Over the three days of the 2014 NFL draft, Syracuse saw a couple of its former players get tabbed by NFL teams. Late Friday night, defensive tackle Jay Bromley was chosen by the New York Giants, then, on Saturday afternoon, linebacker Marquis Spruill had his name called by the Atlanta Falcons.
Before Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, three more Orange football players got onto the path to the NFL. Running back Jerome Smith joined Spruill in heading to Atlanta after signing a free agent contract. Defensive backs Ri’Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn headed to a couple AFC South teams, signing deals with Tennessee and Indianapolis, respectively.
Each of the five former SU players has a different chance at realizing his dream of playing in the NFL. Here’s how their chances stack up:
Jay Bromley, the star defensive tackle for the Orange, was selected by the New York Giants in the third round with the 74th overall pick of the draft. Bromley not only returns to his hometown as a member of his favorite childhood team, but he is re-united with a pair of former Syracuse teammates in quarterback Ryan Nassib and offensive tackle Justin Pugh, who were both drafted by the Giants last year.
Many would say that simply by virtue of having that third-round pick invested in him, Bromley will be expected to make the Giants’ defensive tackle rotation. Giants general manager Floyd Reese, who watched Linval Joseph depart that rotation as a free agent, believes Bromley will be in the rotation, citing his combination of speed, long arms, ability to hold the point against the run.
Helping out Bromley in his quest to see the field for meaningful snaps is that the Giants’ depth chart at defensive tackle is not very strong. Leading a combination of experience and youth, veterans Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are in the mix. Bromley will likely be competing for snaps with Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn.
Patterson has one year left on his deal and Bromley is likely viewed as his eventual replacement. Headed into this season, however, Kuhn is the player most likely in direct competition with Bromley, as his small contract as a seventh-round pick two years ago makes him expendable from a salary cap perspective. Bromley, who led SU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last season, should join Hankins (a 2013 2nd-round pick) as the eventual building blocks for the Giants’ defensive line.
Marquis Spruill, who started 49 out of a possible 51 games at linebacker during his four seasons with the Orange, was chosen by the Atlanta Falcons with the 168th overall pick in the fifth round. Spruill will have the opportunity to make an impact at linebacker, as the Falcons’ returning group is not very established. While Spruill is one of four linebackers Atlanta drafted and one of seven total brought in as rookies, the Falcons showed significant interest in him, packaging sixth- and seventh-round picks to climb into the late part of the fifth round to draft him.
The Falcons are planning on using Spruill, who played both inside and outside linebacker at SU, on the inside and like his speed and ability to hit. He enters camp behind Paul Worrilow and Akeem Dent. The former is an undrafted free agent in his second season and the latter enters the last year of his contract. Both carry minimal salary cap charges, so this is an open competition.
After Spruill’s selection, the Falcons’ coaching staff also cited that they like him on special teams. While the opportunity to get into the linebacker rotation is there, Spruill’s ability to make an impact on special teams will go a long way toward ensuring a roster spot.
While his failure to get drafted was undoubtedly disappointing after leaving Syracuse with a year of eligibility remaining, Jerome Smith got himself into a positive position by joining Spruill with the Atlanta Falcons. Steven Jackson was a high profile signing, but he struggled through injuries last season and will be 31 years old when the season starts, an advanced age for an NFL running back. The other two returning running backs on the Falcons’ roster are smaller, pass-catching backs, not the workhorse style Smith uses.
The problem for Smith is the one other newcomer to Atlanta’s running back corps. The Falcons invested a third-round pick in Florida State running back Devonta Freeman, who will be Smith’s direct competition for a spot in the Atlanta backfield. While Smith was a very productive back at SU, he will have a steep hill to climb to get a roster spot. Another avenue could open for him if Atlanta asks him to bulk up and convert to fullback.
The two cornerbacks who were selected, Ri’Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn, are both in similar straits headed into rookie minicamps with their respective teams.
Ri’Shard Anderson signed with the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. Anderson, however, was not the only cornerback the Titans added that day, as they drafted Marqueston Huff from Wyoming in the fourth round.
Jason McCourty is entrenched at one starting cornerback spot and, of the other three returning corners on the roster, two of them (Blidi Breh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh) carry salary cap hits if they fail to make the roster. Khalid Wooten, a sixth-round selection last year, joins Huff as the primary competition for a roster spot for Anderson.
Keon Lyn, whose final season with the Orange was ended by a knee injury, inked a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Lyn is one of four defensive backs the Colts signed after the draft.
Starting cornerbacks Darius Butler and Vontae Davis are entrenched in those roles, so Lyn will have a lot of competition for a roster spot as a backup. Josh Gordy, who signed a one-year deal this offseason, and Sheldon Price, who enters the final season of a two-year deal, are listed as the Colts’ backup cornerbacks. Both players can be cut without penalty by the Colts, so the opportunity is there for Lyn.