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Syracuse football: We’ll learn a lot about returning players by Saturday night

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Next year’s roster will start taking shape the second the final seconds tick off the clock vs. Pitt.

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

Right now, the biggest concern around the Syracuse Orange football team is obviously whether or not they can upset the Pittsburgh Panthers and make a bowl game. However, there are some additional looming questions as well.

One of them is around whether or not Dino Babers will return as head coach — something that at least sounds like is already decided. The other is around which players are actually sticking around for the 2022 season.

We’ve seen a parade of transfers leave the Orange program both last offseason and during the 2021 regular season too, and more may yet leave via the portal once the final whistle blows vs. Pitt. Some of those departures could be playing time related. Others could be due to graduating and wanting a new opportunity. And there’s also the question of which players could declare for the draft.

While there’s still a lot more information left to gather and guys could certainly change their minds, we already know two players that have stated they’ll return for 2022: Chris Elmore and Duce Chestnut. While Rhino is using a redshirt this season to come back for year six, Duce still has three more years of eligibility left after this.

Sean Tucker also “expects” to be back next year, but is meeting with his family to finalize — something that potentially sounds terrifying. However, with the way the portal works now, you can’t blame any player for evaluating his options, especially when he’s one of the best running backs in the country and the current Orange offense runs through him.

But what about everyone else? Babers has already asked that juniors intending to leave come forward this past Sunday, so we’ll know soon enough who’s leaving and who’s staying. We separate the conversation into a few different groups below.

Super Seniors

There are seven super seniors on the current roster, and Elmore has already opted to return. So the other six Syracuse will be losing this offseason are Josh Black, McKinley Williams, Kingsley Jonathan, Cody Roscoe, Airon Servais and Abdul Adams. We’ve never gotten full clarity on Devaughn Cooper’s scholarship status, but he also doesn’t have eligibility remaining anyway.

That’s most of the defensive line rotation, plus a starting offensive lineman, and one of the most involved receivers on the roster in Cooper. That definitely leaves some holes to fill.

Seniors

There aren’t many non-super seniors on this team, but we’ll be waiting on decisions from the following guys to see if they’re coming back for another year: Eric Coley, Curtis Harper, Andre Szmyt, Dakota Davis, Darius Tisdale and Sharod Johnson.

A year ago, I’d have bet Szmyt left for the NFL Draft, but now I’m not so sure. It would be ideal for Coley, Harper and Davis to all come back given depth and/or experience concerns at their respective positions. I wouldn’t blame Johnson for using a grad transfer here considering how little this offense has shown in terms of utilizing wide receivers.

Update: Harper will depart for the transfer portal.

2022 Juniors

These are draft-eligible players who still have a year remaining at Syracuse or elsewhere if they choose to stay at the college level. There are quite a few major contributors on this list, and it would seem like they’re the group Dino was most interested in hearing from around their return for 2022:

  • Luke Benson
  • Matthew Bergeron
  • Chris Bleich
  • Wil Froumy
  • Isaiah Jones
  • Mikel Jones
  • Cooper Lutz
  • Caleb Okechukwu
  • Mark Petry
  • Anthony Queeley
  • Carlos Vettorello

That’s... a lot of offensive linemen and any of those departures really hurts for 2022 given the handful of other guys on the roster with any experience. Losing an all-conference player like Mikel Jones would be brutal, and it seems he’s weighing his options on the NFL (and rightfully so).

Okechukwu is slated to be a starting defensive lineman next year if he returns, so that seems promising for us. It would be ideal not to lose Lutz, Queeley or Benson given the lack of experienced playmakers on offense.

2023 Juniors

Then there are the 2023 guys who normally would only have two years under their belts, but due to COVID allowances from last year, get some extra time. This isn’t everyone that’s eligible through 2023. Just some of them — like anyone who’s a redshirt freshman but played last year.

  • Jakob Bradford
  • Adrian Cole
  • Aman Greenwood
  • Steve Linton
  • Neil Nunn
  • Garrett Shrader
  • Jason Simmons
  • Garrett Williams

You might notice a large portion of Syracuse’s secondary above, plus frequent linebacker contributor Steve Linton and of course, current starting QB Garrett Shrader. With Shrader the incumbent starter right now, there’s little reason for him to look elsewhere. Williams has been banged up a bit this year, but is an NFL prospect if he chooses to make the jump. Simmons just arrived via transfer, so it would be a surprise to see him go elsewhere again. Bradford is slated to be in the mix for a starting O-line role next year, so seems likely he’d stay.

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Of course, other players beyond this group could still transfer out at any time, and Syracuse could definitely add players as well. But it’s going to be a busy offseason as Babers looks to construct his most important roster to-date at Syracuse. And I’m honestly curious how the staff pulls it off when they’re already down to about 70 scholarship players and have just 10 guys committed for 2022 so far.