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 Syracuse’s 2022 WRs/TEs.
Of all the position groups on the Syracuse Orange offense, the receiving core of wide receivers and tight ends is the one I’m most concerned about heading into 2022.
We’ve covered the need for SU’s passing game to take a step up in the quarterbacks positional preview and while the onus is certainly on the signal caller to make everyone around him better, the guys you’re throwing to matter just as much. As it stands right now, Syracuse doesn’t have a true number one receiver that can stand as a focal point for the offense.
In 2021, SU ranked 122nd in the nation in passing offense with just 153.0 yards per game. They didn’t have a single receiver break 40 catches or 400 yards. Part of that was the former offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert preferring to lean on Sean Tucker and the ground game. But the plain fact is there was no alpha receiver who could be trusted to take over a game.
Here’s the depth chart as I see it here in May with the returning players. Note that I’ve cut the position down to six slots as these are the only guys who will realistically see the field for any meaningful action whether on passing downs or special teams. But a pair of transfers (more on that below) could break into the top 6 at the end of summer camp.
- Courtney Jackson- 5’11” 175 pounds
- Anthony Queeley- 6’2” 198 pounds
- Damien Alford- 6’6” 211 pounds
- Trebor Pena- 6’0” 176 pounds
- Umari Hatcher- 6’3” 178 pounds
- Devaughn Cooper- 5’11” 180 pounds
Jackson led the team last year with 37 catches for 389 yards and three touchdowns. The coaching staff moved him around a bit as well giving him four rushes but it wasn’t particularly effective as he gained only 23 total yards. He took over the kick and punt return duties for the final four games when Trebor Pena was injured and played well, getting a punt return touchdown in that limited work. I’d expect him to put up similar numbers next year unless there’s a concerted effort to get him the ball.
Queeley was the other outside receiver and played in all 12 games but could only muster 15 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got a good mixture of size and speed but 2021 was a step down for him as he had 37 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns the year before. Still, his experience keeps him at the top of the depth chart.
Alford is the team’s deep threat with a 73 yard touchdown on his first catch of 2021, and a 45 yard last second touchdown in the comeback win over Virginia Tech. He’s my sleeper candidate to take the number one spot on the depth chart but he’s got to prove himself in camp first. The spring game was hopefully a sign of things to come as Alford and Justin Lamson connected on a 75 yard TD in which Alford used his size to push through contact with the DB and his speed to take the ball to the house.
Pena slots in at number four on my depth chart because of the role he’s earned on special teams. Before getting injured, Pena led the ACC and was second nationally in combined kick return yards with 552, and even caught a 62 yard touchdown against Clemson on a straight go-route from the slot, breaking tackles with a spin move on the way to the endzone. He may not get the snaps other typical fourth-string wideouts would get, but he’s got his roster spot locked up.
Hatcher appeared in four games last year and didn’t record a statistic but he was a three star prospect coming out of the state of Virginia that’s 6’3” and 180 pounds, so I like his upside as a middle of the field chain mover on an offense that should be throwing the ball significantly more. He also impressed in the spring game catching a 35 yard touchdown pass on the offense’s first series.
Cooper transferred from UTEP at the start of last year and didn’t do much (21 catches for 199 yards) but also saw some playing time at Arizona and was a former three star prospect, rated the number 10 athlete in California by Scout.com. He’s got some experience and upside and that’s all you need from the sixth WR on your depth chart.
Other names to consider that could make meaningful contributions in 2022 are a pair of transfers. The most recent was the speedy D’Marcus Adams, who pledged to the Orange earlier in May. It’s worth noting that Adams was also a sprinter at Florida State (his first school), giving an idea of the potential SU is trying to unlock.
SU’s other transfer wide receiver is CJ Hayes, a class of 2017 recruit and spent the last four years with Michigan State. He has one year of eligibility remaining as a graduate student transfer. He finished with 13 receptions for 141 yards in his MSU career, and played as a defensive back in the 2021 season.
Tight ends is an easier list. Currently, the Orange only carry two tight ends on the roster and if you think that’s a sign of how emphasized they will be, you need look no further than the single career catch between them. Syracuse simply does not use their tight ends in the passing game, preferring instead for them to help open holes on the ground for Sean Tucker.
That said, our tight end depth chart is as follows:
- Maximilian Mang- 6’7” 254 pounds
- Steven Mahar Jr.- 6’5” 232 pounds
Mang is a 6’7” giant out of Germany that played in the German Football League well enough to get himself rated as the 7th overall prospect in the country by 247Sports.com, so you’d think he could see another ball or two come his way. It’s possible he’s valued simply for his blocking ability with that frame and he could see more usage as the team is expected to mix in more outside runs next year.
Mahar Jr is a Rochester native and another big body who was ranked the number 34 tight end nationally coming out of high school in 2020 by Rivals, so naturally the only snaps he’s seen the last two years in Orange and Blue have been on special teams. I’d love to see what he’d look like as a receiving threat but it’s doubtful we’re going to get that.
As I said before, my biggest worry for a position group is this receiving core, but a look up and down the list reveals some high level athletes that may just be floundering in a low volume offense. With new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, I expect some of that to change and this team to start airing it out more, even with Sean Tucker deserving of a healthy workload on the ground. If that’s the case, this is one area of the team that could surprise in 2022.