Position Breakdown: Wide Receivers — 2021 Syracuse Football preview

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Syracuse wide receiver Taj Harris (80) celebrates a touchdown against Wagner. 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 discussing three major storylines around the wide receivers and tight ends.

There’s Taj Harris and Anthony Queeley…

Even in a (very) down year for the Syracuse offense, wide receiver Taj Harris still managed to shine.

The Orange finished at the bottom of the NCAA in points (128th) and passing yards (110th), but little of that had to do with Harris.

He led all Syracuse receivers in yards (733) and scores (5), and was named Third Team All-ACC. He returns for his senior season and will once again be counted on as being the team’s No. 1 receiver, but perhaps should be used more in the slot.

They’ll need more of Harris given that they lost several receivers to the transfer portal, including Nykeim Johnson (Kent State) and Aaron Hackett (TCU). Another receiver, Ed Hendrix, recently put his name into the portal as well.

That leaves Anthony Queeley as the only other wide receiver with any significant experience. Queeley started all 11 games for SU last year, and finished with 37 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns.

… And then there’s everyone else.

Behind Queeley and Harris, there are several talented, but unproven underclassmen.

Among that group includes Courtney Jackson, Damien Alford, Ja’Vontae Williams, Isaiah Jones and Trebor Pena. Of the group, Jackson, a redshirt sophomore, has the most experience, amassing 10 receptions for 69 yards. Pena also displayed his speed with a 98-yard kickoff return against NC State, and was named ACC Specialist of the Week for Nov. 30.

Seniors Sharod Johnson (four passes for 41 yards) and Russell Thomson-Bishop should figure into the wide receiver rotation as well.

Babers brought in one of his more talented wide receiver classes in 2021, headlined by Virginia freshman Umari Hatcher, SU’s top rated receiver who was ranked inside the top 1,000 by 247 Sports. The class also includes Oronde Gadsden II and Kendall Long. All three are 6’3″ or taller, though it’s unclear if any of them are ready to contribute right away.

» Related: A look at Syracuse’s offensive line heading into 2021

Will Syracuse use its tight ends?

It’s no secret that Babers has gone away from using his tight ends during his tenure at Syracuse.

In year five of the Babers era, Syracuse has barely utilized the position, as tight ends have caught just 7.8 percent of all receptions on 6.7 percent of all targets.

Hackett was SU’s leading tight end and he was lightly used, with just 10 receptions all season for 63 yards and two touchdowns. It certainly makes sense that he entered the portal.

Junior Luke Benson will likely take over as the team’s primary pass catching tight end, but even he only had six catches, also for 63 yards and two touchdowns in 2020.

Perhaps offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, now in his second season, can work Benson and sophomores Maximillian Mang and Steven Mahar more into the offense. There’s also Landon Morris, a freshman who was an early enrollee.

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About Wes Cheng 2662 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.