Picking stat leaders for the Syracuse Orange may seem rather straight-forward for the 2020 season. However, given the wacky year we’ve all had, I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow Chris Elmore leads the team in rushing yards and tackles. That being said, who could be the stat leaders for SU in 2020?
I’ll focus on five main categories: rushing yards, receiving yards, touchdowns, sacks, and interceptions. With that sorted, let’s dive right into the stats.
Rushing yards: Jarveon Howard
Let’s get this out of the way first -- there’s been some recent concern that Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard may not be currently practicing. For now, unless we’re told otherwise, let’s assume that both are available for the season.
Adams might be the starter, but I could see a situation where Howard racks up more yards. There’s a couple of stats that one could use that Howard was the better running back on paper in 2019. The fact that Howard is a power running back could also play into his hands. Syracuse loves to pound the ball up the middle and Howard could be used to create 2nd-and-short or 3rd-and-short situations along with redzone duties.
This is one of those categories where it’s a toss-up. Either Adams or Howard could easily surge ahead and cement themselves as the number-one option on the ground. Don’t forget about Jawhar Jordan waiting in the wings as well. If one or both of the top options aren’t available, Jordan could easily garner more carries, if he hasn’t earned them already.
Receiving yards: Taj Harris
This one is one of those areas where it’s pretty straight forward who’s going to come out on top. Harris is the leading returner in receiving yards and there’s no reason to debate whether Tommy DeVito has another option for his number-one guy in the air.
However, as with everything this season, don’t be surprised if a couple of guys challenge Harris for touches. Jordan could also be a threat in the slot or on the inside, not just in the running game. Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson also showed enough promise in the receiving portion of their tight end abilities to command some attention from opposition defenses.
Touchdowns: Taj Harris
You could make a case for one of the running backs here, but I think they’ll split touches too much early on in the season while the coaching staff figures out who should be RB1. That opens the door for Harris to take a pretty commanding lead in the touchdown department as he looks to demand the ball as Syracuse gets close to the goal line.
Don’t ignore Hackett here. As I mentioned above, he took a great step forward last year and is an equal threat in the redzone. The Orange have some great versatility in the tight end position and if teams tunnel in too much on Harris, Hackett could very well slip through unnoticed to rack up a few scores.
Sacks: Tyrell Richards
I actually don’t think the defensive line will put up the numbers that some might expect. There’s definitely a lot of talent there with Kingsley Jonathan, McKinley Williams, and Josh Black, but given the nature of the 3-3-5, I think their roles might be different to what fans might think. I’ve said before how the defensive line’s main priority is to keep offensive linemen occupied so that the linebackers can do the work. In particular, the weakside linebacker should have free reign over a one-on-one matchup or an uncontested run to the ball carrier.
That opens the door for Richards to use his athleticism to get after the quarterback often. Even though the linebacker corps is generally seen as a weak point for SU this year, they carry a lot of potential to improve on people’s expectations. One of the guys that is flying under the radar is Richards, and he could have a breakout season.
Another name to keep an eye on is Mikel Jones, who recently said that he was practicing at the weakside linebacker spot. Most people believe that he has the talent to be a starter, and if Richards is at all unavailable, Jones could be another candidate to stuff the stat sheets.
Interceptions: Ifeatu Melifonwu
Syracuse’s best unit is probably it’s secondary. With players such as Andre Cisco and Trill Williams, Orange opponents have a lot to prepare for in the passing game. Cisco’s the main threat, but teams could put too much focus on him due to his performance over his first two seasons of college ball. That creates ample opportunity for others on the secondary to make a play, and Melifonwu could thrust himself into prominence.
Cisco could still rack up impressive numbers, but teams might decide to throw away from him and force others to make a play. Melifonwu has been steadily improving during his college career and it could be very easy for teams to overlook him while they decipher the 3-3-5.
Who do you think will lead Syracuse in these categories? Sound off in the comments below.