A quick take on Syracuse football’s first day of the 2021 Early Signing Period:
WHAT HAPPENED: The Orange added 19 new players to its roster of the 20 it had verbal commitments from. The one remaining player, defensive lineman Jaelin Moss, is still solidly Orange, but will wait until February to sign his NLI. Here’s how the class stands after Wednesday:
- Duce Chestnut, DB
- Enrique Cruz, OL
- Kalan Ellis, OL
- Malcolm Folk, DB
- Elijah Fuentes, DL
- Oronde Gadsden, WR
- Jatius Geer, DL
- Umari Hatcher, WR
- Wes Hoeh, OL
- Josh Hough, RB
- Austyn Kauhi, OL
- Justin Lamson, QB
- Terry Lockett, DL
- Kendall Long, WR
- Tyler Magnuson, OL
- Malik Matthew, LB
- Derek McDonald, DL
- Landon Morris, TE
- Austin Roon, LB
- What was Syracuse’s biggest issue this season? The offensive line. And this 2021 signing class addresses that. The Orange added five offensive linemen, with Enrique Cruz as the top prospect. The four-star offensive lineman is ranked 221st overall in the class according to 247 Sports, and held an impressive offer list that included Arizona State, Indiana, Louisville and Mississippi State, among others. And the news for the offensive line got even better on Wednesday evening, when Florida transfer Chris Bleich posted on Twitter that he retained an extra year of eligibility.
- The other crown jewels of this class included New Jersey DB Duce Chestnut, California QB Justin Lamson and Virginia wide receiver Umari Hatcher. Chestnut, ranked three-stars according to 247 Sports, was being targeted by several high-majors, including Louisiana State, Michigan State and Ohio State according to a report from Syracuse.com. But the Orange was able to hang on to Chestnut to continue a recent run of highly routed defensive backs (Trill Williams, Andre Cisco, Garrett Williams) to come to Central New York. Lamson represented the earliest QB commit in a cycle since Tommy DeVito, while Hatcher, ranked inside the top 1,000, adds size to the receiver core at 6-3, 175.
- Syracuse wasn’t able to sign all of their verbal commitments, with defensive lineman Hayden Nelson (more on him below) flipping to UCLA on Tuesday. The Orange had also been targeting Florida defensive back Will Wells, who signed with Central Florida. Expect Syracuse to try to fill both of these positions in their class in the February signing period, either with a late signing, a JUCO recruit or a potential transfer portal addition.
- Of the 19 players Syracuse added on Wednesday, there are certain players I expect to contribute right away. The first few are fairly obvious. Cruz is already up to 290 pounds and should at the very least be in the rotation for playing time. Hough became a prolific rusher in his senior season at Beaver Falls (Pa.), finishing with 2,051 yards and 29 touchdowns. Chestnut figures prominently into SU’s defensive secondary plans, and can certainly make up for the losses of Williams and Cisco to the NFL Draft. Though DeVito is returning to Syracuse in 2021, the Orange has always had the need for a backup quarterback since Babers’ arrival on campus in 2015. Lamson is their highest rated quarterback since DeVito and could compete for the No. 2 role right away.
- Syracuse finished 53rd in the overall rankings and 12th in the ACC. Still, there was a slight uptick in the overall quality of recruit, with the Orange jumping from an average of .8399 in 2020 to .8456 in 2021. “Would I love to be in the Top 25 (recruiting class)? Absolutely, that would mean we’re doing things right I’d imagine from a lot of people’s opinion,” head coach Dino Babers said. “But don’t underestimate the little guy. Sometimes when those guys don’t feel like they’re getting their share of the meat on the bone, they have a nasty bite to them, and sometimes even a growl that’s discernible.”
- The Orange also was able to recruit well in New York with three of the top eight prospects staying at home. Malik Matthew (4th) and Elijah Fuentes (8th) are both from the Bronx and are signed, while Jaelin Moss (3rd) from Long Island is set to sign in the spring. “We got eleven offensive guys, eight defensive guys. We wanted to get bigger size people,” Babers said. “Two of the top five players in the state of New York. This is the second-highest class we have had ranked so far (in our tenure).”
HERO: It was an unusual recruiting cycle, to say the least, with the Orange getting pledges from recruits often sight-unseen. Without in-person evaluations, the Orange coaching staff needed to get creative on how they were able to put together their recruiting class. “There was something called Zoom that I had to learn to use (recruiting this past year),” Babers said. “You got to spend a lot more time with the prospects and their parents. Being on a Zoom call and seeing the parents and the prospects right there together more than once, seeing how they interacted with the Mom and Dad, and how the Mom and Dad interacted with them, I think really gives you a peak in the window of what type of person he is, not only around his elders, but how well he’s treated by Mom and Dad.”
ZERO: Defensive end Hayden Nelson decommitted from the Orange on Tuesday, and flipped to UCLA. Nelson, from Wisconsin, pledged to SU in May, and was a three-star prospect who also held Power 5 offers from Indiana and Iowa State.