We’ve already got a pretty good idea for what to expect from the Syracuse linebackers. It’s perhaps the deepest group on the team, and returns a significant amount of experience. But the other two areas on defense, the defensive line and secondary, are much bigger question marks. So I decided to ask Twitter: who’s ready to break out this season?
There are a lot of players to consider when it comes to being a breakout performer, but ultimate I had to whittle it down to four choices. I mentioned the other day that I think Corey Winfield is poised to become a star. I also firmly believe that the success of the defense will rely heavily on the defensive line, particularly the development of the defensive ends.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the results:
We pretty much know about the LBs. But who will be the breakout performer for the Syracuse DL and DBs this year?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) August 6, 2016
I have to be honest, I don’t think I expected things to be quite so close. I don’t know for sure who I’d choose out of this group, though, so it certainly makes sense that all four players were grouped so closely together. But by the narrowest of margins, the Syracuse fanbase believes that sophomore defensive tackle Steven Clark is on the verge of a breakout season.
Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Clark’s got terrific size and strength, and has reshaped his physique under the new strength and conditioning staff. He’s still putting up massive numbers in the weight room, but is down to about 280 according to his father. For the sake of comparison, Clark played at about 30 pounds heavier than that last season.
With the weight being shed comes additional quickness. Clark’s athleticism was already evident last year, and as a former standout basketball player in high school as well, footwork has never really been a concern. He’s running a sub-5.0 time in the 40, and has the kind of lateral agility that could make him a nightmare for offensive linemen.
Of course, he’s also entrenched in one of the few positional rotations on the defensive side of the ball that we can all agree is pretty damn promising. Along with (among others) Chris Slayton and Kayton Samuels, the defensive tackle position looks good right now. More than just that trio will play, but those are the three building blocks of the very young defensive line. Slayton is a physical freak, boasting almost unmatched strength on the roster.
Basically, the success of the defensive line will be largely dictated by Clark and Slayton. Jake Pickard, one of the other options in my Twitter poll, is a much bigger unknown but equally important.
Pickard obviously has some pedigree to him. He’s from the talent rich state of New Jersey and had the likes of Michigan and Wisconsin chasing after him. He’s got a good, big frame at 6-foot-5, and after coming to Syracuse still a little on the skinny side, he’s most definitely bulked up.
While Pickard emulates guys like JJ Watt and Chandler Jones, right now the safest comparison for Syracuse fans might be former SU and Indianapolis defensive end Josh Thomas. Thomas had a very similar size and build, and while Pickard could certainly wind up a better player down the road, I think we’d all be pretty satisfied if the redshirt freshman matched Thomas’s productivity this season.
That said, all four of these players are going to play key roles in the upcoming season. Right now, it’s clear that a good number of Syracuse fans are confident each player could break out and become a star on the defense. But in this particular vote, Steven Clark looks like the frontrunner, as far as Orange fans are concerned, to have a big year.