Position Breakdown: Wide Receivers — 2020 Syracuse Football preview

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Syracuse receiver Taj Harris makes a catch for a touchdown. Mandatory Photo Credit: The Juice Online, Kicia Sears.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at the wide receivers, which is a unit that needs to replace two key starters.

WHO’S OUT

  • Trishton Jackson: Jackson was SU’s most prolific receiver last season. The Michigan State transfer led the Orange with 66 catches for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jackson was named Second-Team All-ACC following the season. He would’ve been Tommy DeVito’s top target again this season, but declared early for the NFL Draft, and signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
  • Sean Riley: Riley was a two-year starter at slot receiver and was also SU’s primary kickoff return man over his four-year career. As a result, he finished his career third all-time at Syracuse with 4,358 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 1,265 receiving, 2,996 return), and was an All-purpose selection to the All-ACC Third Team in his junior season. He signed an undrafted free agent contract with New England.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Outside Receivers

  • Taj Harris: With Jackson gone, Harris figures to step into the role as SU’s top outside receiver. Though he had DeVito had communication problems last season, Harris oozes talent. The junior has started 19 of the 24 games he’s appeared in, has 77 career receptions for 1,124 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Cameron Jordan: The rising junior has primarily been used as a special teams player during his career at Syracuse. That will change in 2020. Though he only has three catches for 20 yards to his name to date, Jordan was listed opposite Harris atop the SU spring depth chart and has the size (6’3″, 214 pounds) to make an impact.

Inside Receivers

  • Nykeim Johnson: Johnson struggled in his junior season after a promising sophomore year. In 2018, Johnson caught 41 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. That dipped to 19 receptions for 99 yards in 2019. With Riley graduated, Johnson slides in as the top inside guy.
  • Courtney Jackson: Jackson was a three-star prospect and one of the top wide receivers coming out of Pennsylvania in the class of 2019. He appeared in one game (Holy Cross) in his 2019 redshirt year, and is listed opposite Jackson in the spring depth chart.

» Related: Breaking down Syracuse’s 2020 quarterbacks

WHO’S BACKING THEM UP

  • Ed Hendrix: The redshirt sophomore hasn’t appeared in a game yet because of injuries, but was a highly touted prospect out of the D.C. area. He has the potential to be an elite receiver for the Orange, but he has to stay healthy in order to do so. He’s currently listed as Jordan’s backup on the depth chart.
  • Anthony Queeley: Queeley was primarily a special teams player, appearing in nine games in his redshirt freshman season. He’s slotted as Harris’ backup on the depth chart.
  • Sharod Johnson: The redshirt junior has eight receptions for 97 yards in his career, and is currently listed as the backup at inside receiver.
  • Russell Thompson-Bishop: Thompson-Bishop made his collegiate debut against Holy Cross in 2019. The redshirt-junior also saw action against Boston College.
  • Kevin Mital: Mital was a late addition to Syracuse’s 2019 class. The Canadian product redshirted, and will try to use his size (6’1″, 232 pounds) to carve out a role in SU’s offense.

WHO’S JOINING

Ja’Vontae Williams enrolled in January and will likely redshirt this season. As a three-star Florida prospect, he received offers from Illinois, Indiana, Miami and Oregon, among others.

He is joined in the receiver unit by Damien Alford, Justin Barron and Trebor Pena, who are other three-star prospects in the class of 2020. They are expected to arrive over the summer.

ANALYSIS

Dino Babers has been at Syracuse for four full seasons now, and each spring, he seems to need to answer the same question: Who will be his top receiver?

In 2016, Amba Etta-Tawo emerged as an elite receiver, earning All-ACC First Team honors in his grad transfer year. The following season, senior Steve Ishmael racked up over 1,000 receiving yards to led the Orange.

In 2018, it was Jamal Custis’ turn, leading the Orange with 906 yards in his final season. And last year, it was Jackson surpassing the 1,000 yard mark for SU before leaving for the NFL.

Spring practice would’ve been telling as to who would’ve emerged as Babers’ fifth No. 1 receiver since he arrived on campus five years ago. But with COVID-19 cancelling all spring activities, that question remains up in the air.

The most obvious candidate is Harris, who is a two-year starter at outside receiver and has the talent to be an All-ACC caliber receiver. But he struggled at times last season on his timing and communication with DeVito.

Hendrix and Queeley possess the talent to be top receivers, but both are unproven and Hendrix needs to stay healthy. Johnson could also rebound from a frustrating 2019 season to emerge as an top target.

Either way, given past history, someone will emerge from this group, and likely put up gaudy numbers in Syracuse’s up-tempo offense.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2541 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.