Position Breakdown: Tight Ends — 2020 Syracuse Football preview

Syracuse tight end Aaron Hackett
Syracuse tight end Aaron Hackett looks to run after catching a pass. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

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 tight ends, which is a deep, versatile and talented unit.

WHO’S OUT

  • Ben Honis: Honis was an All-American wrestler at nearby Cornell before transferring to Syracuse for his final season of eligibility. He appeared in nine games as a special teams player, and logged a tackle against NC State.

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • Aaron Hackett: In his junior season, Hackett was named the team’s most improved player, appearing in 12 games and starting six of them. He established himself as a reliable target, hauling in 23 receptions for 205 yards, while finishing second on the team with six touchdown catches.
  • Chris Elmore: Elmore is as versatile a player as the Orange has on its roster. Elmore started five games at tight end (appearing in all 12) in 2019, but has also played in the backfield in his career (28 carries for 65 yards) and even on defense, logging 76 snaps as a defensive lineman.

» Related: Breaking down Syracuse’s 2020 wide receivers

WHO’S BACKING THEM UP

  • Luke Benson: Benson earned third-team freshman All-America honors from Pro Football Focus after catching eight passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns. He appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman, logging two starts and netted a 70-yard touchdown catch against Holy Cross that was SU’s longest by a tight end since John Mackey in 1961.
  • Jesse Conners: Injuries have derailed Conners’ collegiate career to date. He redshirted his freshman year at Holy Cross and then sat out a second year because of transfer rules. The last two seasons, Conners has been hurt.
  • Zack Lesko: Lesko, also a transfer (via Chattanooga) has had a similar trajectory. He didn’t play the first two years of his career because of redshirting and transfer rules, but did make his collegiate debut against Western Michigan. He suffered an injury in that game and didn’t play the rest of the year.

WHO’S JOINING

  • Maximilian Mang: Mang, along with fellow 2020 OL commit Mark Petry, are believed to be the only German-born players in SU history. At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Syracuse believes it found its diamond in the rough in the international market. He enrolled in January.
  • Steven Mahar: Mahar was one of New York’s top prospects, finishing fourth in 247’s rankings. The Aquinas (NY) Institute star hails from nearby Rochester, and gives DeVito another big body (also stands at 6-foot-5, and 225 pounds) to throw to.

ANALYSIS

This is one of Syracuse’s deepest positions, and new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert doesn’t hesitate to use his big targets.

While SU has three viable starters in Hackett, Elmore and Benson, they play very different styles, and can be rotated given the situation.

Hackett is the more versatile of the trio. He’s a capable blocker that can also slip into open spaces in RPOs. Elmore eats up space with his 6-foot, 292 pound frame. Whether he lines up in the backfield or on the line, Syracuse knows it will get quality blocking from him.

Benson, meanwhile, is more of a straight-line runner that has the speed of a receiver combined with the classic build of a tight end, and is a potential mismatch problem for defenses.

With last year’s top receiver, Trishton Jackson, leaving early for the NFL Draft, that may cause Gilbert to go to bigger packages to take advantage of this talented group.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2552 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.