We’re inching closer to the start of fall camp, and once again people are getting cautiously optimistic about the direction of Syracuse football. We’ve already talked about who the most important players will be this season, and what it’ll take to officially turn the corner. Well, to turn that corner you need a few breakout players to take you to the next level.
There are a number of candidates on the Syracuse roster who could become breakout stars and help the Orange ascent to the top of the ACC standings. Well, to near the top of the ACC standings, since it’s a little too optimistic to think SU has a chance to overtake Florida State or Clemson this season.
Still, the Orange did finish third in the division last season and there’s no reason to think Scott Shafer’s crew can’t duplicate that success this season despite a pretty potent schedule. Again, though, there are certain factors at play here, such as the continued growth of guys like Terrel Hunt and the emergence of those breakout stars, whoever they might be.
So who are the likeliest candidates? Well, let’s take a look at a few options, shall we?
The 6-foot-4 playmaker started coming into his own last year, catching a team-best 52 passes. However, as he typically only caught bubble screens his average reception was just 8.7 yards-per-catch and he didn’t have any receiving touchdowns. There’s a very real chance his receptions will go down this year with what appears to be a stronger overall receiving corps, but as he continues to progress as a receiver his YPR should increase and it’d be a pretty big shock if he’s kept out of the endzone again.
The Orange defense appears to be pretty set at the linebacker positions, but don’t be surprised if the true freshman from Philadelphia works his way into the two-deep by the start of the season. He’s already one of the bulkiest linebackers on the team, tipping the scales at 238, and was an All-State performer and selected for the Big 33 game. He didn’t have a ton of great offers, with the best coming from Arizona, Pitt, and UConn, but he’s got the size and talent to make an immediate impact on defense.
Unlike the linebacker unit, the defensive line is seriously thin and one of the biggest question marks for Syracuse heading into the 2014 campaign. That’s why a guy like Johnson has a chance to emerge as a true difference maker at defensive end. He played in 11 games as a true freshman last season, showing flashes of being a disruptive force on the edge, and at 6-foot-4, 276 he’s got ideal size for the position. If anyone is going to emerge as a star at defensive end for SU this year, it’ll be either Johnson or Ron Thompson.
The easy pick at running back would probably be George Morris II, but at this point he almost feels like too well known a commodity, so we’re going to go with his classmate, who seems to be a bit of a forgotten man sometimes. But the dude has some serious talent, showing flashes of game-breaking speed and quickness last season, averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry, best among all rushers last season. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, Run DMC and Morris have fully usurped the starting role from Prince-Tyson Gulley.
Along with Franklin, Cooper is a true freshman who could make an immediate impact for the Orange this season. He’ll certainly have a chance to earn reps at wide receiver, as he’s obviously got the talent. The 6-foot North Carolina native is described as being deceptively quick with good burst, who uses his body well and has above average hands for a receiver his age. He should have every opportunity to earn targets from Hunt.
Frankly, we could talk about everyone else on this list and toss in a few more names, but at the end of the day, this is the guy we’re most likely to be raving about as our big breakout star when the season rolls around. Estime earned snaps as a true freshman last year and, despite not doing much in the first half of the season, was slowly incorporated into the offense more and more as the year progressed. He’s got tremendous speed and quickness, and gives the Orange a dynamic threat on the outside.
Considering the potential he’s got to be an explosive punt returner, he offers the Orange the kind of weapon on special teams they haven’t had since, at the very least, Jamel Riddle. As he showed in the Texas Bowl, he’s a threat to break a long return at any moment. By the end of the season, don’t be at all surprised if people are comparing the Florida speedster to former West Virginia star Tavon Austin.
Skip ahead to the 1:30 mark and start salivating at the type of explosiveness Estime should give SU this season: