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Way-too-early Syracuse football defensive depth chart projections for 2020

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Keep in mind this could change quite a bit once we (finally) hire a new defensive coordinator.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The vast majority of the Syracuse Orange football team’s incoming recruiting class has signed, and hopefully Trishton Jackson’s the last unexpected departure of the offseason (though we know he almost certainly won’t be).

But given what we know right now, it seemed worth a shot to project the two-deep depth chart for the 2020 season. We already discussed the offensive depth chart on Tuesday. Today, we take a look at the defensive depth chart — despite the fact that any defensive coordinator hire could throw a lot of this up in the air.

Defensive end: Kingsley Jonathan (Sr.) | Latarie Kinsler (Fr.)

Defensive end: Drew Tuazama (RFr.) | Tyrell Richards (RJr.)

Defensive tackle: Josh Black (RSr.) | Curtis Harper (RJr.)

Nose tackle: McKinley Williams (RSr.) | Chris Elmore (Sr.)

There aren’t as many questions on the line as you might think — or at least, there aren’t among the starters. Three of the four spots are probably set, with Tuazama the lone question mark. Depending on scheme, we could wind up seeing Richards get more burn instead. Kinsler’s an interesting player who could probably use some more weight to be a true defensive end. Elmore’s a more likely nose tackle than fullback/tight end at this point.

Weakside linebacker: Lee Kpogba (So.) | Tyrell Richards (RJr.)

Middle linebacker: Mikel Jones (So.) | Geoff Cantin-Arku (So.)

Strongside linebacker: Juan Wallace (RJr.) | Kadeem Trotter (RJr.)

Here’s where the questions are enormous. Jones got the most extensive time at linebacker last year, and seems easy to plug in at MLB. Everyone else could potentially get shifted around a bit, however. Would expect Kpogba and Wallace are the other starters in a base 4-3, though again, what do you do with a ‘tweener like Richards? Feel free to toss him into a starting role instead of one of the latter two players. Though realistically, he may just wind up a bit of a roving player in the front seven.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Nickel: Trill Williams (Jr.) | Allen Stritzinger (Sr.)

Cornerback: Ifeatu Melifonwu (RJr.) | Garrett Williams (Fr.)

Cornerback: Eric Coley (RSr.) | Adrian Cole (RFr.)

Free safety: Andre Cisco (Jr.) | Cornelius Nunn (RFr.)

Strong safety: Devon Clarke (RSr.) | Cam Jonas (RSo.)

Even more than the linebackers, the secondary is going to be basing a lot on who the new defensive coordinator is. Melifonwu is locked in at corner as the team’s best cover man, and Cisco’s obviously going to be getting All-America nods again at free safety. The other corner spot and strong safety are question marks, though, and we’ll see how much Nickel is utilized in a new scheme. Realistically, Trill could slot in as the other CB. Or him and Richards could just switch off in a hybrid role dictated by playing run or pass coverage. If they’re slated to start, Clarke and Coley will likely be pressed by the numerous freshman and sophomore defensive backs.

Place kicker: Andre Szmyt (RJr.) | Nolan Cooney (RSr.)

Kickoffs: Nolan Cooney (RSr.) | Andre Szmyt (RJr.)

Long snapper: Aaron Bolinsky (Jr.) | Mike Midkiff (RFr.)

Punter: James Williams (Fr.) | Nolan Cooney (RSr.)

Kick returner: Jawhar Jordan (RFr.) | Nykeim Johnson (Sr.)

Punt returner: Jawhar Jordan (RFr.) | Nykeim Johnson (Sr.)

After four consistent years with Hof, the baton’s passed to James Williams at punter, and all eyes will be on his abilities to keep up Syracuse’s recent run of success at the position. The returner position has the most potential for impactful change, as Sean Riley’s effectiveness became questionable by senior year. Given the speed and ability we’ve seen from Jordan, he seems like a pretty good substitute there (he also averaged 28.5 yards per kick return on four attempts in 2019). Johnson has played a role in return duties in recent years, and will likely be plugged in there once again.

***

Am I super wrong? Sort of right? There’s plenty to debate in the back seven, so have at it there. Hopefully Syracuse hires a defensive coordinator shortly, and we can start getting a read on how these positions shake out. There’s likely to be a depth chart update in the coming months before/during spring practice — though that will only include the handful of 2020 signees that are enrolling for January, vs. the whole class.