Yesterday, I talked about some of the players who have a good chance becoming priorities for Dino Babers and his staff during their first full recruiting cycle on the offensive side of the ball. So hey, guess what? Today we’re going to talk about some outstanding defensive players who could wind up becoming key targets for Syracuse during 2017.

It’s still a little unclear just who among the current players fits best into Brian Ward’s Tampa 2 scheme, and exactly how they’ll fit. There’s also a chance that one or two more players could be added over the next weeks and months, including a post graduate option or two (there’s one in particular I’ve got in mind, but I’ll talk about him at a later date).

That said, this cycle saw the Orange get a balanced group on defense in terms of positions, with three defensive ends, a defensive tackle, three linebackers, and four defensive backs. With linebacker already being one of the deeper positions on the roster, one would think that defensive line and the secondary would remain higher priorities, particularly in that front four. After all, Babers specifically pointed out during his press conference yesterday how crucial it is for the defensive line to apply pressure to make the Tampa 2 work.

So what are some of the names the Orange could be focusing on at all three levels? Well, let’s start with defensive linemen.

Romello Martin is the big name in state, and could be the best defensive prospect in New York in the class of 2017. The 6-foot-4, 270 pound defensive tackle is an elite player who has offers from all around the nation, and will be incredibly difficult to land. However, if Babers is serious about protecting the home turf in New York and getting after the four and five star talents early, he’s going to have to go after Martin.

Another defensive tackle just a little farther away is Fred Hansard, a New Jersey native who is teammates with 2018 wide receiver legacy recruit Kevin Johnson, Jr., and right now Hansard is one of the most sought after defensive tackles in the nation. You get the sense with Hansard that this is a recruitment that will draw out until close to signing day, similar to what we saw with Rashan Gary this year. It’s unlikely the Orange will be able to swing Hansard, but stranger things have happened.

One more defensive tackle name to keep an eye on is Jonathan Ford, a recent commit to Miami but someone who has also expressed interest in Syracuse in the past. The Dillard High (Fla.) product is a former teammate and good friend of both Kenneth Ruff and McKinley Williams, and Syracuse will continue to chase him and try to get him to flip. The 4-star talent would have a chance to earn immediate playing time.

Moving to the edge, one of the big names the staff targeted early is Donovan Jeter, a 6-foot-6, 260 pound defensive end from Pennsylvania who has offers from the likes of Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Stanford, and, well, just about everyone else. Syracuse has some serious ground to make up if they want a chance to land Jeter.

A much more realistic possibility on the defensive line is Ethan Wiederkehr, whose father, Hans, played at Syracuse. Ethan is a 6-foot-5, 255 pound prospect from New York, and was targeted by the old staff in addition to the new one. He’d be a big pickup, both for the sake of protecting the home turf and locking up a legacy recruit – something the Orange have really struggled with over the years.

Some other names to keep an eye on at defensive end are Luiji Vilain, Tyjuan Garbutt, and Owen Carney, among others. The Orange have been reaching out to a lot of defensive line prospects, so at this point, it’s tough to pinpoint which ones are the highest priorities while also remainingĀ realisticĀ options.

The Orange actually already have one linebacker committed for 2017, and he also checks off the New York box. Isaiah McDuffie is a 6-foot-2, 205 pound outside backer from Buffalo and was named the state’s Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. He committed to Scott Shafer and his staff, but likes what he’s heard from Babers and company and will remain a high priority in terms of keeping his commitment.

Another linebacker to watch is Tyler Dunning, who is committed to Miami but remains intrigued by Syracuse. The St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) product has been on Syracuse’s radar for awhile, both with the old staff and the new one, as Nick Monroe reaffirmed his offer not too long ago.

Syracuse targeted Narbonne High (Calif.) late in the 2016 cycle and landed speedy slot receiver Sean Riley, and they’ll keep hitting Narbonne in 2017. One inside linebacker prospect they like is Dominic Peterson, a 6-foot-1, 235 pound player with real interest in the Orange early in his recruiting process.

A few other linebacker prospects to keep tabs on include Tyshon Fogg, Pete Werner (a high school teammate of Kendall Coleman’s), and Anthony Pandy (another Narbonne product).

Looking at the secondary, expect cornerback to be a priority for the Orange moving into 2017. Three of the four defensive backs the staff got to sign were safeties in the 2016 cycle, though Scoop Bradshaw has the potential to transition to corner down the road. Still, the new staff wants to shore up the corners, and some of the top names on their list are Ambry Thomas and Jonathan Sutherland.

Thomas is a Detroit native and a 4-star prospect who will be tough to pry out of Big Ten territory, while Sutherland is a 6-foot corner from Virginia who is one of the most recent offers for the new staff. The Orange also like Floridians Trajan Bandy (a close friend of Syracuse’s Antwan Cordy), Shawn Davis, and Latavious Brini. Davis is a player I’ve written about before, and he’s been blowing up since then, recently receiving offers from the likes of Alabama and Auburn. Brini is a tall, lanky corner at 6-foot-2 and would be a terrific pickup as well.

Finally, if Syracuse goes hard after some more safety prospects, expect Naytron Culpepper (pictured at the top of the page) to be one of the names they focus on early. The 6-foot-1, 175 pounder is a tremendous athlete, and is a former teammate of one of Syracuse’s top wide receiver targets in 2017 Anthony White, Jr. (Culpepper just announced a transfer from American to Miami Carol City). Other names to remember are Billy Gibson and Damani Neal, though at this point with Neal it seems to be a two horse race between Maryland and Penn State. However, the Orange will likely try to get into the mix with Reno Ferri leading the charge for the Maryland native.

These are obviously only a handful of names, and the recruiting world fluctuates so wildly that there’s just as good a chance as none of these players winding up in Orange as anything else. Still, when we’re literally on the first day after the 2016 class was finalized* it’s as good a place to start as any.

*Potential late additions aside

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Jeff is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University, and has been published on various websites including,,,, and, among others. His work was featured in the New York Times bestselling book You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News. He's got a wife, and a toddler he's brainwashing to love Syracuse. Jeff's a pretty great guy, overall, and would never steal your car. Follow him on Twitter: @jekelish