The Syracuse Orange football team has a new head coach, but a lot of uncertainty as we move towards the opening of the transfer portal and early signing period. As Fran Brown wraps up at Georgia, we want to know which current player should be the priority for the new staff to retain.
For the purpose of this roundtable, we are going to assume that everyone who participated in the Senior Walk will not return, and that Oronde Gadsden is declaring for the NFL Draft.
Which player on offense do the Orange need to retain?
Kevin: LeQuint Allen becomes the clear favorite. Not only was Allen a 1,000 yard rusher, but he emerged as a team leader and with a focus on restoring the Syracuse presence in New Jersey, he becomes the clear choice.
Mike: Kalan Ellis. Yes it’s technically Allen but there is a near-zero chance he leaves, so I’m cheating a bit and not counting him. The most important issue overall is the offensive line, and that can be improved just by getting back a healthy version of the starter who allowed the least QB pressures in 2022. I worry just a bit here being that Ellis is Hawai’ian and really bought into Dino’s Ohana when he was recruited.
Christian: I want to say Jamie Tremble but I suspect we’ll get to recruits as we draw closer to signing day. Instead I’ll go for more of the same with LeQuint Allen. It’s not just the numbers on the field that he put up this year. It’s clear after his offseason issues and sideline demeanor that he is a well-respected leader on the team. There is a lot of teammate support behind him and he seems to command attention on the sideline when bringing up issues. The intangibles are just as, if not more important when looking to retain Allen.
Which player on defense should be the top priority?
Kevin: Anwar Sparrow because with Leon Lowery in the portal and the assumption that Wax will not return, there will be a need for experience in the middle linebacker spot. Sparrow’s return could solidify the defensive captain role as the defense is sure to undergo significant change before 2024.
Mike: Stefon Thompson. When he’s healthy, Thompson is one of the most underrated players in SU’s defense. In both 2021 and 2023, he was the team’s most-effective tackler (PFF grades over 90 both years) and he has played effectively both in the box and on the line. The potential is there for Stefon to re-emerge as an 80+ tackles LB and with that group already looking thin, you don’t want to lose his experience after some time lower on the depth chart,
Christian: Terry Lockett. Syracuse’s defensive line continued to improve as the season went on, and a large part of that was the out-of-necessity switch for Lockett to move to the edge in wake of Denis Jaquez Jr.’s injury. While Jaquez is incredibly important as well, Lockett’s proven versatility to play inside or outside on the defensive line is very useful no matter what defensive system Syracuse chooses to run under Brown.
Which current Syracuse players complete your top 5 priority list?
Kevin: Donovan Brown, Denis Jaquez Jr., and Kalan Ellis would be my choices. I’m leaving out Villari since he’s transferred once (but he could potentially graduate and be eligible to leave). I chose Brown over Hatcher just because I think Brown offers a different dimension to the offense and return game with his speed. Jaquez was emerging as a threat from the defensive end spot before going down with an injury. He’s also got value keeping in my NJ focus. Ellis’ absence was felt this Fall and keeping the guard in the fold could help the offensive line take a big step forward.
Mike: Dan Villari, Terry Lockett, Umari Hatcher. Villari should be an extremely useful gadget player as we’ve seen him be a very rare triple-threat in certain circumstances this year. Lockett will be the biggest defensive lineman left with Caleb Okechukwu graduating. He defends the run well and is very alert at all times (he recovered three fumbles, all forced by others). Hatcher strikes me as someone who has a fair amount of talent but wasn’t in a good position to utilize it - he and Garrett Shrader weren’t in synch during the middle third of the season but repaired their connection against Wake Forest. As long as the next QB can throw to the sidelines, he can make a huge impact.
Christian: Dan Villari, Anwar Sparrow, and Kalan Ellis. Much in the same way as Allen, having a highly respected and vocal locker room voice like Villari will be invaluable as the coaching regime switches. If Wax leaves and Lowery stays in the portal, Sparrow is the next ‘Cuse linebacker who exhibited the same pass-rushing acumen that made the former two linebackers so formidable. And it was clear that the line’s quality was never going to be the same without Ellis, as was evident when he was healthy last season. O-line will still be a worry next year unless Brown brings in some transfers, but having a healthy Ellis will at least ease some concerns.
Who would be your choices?