It’s long been a subject of debate between myself and my brother: the NFL prospects of Syracuse wide receiver Steve Ishmael. From his freshman year, I thought Ishmael had the chops to play on Sundays. My brother, on the other hand, didn’t think he was explosive enough to carve out a career in the NFL.
The senior from Florida is having an outstanding final campaign, currently ranked first in the nation in both receptions (56) and receiving yards (729). He’s caught three of Eric Dungey’s nine touchdown passes this year, and has been the most consistent receiver in America this year. He’s reached 100 yards or more in five of six games, and that sixth game – last week’s win over Pitt – saw him just shy with 97 yards.
“Consistency” is the word that best sums up what Ishmael brings to the field every Saturday. His freshman year, he caught 27 passes for 415 yards with three touchdowns. As a sophomore, he led the team with 39 catches for 570 yards and seven scores.
Quick aside: how incredible is it now to look back at 39 receptions as the team leader for the entire year?
Last year, in what some consider a quiet or “disappointing” year for Ishmael, he still caught a career-best (at the time) 48 passes for 559 yards, though he only found the endzone once. To this point in his career, he’s caught 170 passes for 2,273 yards and 14 touchdowns. The school’s all-time receptions record, right now held by Alec Lemon at 201 catches, will likely belong to either Ishmael or Ervin Philips before the end of 2017. Marvin Harrison’s career record of 2,728 yards is also in danger of falling to Ishmael.
Yet the question remains: will any of that be good enough to get him serious consideration as an NFL draft pick or, at a minimum, a roster spot after signing somewhere as an undrafted free agent?
The knock on Ishmael continues to be his perceived lack of elite speed. Ishmael certainly isn’t what you’d call “blazing” fast, but a lot of quality NFL receivers have lacked the same level of explosiveness of, for example, a DeSean Jackson. When I look at Steve Ishmael, with his physicality at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, and his hands – arguably the best hands on any Syracuse receiver since Harrison (and, for me, it’s a discussion between Ishmael and Mike Williams over that period), I see a guy who has a chance to make an NFL roster and stick.
Last week I was trying to think of potential comparisons for Ishmael, and the one that came to mind pretty quickly was Anquan Boldin. Coming out of Florida State, Boldin wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy, and in fact his combine performance is pointed to by a lot of people as one of the poorest showings by an eventual Pro Bowl player in memory. Boldin measured in at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds and ran his 40 in the 4.7s – hardly ideal numbers for a wide receiver in the modern era.
But Boldin was able to find a role in the NFL because he was strong, tough, fought for the ball, and came up with big catches when they were needed – not to mention his willingness and ability to block downfield.
Ishmael possesses those same qualities, which makes me stick by my initial feeling on him. To me, when I watch him play, I see a guy with the potential to play in the NFL. Now, when it comes to receivers, it’s a bit of a crapshoot trying to figure out who will and will not stick. Amba Etta-Tawo, for instance, had a record-setting year at Syracuse last year and put up combine numbers that will probably be around what Ishmael is able to do, and he hasn’t been able to find a home yet.
Ishmael still has numerous chances to show the scouts what he can do. After all, the Orange are entering a stretch of games in which he’ll need to have big performances for Syracuse to have any shot at winning, beginning with Clemson in the Carrier Dome tomorrow night.
So what do you think? Is Steve Ishmael an NFL-caliber receiver? I posed the question on Twitter this morning, and I’m curious to see what the consensus is (albeit through Orange-colored glasses).
Is Steve Ishmael an NFL receiver? I mean, obviously he isn't yet. But will be he one eventually?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) October 12, 2017