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Syracuse football: Who will step up to lead wide receivers?

How can the Orange fill an Oronde Gadsden sized hole in their air attack?

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When the Syracuse Orange needed a big passing play last season, they’d look to the dependable hands of Oronde Gadsden II to reel in clutch catches. But Gadsden will not take the field again this season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in Week 2. It may even be longer than that before O.G. makes a full recovery - and whether or not he’s played his last snap for SU is still to be determined.

The Orange took care of business at Purdue, but it was primarily due to the legs of Garrett Shrader. Now they have just one more game before ACC play begins - one more game to figure out what the plan is throughout the rest of the receivers’ room. Here’s what each new WR1 candidate offers:

Damien Alford

Damien is easily the most “hot and cold” option on the team. He’s had some clutch moments including a game-winning grab at Virginia Tech two seasons ago, but the 6’6” deep threat has also struggled with drops and other inconsistencies.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Syracuse at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Still, the rest of the offense has a lot of faith in him to lead this season, as Alford was nominated as a team captain alongside Garrett Shrader. He had a team-best 70 receiving yards at Purdue and has previously said that his focus is to become a more well-rounded receiving option. If that does happen, then Alford’s decision to stay in Syracuse will pay off for both sides.

Donovan Brown

Brown’s early breakout mirrors Gadsden’s from last year. Neither got much attention during their redshirt seasons, but both quickly impressed in flashes once they saw the field. Gadsden’s first career touchdown was an exclamation point in a dominant season-opening win over Louisville, just as Brown’s 86-yard scamper across the Dome turf was a high point in this year’s Week 2 game.

But Oronde truly broke out around the same time that Isaiah Jones was lost to injury. From Week 3 on, Gadsden had at least four catches and at least 65 yards in every game except for one. Brown’s already on his way, leading the Orange with 12 receptions for 206 yards. If the injury history has to repeat itself, then we can hope that these unexpected breakouts continue to as well.

Isaiah Jones

In terms of physically replacing Gadsden’s spot in the slot, Jones is the likely choice. Aside from their similar statures, Jones also prefers to lead by example as Gadsden did. He may not be the most vocal person in the locker room, but the early results speak for themselves. Jones is averaging nearly 20 yards-per-catch early on, and he’s currently the only Orange receiver with multiple TDs. He also had a pair of long receptions that ended right outside the goal line, so a matter of inches is all that kept a “4” from going in that column instead.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Babers went so far as to call Isaiah the intended Number One receiver entering last season, so the coaching staff thinks very highly of him. He had a limited snap count against Purdue, but Babers confirmed that his absence was not injury related.

Umari Hatcher

Another potential hidden gem, Hatcher was used sparingly in 2022 but has a sharp uptick in targets through the first three games of this season. Babers made earlier comments about how Hatcher’s improvements on the field are related to what he does off of it. With an improved day/nightlife balance, Umari has found his stride and along with it, the approval of his teammates.

Jones specifically predicted that Hatcher would have a great season, and he’s shown big-play ability in the first two home games. There was a drop in the road trip to Purdue, but nothing too egregious. Umari is averaging just under 21 YPC and is second in total receiving yards with 188.


Your turn Orange fans: who do you think will become the leader of the receivers’ room?