As we head into the 2016 football season, there are a few near certainties for Syracuse, from a personnel standpoint. Eric Dungey is going to be taking first team snaps at QB. Zaire Franklin will anchor the defense. Steve Ishmael will be the primary target at receiver. But every year, there’s a surprise player or two. Who could this year’s biggest surprises be?
We could basically go through a long, long list of players. Jamal Custis could use his size and athleticism to break out. Alvin Cornelius could turn another good spring performance into a solid season. I’ve already talked about true freshman safety James Pierre’s potential to break into the rotation early.
So instead, I’m going to limit this a little bit. Let’s focus on second year players. And more than that, let’s talk about some guys who aren’t already penciled into starting roles. That takes out guys like Jake Pickard, for example. We know he’s going to be on the field a lot. I’m talking about the guys who have a chance to truly come a little bit out of nowhere to be difference makers.
I put a poll out on Twitter today, after narrowing things down to four players. Obviously, that’s pretty limited. There are a number of young guys who could jump up the depth chart, particularly when you’re talking about spots like on the offensive line. So after conferring with a few people, I trimmed the list. Two on offense, and two on defense. These were the guys I ultimately settled on:
Which second year SU player will be the biggest surprise this year?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) August 2, 2016
Frankly, I could see all four of those players making big leaps this year and becoming impactful players in their second season in the program. Again – this isn’t saying the guys not listed aren’t going to make an impact. Hell, chances are someone not listed is going to make the biggest impact of all. But even the biggest “shot in the dark” predictions have to get narrowed down eventually.
I’ve been hearing a lot of praise for second year offensive lineman Evan Adams since last season. His size (6-foot-6, 334 pounds in the spring), strength, and athleticism should give him a very realistic shot to win a starting role on the offensive line. As it currently stands, he’s penciled in as the second string right tackle after spring practice.
Chris Fredrick, meanwhile, came to Syracuse as a safety but transitioned to cornerback over the past year. At 5-foot-11, 187 pounds he’s got pretty good size for that position, and the buzz was very positive after spring ball. Fredrick is still pretty new to the cornerback position, but I’ve been told by people who’s opinions I trust that he looked extremely promising. He came out of the spring listed third on the depth chart at one CB spot, but could easily work his way onto the 2-deep with a little more seasoning.
But personally, there are two guys I’m looking at as potential breakout candidates from within this group of second year players. And in each case, it’s due to their freakish athleticism.
Offensively, I’ve had this gut instinct that Kenterius Womack is a guy who could really emerge out of nowhere to be a playmaker at the wide receiver position in the high octane Dino Babers offense. Womack has solid size (6-foot-1) but is still rail thin. However, he’s also a fantastic athlete, boasting not just good straightline speed but also terrific quickness and agility. He’s a guy who, if he learns how to be a wide receiver after transitioning form QB, could be lethal in the open field.
On defense, it probably seems a little counterintuitive to pick a linebacker as a breakout candidate, considering the linebackers are probably the deepest, as well as one of the most experienced groups on the team. But Shy Cullen is a freak of an athlete, boasting a sub-4.5 time in the 40. He’ll likely play this upcoming season in the 215-225 range, and if he’s given the opportunity to blitz he could wind up with more sacks from the linebacker position than any Syracuse player since Cam Lynch, if he’s able to work his way onto the field.
We’ll see how things play out once fall camp gets rolling beginning this weekend, but right now, I’m picking Kenterius Womack and Shy Cullen as my two second year breakout candidates for the 2016 season.