Just one more week until our Saturdays are once again filled up with trips to the Dome or appointment viewing from the sofa to catch Syracuse football. While the Orange are hoping to build off a 5-7 season and reach a bowl game for the first time since 2018, there are also a handful of players that will have an eye towards playing on Sundays come 2023. Sure, the 2023 NFL draft might be a long ways off, but there are Syracuse players already generating some buzz.
Despite three straight losing seasons, including an abysmal one-win 2020 campaign, there have still been NFL-caliber players within Dino Babers’ program. 2021 was a high point with both Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melinfonwu being third-round picks. There were no Orange alums drafted in 2022, but that is likely to change come the 2023 NFL draft in Kansas City. It is a far cry from the days of Marvin Harrison, Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney all going in the first round in a six-year span, but this could be one of the best drafts for Syracuse players in recent memory. Let’s take a look at who could be making the leap to professional status next year.
Sean Tucker, RB, Third-year sophomore
This should come as no surprise. Tucker turned a lot of heads in 2021, breaking the school’s single-season rushing record and finishing fourth in the FBS for rushing yards. He will return to a team that has struggled to throw the football downfield, setting him up for a monster role in 2022.
Tucker’s impressive footwork and above average quickness make him a nightmare to bring down in the open field. He is solid as a pass blocker, which will only boost his value to NFL clubs. He lacks elite long speed, but he has enough of a second gear to rip off chunk plays. ESPN’s Todd McShay ranked him as his No. 42 prospect and No. 4 running back heading into the season. If Tucker produces anywhere near the type of season he had a year ago, or flashes increased usage in the passing game, he could be knocking on the door of the first round.
Garrett Williams, CB, Fourth-year redshirt sophomore
The Athletic named Williams to their All-Freshman team in 2020 after he led the conference in pass breakups. Williams did not shy away from the spotlight in 2021. He once again led the ACC in pass breakups en route to an all-conference selection. What’s more, he had 52 tackles, including five behind the line of scrimmage.
Given the buzz around him, Williams certainly could have come out in the 2022 draft. However, he returned to Central New York, likely for one final season. He will lead a talented secondary and could very well play his way into a Day 2 draft slot. Williams has the requisite height and the elite speed to play at the NFL level. Sports Illustrated has a third-round grade on him entering the year. It would not be a shock to hear his name called even earlier given his incredible athletic traits.
Matthew Bergeron, OT, Fourth-year junior
I will admit, I did not have Bergeron on my draft radar until about a week ago. A community mock draft on Reddit saw Bergeron selected in the second round, ahead of both Tucker and Williams. That was a shock. When you start to put together Bergeron’s resume though, it gets to be a little easier to understand.
He is entering his third full year as a starter for the Orange. He has 28 starts at offensive tackle already under his belt. With experience at both left and right tackle, his versatility should only raise his draft stock. Beyond that, he checks every box from a size perspective, listed at 6’5″, 327 pounds. He also moves very well for a man that big. Unfortunately, his technique is a mess. His hand placement is inconsistent and his footwork needs a lot of fine tuning. The group of offensive tackles eligible for the 2023 NFL draft is a bit underwhelming at first glance, so don’t be surprised if Bergeron makes some noise. He has the look of a developmental tackle prospect, possibly in the fifth or sixth round, with the potential to become a starter with the right coaching.
Mikel Jones, LB, Fourth-year junior
The team captain who led the Orange in tackles a year ago turned his back on the NFL this past December for another season in CNY. Jones racked up an impressive 110 tackles, including 13 for loss. He is also only a year removed from leading the ACC with four interceptions. Coming off a First-Team All-ACC honor, Jones has a big season ahead.
He has bulked up to 232 pounds, up 10 pounds from a year ago. Proving he can still be as fast and impactful at that new weight will answer a lot of questions for NFL talent evaluators. His speed and instincts were already pro caliber. However, Jones oftentimes looked like a big safety roaming around the field. I expect he will look more like a prototypical linebacker at this build. Sports Illustrated currently has Jones as a fourth-round talent, but it would not be a surprise to see him rise up draft boards a bit more. He reminds a little bit of Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, whom the Eagles selected in the third-round this year. Jones seems like a slam dunk to be selected in the 2023 NFL draft.