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 linebackers.
Today we’ll be previewing Syracuse’s most talented positional group- the linebackers.
This unit was the engine behind Syracuse’s top-20 defense last year, and an important cog in coordinator Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense which has improved every year since his arrival in 2019, culminating in the best Total Defense finish in a decade. The good news? Syracuse returns nearly every player from a year ago, with the exception of redshirt freshman Malik Matthew who announced on June 9 that he’ll be entering the transfer portal.
Ranked 26th in the country in rush defense giving up just 126.1 yards per game, tied for 16th in sacks with 3.08 per game, and 29th in tackles-for-loss with 6.8 per game, the linebacking corp was a playmaking unit that used size, speed, and smarts to make run fits, cover downfield, and get after the quarterback. There’s no reason to expect them not to be even better in 2022.
As it stands here in June, my positionless depth chart is as follows (with some pure reserve players omitted for brevity):
- Mikel Jones 6’1” 225 pounds
- Stefon Thompson 6’1” 247 pounds
- Marlowe Wax 6’0” 245 pounds
- Leon Lowry 6’4” 225 pounds
- Mekhi Mason 6’2” 222 pounds
- Anwar Sparrow 6’1” 219 pounds
Jones is the stud of the defense. An All-ACC first team selection in 2021, Jones decided to forego the NFL draft and return for a fourth year at SU, where his career numbers speak for themselves: 218 tackles, 17 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and three recoveries. He will be the Orange’s playmaking force once again in 2022.
Thompson is an excellent pass rushing talent at the linebacker position, with his sack numbers going in the right direction from three his freshman year to six last year, en route to second team All-ACC honors. He also has 114 tackles, 14.5 TFLs and three forced fumbles in his two years at SU.
Wax is another player sporting pass rush ability with seven sacks in his two years on campus, seeing action in every game and racking up 93 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s got a great get-off and sets the edge well, making him an excellent stand up LB along the line.
For the second string, Lowry has the most size of the bunch at 6’4” and the most experience as well, seeing time in five games. He’s only got seven career tackles and 0.5 TFLs, but he’d be the next man up should one of the starters go down.
Mason is a player I’m excited about. The incoming freshman is a three-star prospect by 247 Sports, and has a great size and speed combination. He had an incredible 102 tackles and 20 TFLs in his senior year, along with six sacks and four pass breakups. That’s a playmaker.
Sparrow is a pure reserve who’s appeared in three games in two years, making two tackles. A tad undersized at 219 pounds, he’s more suited to a coverage role should he need to see any significant playing time.
Overall, even with the lack of playing time for the reserves, this is a deep group. The starters are the stars of the show however, and if they continue the trajectory they’re currently on, should be expected to be among the best in the ACC and possibly the nation by season’s end.