Well, that was exhausting. A year has pretty much flown by, while somehow managing to feel like an enormous grind. Syracuse lost a couple of players late in Josh Palmer (more evidence that I should never personally go and evaluate a recruit?) and BJ Daniels, but for the most part, the class played out exactly as expected.
And while the class of 2017 won’t crack any top 25 rankings nationally, it was indeed a very solid class. Scout.com ranks the class as the 56th best in the nation, while 247Sports rates it at number 55. Now, obviously we can argue with some of those numbers, since they’re based on star ratings.
Keyshawn Johnson was on ESPN Radio down here in the Dallas area earlier today, speaking pretty candidly about his opinion on star rankings, and how recruiting has changed since he was recruited. These days, it’s all about stars, and highlights, and plenty of coaches recruiting based on HUDL packages and whether a kid is a 4-star guy or a 2-star guy, rather than using their own eyes to evaluate talent.
And there’s an awful lot of truth in that. Obviously, a 4-star guy or a 5-star guy is more likely to wind up panning out than a 2-star, no-name player who only had offers from a handful of FCS schools. But this year’s class for Syracuse looks pretty damn solid across the board, stars be damned.
Don’t get me wrong: the Orange feature a 2017 class that consists primarily of 3-star guys. Even the Scout.com 2-star guys – like Ifeatu Melifonwu and Russell Thompson-Bishop, as well as early enrollee Patrick Davis and JUCO transfer Ryan Guthrie – are almost certainly better than their ratings would have the casual observer believe.
Guthrie, for instance, was a first team JUCO All-American last year, finishing among the national leaders in tackles. That doesn’t happen by accident. Melifonwu, meanwhile, had no less than Jim Harbaugh and Michigan come in and try to steal him away within the last couple weeks. With tremendous size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and with a projection to play cornerback at Syracuse… do you really buy that 2-star rating, when a guy like Harbaugh saw him and tried to snag him?
Neither do I.
There’s a lot to like about this year’s class, and it’s a nice bit of foundation, as Dino Babers put it in his press conference (full video of which I’ll embed down at the bottom). Tommy DeVito is obviously the gem of the class, as the Elite 11 finalist and Under Armour All-American. The dude committed to Syracuse back in April, before anyone knew who he was, and never wavered even as his profile exploded over the course of last summer.
Now, he’ll be coming to Syracuse with a chip on his shoulder, hoping to compete for early playing time. Obviously Eric Dungey, as the incumbent, two year starter, is the probable guy under center this season. But don’t be surprised if DeVito winds up rocketing up the depth chart and takes the number two spot. This is a guy who was hand picked by Dino Babers, after all. If there’s one thing that Dino knows, it’s how to unearth quarterback talent.
I’ve got a few picks for players I think will out-play their ratings, including not just Melifonwu but also Thompson-Bishop. The 6-foot-2 wideout from Connecticut is not only highly intelligent (3.9 GPA), but fast, strong, and athletic (he led the entire state of Connecticut in blocked shots, with 4.6 per game, as a junior on his school’s basketball team). He’s physically ready to play right now. Don’t be shocked if he cracks the rotation sooner than later.
Tyrell Richards is another player I expect to get early playing time for the Orange as a big, powerful, athletic linebacker. The coaching staff loves Richards as a prospect, and it’s likely a very good thing he grew up in Canada instead of Florida. If he’d been a native of the Sunshine State, the 6-foot-3, 220 pound linebacker would probably be playing for the likes of Florida State or Clemson.
And that brings me back to one very important thing: this staff clearly has an eye for talent. They saw DeVito’s talent before anyone else, despite him being a state champ with Don Bosco last year, and that’s the biggest reason he never wavered from his pledge. They found Melifonwu (who, considering his brother is about to become a relatively high NFL draft pick out of UConn, somehow managed to stay under the radar), who they wound up having to fight tooth and nail to hold onto against Harbaugh.
Hell, I remember when I first heard about Melifonwu when chatting with my friend Mike McAllister over at CuseNation.com. This was back when Syracuse was firmly in the mix for Brian Edwards, the 6-foot-3 defensive back from Florida who originally committed to Louisville, then flipped to Miami, and today signed with Florida. I’d never heard of Melifonwu, and he came from Massachusetts, which isn’t exactly known as a hotbed. Mike assured me that the staff loved him, and viewed him as being on par with Edwards.
Lo and behold, he winds up being the guy we had to fight hardest for when the big dogs came calling. And it’s all because Dino Babers and his staff saw and identified his ability early on in the process.
That’s what gives me hope for the future of Syracuse football, in addition to Dino’s obvious expertise in putting points on the board. Assuming Brian Ward gets his defense turned around (and with the additions of guys like Guthrie and Notre Dame graduate transfer Devin Butler, as well as, potentially, another former Notre Dame defensive back in Mykelti Williams, it could wind up happening sooner than later), this is going to be a team on the rise.
Hell, I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorite prospects from this year’s class, like Markenzy Pierre (who rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his career at one of the highest levels in Florida) or Sharod Johnson (who, again, committed to Syracuse before anyone knew who he really was, and was a guy the staff had to hold off “bigger” suitors to get signed).
This may not wind up being the best recruiting class in Syracuse football history, but it’s going to be an important one. Now, let’s take a look at what Dino had to say about his newest members of the Orange family.