Which Syracuse football players are primed to produce?

Which Syracuse players will step up this season?
Which Syracuse players will step up this season?

Last month, I wrote about some of the statistical leaps Dino Babers’ teams had made on offense in his second year on the job at his previous head coaching stops. Those jumps in performance make one wonder who might be the Syracuse players primed to make leaps forward on the field in 2017.

First, take a look back before looking forward.

The top two rushers for Bowling Green under Babers in both 2014 and 2015 were Travis Greene and Fred Coppet. Here are their stat lines in those two seasons:

  • Greene – 180 rushes for 949 yards (5.3 yds/carry) and 12 TDs, 222 rushes for 1,298 yards (5.8 yds/carry) and 15 TDs
  • Coppet – 141 rushes for 764 yards (5.4 tds/carry) and 6 TDs, 146 rushes for 826 yards (5.7 yds/carry) and 5 TDs

Greene was the smaller, slashing back while Coppet was more of the hammer for the Falcons. Both players improved from one season to the next with Greene developing into a bigger threat.

If Dontae Strickland can add a half-yard to his average, his output would creep up to four yards a pop. That would also likely make the offense run a little smoother, converting third downs and giving the offense even more opportunities. If he can do even better tan that half-yard increase and get more carries, he could be the first 1,000-yard rusher at SU since Jerome Smith in 2012.

Moe Neal averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and it is hard not to imagine him getting more carries as a sophomore. Babers’ offense is designed to spread the wealth a little bit and take advantage of what the defense gives it, so Neal doubling up from 357 yards to over 700 seems possible, especially if his opportunities increase as they did for Greene.

» Related: Antwan Cordy — Meet the 2017 Syracuse Football team

The passing game is where things get more interesting. Obviously, if Eric Dungey takes all the snaps this season, the Syracuse passing record book will have a lot of edits made.

Receivers, though, are somewhat of a mystery area.

Here is how Bowling Green’s top four receivers stacked up in 2014:

  • Roger Lewis – 73 receptions for 1,094 yards (15.0 yds/catch) and seven TDs
  • Ryan Burbrink – 64 receptions for 758 yards (11.8 yds/catch) and three TDs
  • Ronnie Moore – 56 receptions for 690 yards (12.3 yds/catch) and five TDs
  • Gehrig Dieter – 35 receptions for 460 yards (13.1 yds/catch) and one TD

And, the same group in 2015:

  • Gehrig Dieter – 94 receptions for 1,033 yards (11.0 yds/catch) and ten TDs
  • Roger Lewis – 85 receptions for 1,544 yards (18.2 yds/catch) and 16 TDs
  • Ryan Burbrink – 56 receptions for 627 yards (11.2 yds/catch) and four TDs
  • Ronnie Moore – 72 receptions for 951 yards (13.2 yds/catch) and six TDs

Dieter jumped up to the leading possession receiver role, Lewis became a dominant big play threat, and Moore and Burbrink remained steady producers in spite of being undersized (both were listed under 5’10”).

Last year’s receiver corps at Syracuse looked like this:

  • Amba Etta-Tawo – 94 receptions for 1,482 yards (15.8 yds/catch) and 14 TDs
  • Erv Philips – 90 receptions for 822 yards (15.8 yds/catch) and six TDs
  • Steve Ishmael – 48 receptions for 559 yards (11.7 yds/catch) and one TD
  • Brisly Estime – 48 receptions for 518 yards (10.8 yds/catch) and three TDs

Making base level comparisons, Etta-Tawo was the big-play receiver, like Lewis at Bowling Green. Philips was the possession man, like Dieter, and Ishmael and Estime were like Burbrink and Moore, the complimentary pieces.

The biggest question with the Syracuse receiver corps is who replaces Etta-Tawo’s production. The graduate transfer was the big play threat for Babers and there is no apparent physical match remaining on the roster.

Perhaps Ishmael will develop into the bigger contributor he hinted at being early in his career. After scoring seven times as a sophomore, Ishmael backslid to a single score as a junior in Babers’ high-powered offense. His physical attributes are more like Dieter than any other Bowling Green wideout, so maybe he becomes the top possession target and the offense evolves without a primary guy who takes the top off the defense.

One positive sign for Ishmael is that his number of receptions per game has increased in each season, reaching 4.4 catches per game last season. If he continues to climb in that stat, a 70- or even 80-catch season is not a stretch. And if he can recover that knack for reaching the end zone, Ishmael could make good on the promise he has shown previously and post a stat line in the neighborhood of Dieter’s 2015 effort.

If healthy, Philips, who stands fifth in school history with 134 career receptions, could easily crack the century mark in that stat. The player who never had a true position at SU in his first two seasons and whose hands were viewed as a question mark snagged 90 catches last season. Additional comfort in the system could push him toward both 100 grabs and 1,000 yards.

The question is who will essentially come out of nowhere and support these two. Will one of the two giant redshirt juniors, Jamal Custis or Adly Enoicy, finally become a contributor? Will Sean Riley be another “mighty mite” for Babers who produces stats beyond his size out of the slot? Will sophomore Devin C. Butler provide a jolt out of nowhere? And what about junior college tight end Ravian Pierce? Will he provide a threat from the position for the first time since Beckett Wales in 2012?

All those names have a total of 19 catches at Syracuse. Babers will need a lot more than that from these players.

Babers’ offense can lead a fanbase to dreaming. The question is which players will make those dreams become reality.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. He currently resides in Syracuse.