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Way-too-early Syracuse football depth chart projections for 2021: Defense/special teams

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Just let us indulge in this to avoid the obvious for just a few minutes.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier on Thursday, we started our way-too-early look at the Syracuse Orange football team’s offensive depth chart. Hopefully you were as interested in discussing the subject as much as we were, despite the lingering uncertainty about the SU roster for 2021.

While we’ve yet to get official word on all of last season’s seniors (who have a free year, per the NCAA), the early signing period is passed and we have a decent sense of who’s on the roster otherwise. At least looking at the depth chart at current also gives us a good sense of where those final additions this offseason may come from.

After discussing the offense earlier, we’re talking defense and special teams this time around. Notably, all years are just left in place from this past season since every player has another year of eligibility to work with now, despite it counting against scholarship counts.

Also, this is just a two-deep, so if someone isn’t listed here, that’s only because we’re not seeing them among the two best options right now.

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

Defensive end: Josh Black (RSr.) | Cody Roscoe (Sr.)

Defensive tackle: McKinley Williams (RSr.) | Joe Rondi (RFr.)

We know Jonathan and Black are both back, and that’ll be helpful in giving more time to the long list of underclassmen on the line who’ve yet to really gain the requisite experience. Still, them being back shouldn’t stop younger guys from seeing the field — most notably Kinsler and Caleb Okechukwu (but quite a few more names as well). Williams and Roscoe have not indicated whether they’re back or not just yet. It’s no knock on Roscoe, but we do have options at end to plug in. At tackle, though, no Bear means Rondi, Harper or another largely unproven option.

If Williams opts for the draft, tackle seems like an area where a grad transfer would be especially useful.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 19 Syracuse at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Weakside linebacker: Mikel Jones (So.) | Marlowe Wax (Fr.)

Middle linebacker: Geoff Cantin-Arku (So.) | Lee Kpogba (So.)

Strongside linebacker: Stefon Thompson (Fr.) | Tyrell Richards (RJr.)

The emergence of SU’s young linebackers this past year was a nice surprise as the season went on (despite everything happening around them), and now we get those players back with a year of experience under their belts in this 3-3-5 scheme. Perhaps helpfully, these starters don’t have exclusivity around playing time and it’ll look like more of a rotation between these six (and others).

Cornerback: Garrett Williams (RFr.) | Adrian Cole (RFr.)

Cornerback: Chase Atkinson (Fr.) | Duce Chestnut (Fr.)

Free safety: Ben LaBrosse (Fr.) | Aman Greenwood (RFr.)

Boundary safety: Ja’Had Carter (Fr.) | Cornelius Nunn (RFr.)

Rover: Eric Coley (RJr.) | Rob Hanna (Fr.)

This entire secondary is basically just freshman at this point after the departures of Andre Cisco, Trill Williams and Ifeatu Melifonwu. On the bright side, though, most of these players saw the field plenty in 2020 and should be better for it. The exception is really four-star addition Chestnut, who should challenge for playing time right away given how thin this group has gotten. While we like what’s coming back here, there’s not much wiggle room for injuries — something we should definitely be accounting for more after this past fall.

A grad transfer at corner would probably fit the bill, just to avoid throwing anyone into the deep end and giving time for guys to develop without impeding their long-term abilities to contribute.

Place kicker: Andre Szmyt (RJr.) | James Williams (Fr.)

Kickoff specialist: Nolan Cooney (RSr.) | James Williams (Fr.)

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

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

Kick returner: Trebor Pena (Fr.) | Ja’Had Carter (Fr.)

Punt returner: Trebor Pena (Fr.) | Ja’Had Carter (Fr.)

Kickers and punters could be exactly the same. And if not, we’re swapping Cooney — an impressive punter we didn’t know was impressive until he took the field — for Williams, someone who’s likely going to be an impressive punter but we still won’t know for sure until he takes the field. The bigger questions are for returns. Without Nykeim Johnson, Jawhar Jordan was likely going to take on some sort of return duties... but then he opted to transfer as well. Pena, who returned a kick for a touchdown in 2020, seems like the right option to plug in there. Carter seemed like an interesting player to plug in, but admittedly, that’s sort of spit-balling.

Of course you have thoughts, though. So share those below.