As we eagerly await both the college and professional football seasons to begin, we thought it’d be fun to check in on former Orange players from 2020 onward (so no Chandler Jones or Justin Pugh updates) in the NFL and see where their journey has taken them.
One of the more inspiring stories to come through Syracuse over the years, Cooney battled and beat testicular cancer as a high schooler and established himself as the Orange’s starting punter in 2020 after serving as the placeholder on kickoffs and field goals for three years. He was the holder for the special teams unit that won kicker Andre Szmyt the Lou Groza award in 2019 and after signing with the New Orleans Saints as a UDFA in 2021, he’s currently the Cardinals second string punter and holder.
One of Syracuse’s better pass rushers of the last few years, Jonathan racked up 101 tackles, 21.5 TFL’s, 15 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 56 games. He signed with the Bills in 2021 as a UDFA and as of now sits as the fourth string defensive end on the roster, likely soaking up knowledge from the Bills newly signed, future-Hall-of-Famer Von Miller.
A two-year starter for the Orange, Melifonwu tallied 88 tackles, 23 PBU’s and three interceptions in 29 games at cornerback. He made an AP All-ACC second team in his junior year and declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, eventually being taken by the Lions in the third round, pick 101 overall. His rookie season didn’t have him on the field very much due to a quad injury, but in 242 snaps he logged three PBU’s and two fumble recoveries. Reports out of Lions camp is that Melifonwu will be getting some snaps at safety, so there may be a path for him to see the field a bit more in 2022.
The best safety to wear Orange for the last two decades, Cisco was an absolute ball-hawk for Syracuse, leading the ACC in interceptions his first two years starting. He finished his career as the FBS active leader in picks with 13, as well as finishing tied for fourth on SU’s all-time interceptions list. In 24 games he had 136 tackles, 13 interceptions, 16 PBU’s, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He was taken as the first pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and received a shockingly low amount of playing time given how bad the Jags defense was, logging just 247 snaps and finishing with 22 tackles and two forced fumbles. The word is the new Jags coaching staff loves him and he’s got the starting free safety job locked up.
» Related: Previewing Syracuse football’s 2022 secondary
A three-year player for the Orange, Williams spent time at outside corner, nickelback, and safety for the Orange, with the bulk of his starting experience at nickel. In 28 games he had 93 tackles, 3.5 TFL’s, four picks, six PBU’s, and three forced fumbles, including three touchdowns on a blocked punt, a lateral from Ja’Had Carter on an interception against Georgia Tech, and a fumble recovery. Williams signed with New Orleans as a UDFA in 2021 but failed his physical and the Dolphins claimed him off waivers a few days later. He appeared in one game with the Dolphins last season and currently sits as the number two nickelback on their depth chart.
A transfer from Michigan State, Jackson only played one year for Syracuse outside of an appearance in the Camping World Bowl in 2018 (in which he had a 14-yard touchdown catch), but what a year it was. His 2019 season saw him set a Syracuse record for receiving yards by a junior (1,023) and in his 13 total games he had 69 catches for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was a UDFA by the Los Angeles Rams in 2020 but didn’t appear in any games, and signed with the Minnesota Vikings last year but also did not appear. He seems to be a practice squad player at this point in his career.
New Orleans Saints
A six-year player for the Orange due to injury and covid-eligibility rules, Black was a versatile defensive end who also played at defensive tackle. In 60 games he recorded 155 tackles, 24 TFL’s, 8 sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception and two blocked kicks. He was signed by the Saints as a UDFA in 2022 and currently sits as the fourth string defensive tackle on one of the deepest defensive lines in the league.
A transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Robinson was a dominant three-year starter for the Orange, earning All-ACC honors twice and finished his college career number seven on SU’s all-time sacks list with 19.5 QB takedowns. In 36 games he had 115 tackles, 32.5 TFL’s, 19.5 sacks, five PBU’s, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, number 148 overall and played in 14 games his rookie year, notching four sacks. Robinson’s NFL career is headed in the right direction and he’s currently second string at left outside linebacker on the Seahawks depth chart.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A four-year starter for the Orange, Hofrichter was the starting punter for the entire period and established himself as one of the top legs in the country. He was the first player in SU history to earn All-ACC first team honors multiple times (2018,2019) and ended his college career number one at Syracuse in punting yardage (11,651), second in gross average (43.27) and second in punts (270). He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons at pick number 228 overall, and went on to have 56 punts for 2,199 net yards, with 17 punts downed inside the 20. He was cut in August of 2021 and signed with the Buccaneers in December as their punter Bradley Pinion struggled, but only appeared in two games. With the Bucs drafting punter Jake Camarda in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Hofrichter looks to be the back-up punter unless he wins the job outright in training camp.
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