Position Breakdown: Secondary — 2022 Syracuse Football preview

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Nov 27, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Vincent Davis (22) is tackled by Syracuse Orange defensive back Ja'Had Carter (11) and linebacker Marlowe Wax (2) in the second quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

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 secondary.

Last week we took a look at the most talented position group on the team, which was the linebackers. Today we’ll be looking at by far the deepest group- the secondary.

For the past couple of years the defensive backfield was one of the lone bright spots for Syracuse from an elite talent standpoint, being the only position group to have a player drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since defensive tackle Jay Bromley in 2014 (those players being safety Andre Cisco and cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu in 2021).

This year, the secondary group has elite, NFL-caliber talent at the top again as well as being absolutely stuffed with guys who have logged significant playing time, as well as some high-level talent incoming from the transfer portal and signing day.

For a group that was 26th in the nation in passing yards allowed at 204.2 per game, the returning and incoming talent is a good sign and it’s reasonable to expect that number to get even better. In today’s day and age (and especially in college football) 200 pass yards allowed in a game is a fantastic number and a great place to be in order to compete with the best teams in the conference, and the country.

So with all of that said, here is my depth chart as it stands at the end of June. I have split it up into just two positions, cornerback and safety, and have ranked the players based on my idea of their talent and potential. I also cut my list to five at each position for brevity, and tried to make a good mix of players who have earned spots from experience, and incoming freshmen whose talent alone gives them potential to be starters. Without a doubt, this was my most difficult depth chart to predict so far.

Cornerbacks

  • Darian Chestnut- 6’0” 198 pounds
  • Garrett Williams- 6’0” 189 pounds
  • Alijah Clark- 6’1” 184 pounds
  • Dom Foster- 6’1” 166 pounds
  • Jeremiah Wilson- 5’11” 170 pounds

Chestnut or “Duce” as he’s affectionately known by teammates and fans, just nudges out Garrett Williams as the best player in the secondary. Rated a four-star prospect by Rivals, the freshman corner was runner-up for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, made the All-ACC third team and was a freshman All-American by numerous publications. His size and speed allows him to match up with anyone across from him, and his football IQ allows him to make plays like his interception against Florida State, in my opinion one of the most impressive plays from all of last year. Finished the year with 43 tackles, three interceptions, 3.5 TFLs, 11 passes defended and eight PBUs.

Williams is your prototypical shutdown corner, leading the ACC in pass break ups over the last two seasons. An All-ACC honorable mention in 2020, he cracked his way onto the list last year by leading Orange defensive backs in tackles (52) and tackles-for-loss (5.0), as well as defending 10 passes, all in only 10 games. Together with Chestnut, they form one of the top cornerback duos in the FBS.

Clark is an incoming freshman transfer from Rutgers where he appeared in seven games, making six tackles and an interception. He’s got ideal size for an Orange cornerback and was a four star recruit coming out of Camden High School in New Jersey, where he actually starred alongside teammate Darian Chestnut. Was a ballhawk as well with five interceptions in his junior year.

Foster is a player I’m excited about due to his absolutely ridiculous high school stats. A three-star prospect out of Ohio, Foster played DB and WR and finished high school with 67 catches for 1,453 yards and 18 receiving TDs, four rushing TDs, two passing TDs, two kick-return TDs, and had two interceptions including a pick-six. In short, the kid is electric and only slots below Alijah Clark due to his limited experience in a defensive back role comparatively. He will also need to spend some serious time in the weight room at just 166 pounds if he’s going to be expected to tackle some of the top ACC talents.

Wilson is a three star prospect out of Kissimmee, Florida and a top-100 CB prospect in the entire 2022 class according to 247sports. Another player that’s on the smaller side, if he puts on about 15 pounds he should be able to retain the speed he has as a member of the track and field team in high school.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse football’s 2022 defensive line

Safeties

  • Ja’Had Carter- 6’2” 197 pounds
  • Jason Simmons, Jr- 6’0” 184 pounds
  • Rob Hanna- 6’0” 168 pounds
  • Bralyn Oliver- 6’2” 195 pounds
  • Justin Barron- 6’4” 215 pounds

Carter is SU’s top safety talent, a freshman All-American who led the defensive backs in tackles that year with 67. He missed four games due to injury last year but sits with career stats of 102 tackles, two picks, four PBUs, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, making him our top play-making safety. Also the team’s biggest starting safety at 6’2” 197 lbs and its hardest hitter, if he stays healthy all year he will surely deliver in that role once again.

Simmons is an incoming transfer from New Mexico State with impressive stats in his single year at SU, logging 41 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, a pick and a forced fumble. He’s got ideal size and speed for his position and had multiple 4+ tackles games for the Orange. Has a great football IQ as well, thanks in part to his former NFL player father, who worked on the Green Bay Packers staff for nine years and is currently a secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers.

Hanna is the “steadiest Eddie” amongst the secondary reserves, seeing time in 19 games over the last two years, his first season filling the shoes of star safety Andre Cisco after his season-ending injury in week four. Hanna played well that year, notching 55 tackles, two TFLs, a pick, a pass defensed, and a fumble recovery. He took a step back in all those numbers last year due to only starting three games, but got his first sack which ended up being the turning point in a comeback win over Virginia Tech.

Oliver is a transfer from Louisville who enrolled but transferred prior to the start of the season, and didn’t see time in any games. He’s a tall prospect at 6’2” but sports a leaner frame and a bit more speed because of it, ideal for a free safety spot. A three star prospect out of South Carolina, he was ranked the #41 safety in the nation coming out of high school and is a threat to jump Hanna on the depth chart if he impresses this summer.

Barron is the final spot on my chart because of his playing experience, but has a number of incoming freshmen pushing for his spot. An absolutely massive safety at 6’4” and 215 pounds, Barron started nine games at the rover position after converting from wide receiver at the end of 2020 to help the team’s depth. He finished third amongst the defensive backs in tackles with 45, and added 0.5 TFLs and three PBUs. You have to love his versatility but he’s almost too big to play consistently at the safety spot, it’s not his natural position, and he’s a real candidate to lose his spot to some of the younger talent in camp.

You can see what I mean when I say it’s maybe the deepest group on the team, if a bit top-heavy. There’s more experience among the reserves than maybe any other position group which is great news going into 2022, although you’re always hoping the reserves don’t need to see the field much. All of these guys will see some playing time, however, in Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense, which has five defensive backs (corners and safeties) on the field at all times, so there’s a confidence that the secondary will once again be a bright spot for the Orange defense and improve from their top 20 total defense finish in 2021.

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About Rutger Sears 101 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.