Position Breakdown: Defensive Backs — 2021 Syracuse Football preview

Dec. 5, 2020; Syracuse defensive back Garrett Williams speaks to reporters via Zoom following the Orange's 45-21 loss to Notre Dame.

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 breaking down Syracuse’s defensive backs.

NFL Departures Open Door For Young Talent

With three players being taken in April’s NFL Draft, the SU defensive back room has a lot of players gaining significant playing time opportunities.

Andre Cisco, the first pick of the third round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaves an opening at the “rover” safety position in defensive coordinator Tony White’s defense. Ifeatu Melifonwu, also a third round choice by the Detroit Lions, opens a spot at cornerback; rounding out the list, Trill Williams recently signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints, leaving another hole in the cornerback spot.

With two of those three players exiting last season due to injury, the depth chart has some starting experience that should be well prepared for a larger role. Let’s take a look at a few of those players.

Players To Watch

Garrett Williams– Unquestionably CB1 for the 2021 season, Williams was an All-ACC Honorable Mention and a Freshman All-American per The Athletic in 2020. Williams was a playmaker last year with 12 passes defensed and a pick-six on Trevor Lawrence, often raising his game to match elite competition.

Ja’Had Carter– Carter played all 11 games last year, starting the final 10, and made a name for himself at the strong safety position by finishing second on the team with 67 tackles. Made plays all over the field with three tackles for loss, two interceptions, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Fans will certainly remember the interception he had against Georgia Tech that he lateraled to Trill Williams for a touchdown.

Rob Hanna– Takes over the “rover” position he played last year when Andre Cisco went down with injury. Performed admirably in that spot with 55 total tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, and two tackles for loss, Hanna will be looking to take a step up in his play this year now that he has almost a full season of starting experience under his belt.

Darian Chestnut/Malcom Folk– Both men will duke it out for the number two cornerback position opposite Garret Williams. Chestnut is a four star recruit out of Camden, New Jersey who comes in ranked nationally as one of the top 25 cornerbacks of this class. Folk is a three star prospect, ranked one of the top 30 players in Pennsylvania. He excelled at both wide receiver and defensive back on his way to 1500+ all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns in his high school career. This will be a camp battle to watch.

» Related: Did Syracuse’s offensive line improve from 2020?

2020 Stats Offer Clear Areas To Improve

As far as the defensive back room goes, one statistic stands out. Syracuse was ranked 95th in the nation in Pass Yards Allowed Per Game in 2020, at 254.8 That number will need to improve if the Orange expect to eclipse last year’s win total of one game.

The good news is that the number was largely a result of talented starters being injured, and those depth players are coming back with almost a full year of experience under their belts. It’s safe to expect some improvement in the second year of White’s defense.

One positive stat for the Orange to build on from last year was in the red zone. SU ranked 42nd in Red Zone Defense, tied with Colorado and Mississippi State. Of note is that of 50 red zone trips, 19 rushing touchdowns were allowed to only seven passing touchdowns. While the back up defensive backs may have been carved up between the 20s, they effectively clamped down in the red zone, and any improvement in that area will be sure to help Syracuse to more wins in 2021.

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About Rutger Sears 129 Articles
Rutger is a freelance writer and as a Syracuse native, has an affinity for all Syracuse University Athletics. From Donovan McNabb to Mike Powell, Rutger has seen greatness in many forms don an Orange uniform over the last 30 years. He covers all Syracuse athletics with a particular emphasis on football and recruiting.