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Way-too-early Syracuse football depth chart projections for 2021: Offense

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Maybe this is a fruitless exercise given the unknowns, but that’s fine.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Syracuse Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

After yesterday’s events at the Carrier Dome, some of you may actually want to talk about the Syracuse Orange football team to get your mind off things. As always, I’m happy to do so.

Though we haven’t received official word from all of last season’s seniors who could potentially stick around for a free year per NCAA rules, it’s worth at least looking at the depth chart and roster as it stands right now so we know where offseason priorities could lie.

Here, we’ll look at the offense, in a couple hours, we’ll handle defense and special teams. All years are just left in place from this past season since every player has another year of eligibility to work with now, even if it does count against scholarship counts. Keep in mind, this is just a two-deep, so if a player isn’t listed here, that’s just because we’re not seeing them among the two best options right now.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback: Garrett Shrader (RSo.) | Tommy DeVito (RJr.)

Shrader’s not coming to Syracuse to sit, but DeVito also showed improvement game-over-game before his 2020 season was cut short due to injury. As we broke down after Shrader opted to transfer from Mississippi State, they’re similar passers but Garrett’s legs are what really set him apart. This will be an interesting QB battle all offseason, and one that could involve JaCobian Morgan as well (though the two names above are much further along in their respective development than the greener Morgan).

Running back: Sean Tucker (Fr.) | Josh Hough (Fr.)

After an impressive freshman season despite offensive line struggles and a listless scheme half the time, Tucker’s clearly entrenched as the starter. The question (other than whether we’re actually putting 44 on the table for him) is who backs him up. Lutz showcased some good speed and running ability, but could serve better as an H-back type of player. Hough, on the other hand, comes in at 235 pounds and would seem to be the clear power back option we’ve lacked in recent seasons.

Also, would note that I’m assuming Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard aren’t back. If either return, one potentially moves into the second spot here. Ideally, SU’s adding another scholarship player here with just three running backs remaining.

Outside receiver 1: Taj Harris (Jr.) | Damien Alford (Fr.)

Outside receiver 2: Anthony Queeley (RSo) | Ed Hendrix (RSo)

Inside receiver: Courtney Jackson (RFr) | Trebor Pena (Fr)

The three starters above are three of the four receivers that caught at least 10 passes last year, with Nykeim Johnson being the only player to depart. Harris and Queeley seem pretty entrenched, while Jackson appeared to get the most burn of any non-Nykeim slot option in 2020. Including Hendrix may seem like wishful thinking since he hasn’t necessarily been able to stay on the field and if he isn’t again, you can sub Ja’Vontae Williams or Justin Barron in there instead as bigger outside options.

Jawhar Jordan’s departure could’ve helped alleviate some concern on the inside. Ideally, Syracuse is adding a bigger option outside in the transfer market, so that Harris can move inside where he’s likely better suited from a size perspective.

Tight end: Luke Benson (So.) | Chris Elmore (Sr.)

With Hackett gone, Benson takes the starting tight end gig. Hopefully he’s deployed more as a receiving option, however. You can probably put Steven Mahar (another player who’s clearly a pass-catcher) as his true backup, since Elmore’s a fullback. Having him in the backfield once again could mean big things for the run game in 2021.

Left tackle: Matthew Bergeron (So.) | Mark Petry (So.)

Left guard: Chris Bleich (RSo.)| Darius Tisdale (RJr.)

Center: Carlos Vettorello (RSo.) | Josh Ilaoa (Fr.)

Right guard: Dakota Davis (RJr.) | Patrick Davis (RSr.)

Right tackle: Airon Servias (RSr.) | Anthony Red (RFr.)

Even if it’s just last year’s line with Bleich starting at left guard, it’s still likely to be a much better group than what we saw in 2020. These players have been on the same line long enough to be a bit more in sync, and that should pay dividends going forward. However, with luck we see a younger player move up and/or a transfer or two brought in to further shake up this group. Servais, while a team leader, struggled mightily last year. If an injury was the culprit, then that’s something he’ll have an opportunity to work his way back from. If not, experience would be ideal to be able to plug in.

***

With the offense largely static in terms of personnel, it may not look like a lot of change here. TBD if that’s actually a good thing given how much Syracuse struggled on this side of the ball in 2020. But the hope is that there’s improvement among both the players and coaching staff. Remove some injuries and add a transfer or two, and it’s easier to feel better about what’s coming back.

Disagree vehemently? Share your own depth chart ideas below.