (Redshirt) Freshman

The big (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) Florida product redshirted last year, but that may not stop him from getting involved this season — even if just with the special teams unit. He should be one of the toughest tacklers among the DBs, and is poised to make a jump soon, even if it winds up being a year from now.

Neil Nunn, Freshman

Nunn was one of the most highly-touted 2019 recruits, and there’s a real chance he’ll wind up on the field in 2019, with an eye on larger involved in 2020. As a safety, he probably just needs to add a bit more weight at just 170 pounds. However, he has time to do that while learning the system this year.

Aman Greenwood, Freshman

Greenwood has a lot of safeties in front of him, and could take advantage of the longer list by taking a redshirt and getting more acclimated in the meantime. He’s a strong tackler and potential ballhawk — something we’ll hopefully see in action soon enough.

AJ Calabro, (Redshirt) Freshman

A scout team standout, Calabro seems poised to do the same once again for the Orange special teams unit. Perhaps those abilities even give way to special teams play in-game this year or next.

Kevin Nusdeo, (Redshirt) Sophomore

Syracuse has done nice work bringing in bigger and more athletic walk-ons, especially for speical teams roles. Nusdeo could wind up being another one of those, at 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds (or at the very least, perhaps a bigger scout team role this year).

John Sweetwood, (Redshirt) Freshman

TBD on Sweetwood seeing the field this year given everyone we’ve already discussed. But scout team contributions could be a great way for him to get more involved.

What a difference a year makes. Going into last year, this group looked experienced at some spots, but overall, lacked a real identity or standout names. Now, they have an All-American (Cisco), at least two potential future pros (Foster, Fredricks) and another rising young player in Melifonwu who make up an impressive crew — and that’s before you get to the depth that really keeps you confident in what this unit can do.

While the counting numbers will never be great, there’s still further room for the efficiency metrics to continue to improve, as they did from 2017 to 2018 already. Assuming — fairly — that the interceptions numbers can’t necessarily stay at the same high level, there are still numerous ways these DBs can continue to make big plays and break up opposing passing attacks. We know they’re going to give up some longer gains here and there, and that’s fine as long as we see the reward to go with that risk. With what should be an even better group in 2019, that’s a good bet.