With National Signing Day in the books for the Syracuse football program, it’s time to turn our attention toward the future. Obviously, coming off of a 3-9 season the Orange will be looking for help in a variety of areas. True freshmen have certainly found opportunities to contribute in recent years, including guys like Zaire Franklin, Erv Philips, and Steve Ishmael last year, among others. So which players are most likely step in and make a difference right away out of this 2015 recruiting class?
One of the players to keep an eye on moving forward is New Jersey tailback Dontae Strickland, a 5-foot-11 runner with explosive athleticism who could be a game breaker on offense. Syracuse is looking pretty thin at running back, with Devante McFarlane and George Morris the only returners with any significant touches now that Erv Philips has shifted out to the slot. Strickland is one of the top recruits in this year’s class, and with his ability to make momentum changing plays every time he touches the ball, he’s almost certainly a candidate for early playing time once he gets to the Hill.
The most highly touted prospect in this year’s recruiting class by most outlets, the 4-star safety from Ohio should have plenty of opportunity to earn immediate playing time with the departures of last year’s starters, Darius Kelly and Durrell Eskridge. The fact of the matter is that safety may be the thinnest position on the roster heading into 2015, and Marquise Blair certainly has the size and talent to get on the field in a hurry. Frankly, I think we’d all be more shocked if he’s not in the 2-deep when fall camp breaks.
Unlike the secondary, the linebacking corps for the Orange should be relatively well stocked as Syracuse opens the 2015 season. Last year’s recruiting class was full of talented backers, so it might wind up being a long shot for anyone from this area to break into the rotation. However, if it happens there’s a good chance it’ll be Shy Cullen who earns early playing time, either here or on special teams. That’s quite simply because Cullen is a freakish athlete, and already has a Division I-ready physique that should enable him to get on the field sooner rather than later. Honestly, if this guy was a little bit taller, we’d probably have been looking at a kid with a handful of SEC offers to choose from.
Syracuse has decent depth on the defensive line, but there are always question marks around defensive tackles Wayne Williams and John Raymon, particularly when it comes to the injury bug. Steven Clark will have plenty of ground to make up when he gets on campus in terms of climbing the depth chart, but like Shy Cullen, he’s already physically ready to step in and perform at the Division I level. He’s a 6-foot-3, 290 pound run stopper who, oh yeah, also happens to be a power lifter. Strength is not going to be an issue with Clark, who has “future starting nose guard” written all over him.
I’m not expecting Daivon Ellison to get immediate playing time, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility due to the lack of depth in the secondary coupled with the kind of athleticism that could see him become a big part of Syracuse’s special teams plans for 2015. He’s a bit of a darkhorse for early playing time, but if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s only about 5-foot-8, we’d be talking about a guy with a legitimate chance at making the 2-deep this season.
One of the most highly sought after recruits in this year’s recruiting class, Syracuse beat out the likes of Wisconsin (where he was originally pledged), Michigan, and Oregon to land the 6-foot-6 Jake Pickard. The defensive end from the Garden State has drawn some comparisons to JJ Watt in terms of his size and frame, but obviously he’s got a long way to go to match Watt physically, as he’s only weighing in at around 235 right now. Still, Pickard’s size and athleticism certainly make him a candidate to earn early playing time for the Orange.
Another prospect who has a chance to compete early because of opportunity, Christopher Fredrick is a safety prospect who started getting a lot of attention as the recruiting process wore on. He was offered by Stanford late in the cycle, meaning not only is he an athletic talent, but picking up the mental aspect of the game shouldn’t be a problem for the Georgia product. He’s already got decent size at 6-feet, 205 pounds, and he’s got enough athleticism to potentially get on the field early for the Orange.
DARKHORSE: Eric Dungey
Okay, chances are we won’t see quarterback prospect Eric Dungey in 2015. But considering the way that the quarterback position became such an Achilles heel for Syracuse in 2014, don’t dismiss the idea entirely. Injuries happen, and if the group of Terrel Hunt, AJ Long, and Austin Wilson don’t make some strides this summer, it wouldn’t be completely shocking to see the 3-star talent from Oregon at least get some looks when fall camp opens. At 6-foot-4, he’s got ideal size, and considering he was being recruited by the service academies and some Ivy League schools, he’s another kid who won’t have any issues with the mental side of the game. He’s got impressive balance and footwork, and while his throwing mechanics need a little work, he has the look of a prospect who could play his way onto the field sooner than later.
So, who did I miss? Will Amir Ealey, or Ty Cross fight their way into the rotation on the defensive line? Will Troy Henderson challenge for time at linebacker? Will any of our offensive line recruits break into the 2-deep? Let me know in the comments section below.