What’s left to do in Syracuse football’s 2023 class?

Joe More
Courtesy: Joe More

Dino Babers and his staff used the early signing period to address depth issues, both in the short term and the long term. Syracuse signed players from high school, junior college, and the transfer portal.

There are still two more opportunities to add to the roster: the February signing period and after spring practice. With both of those on the horizon, let’s look at what needs the Orange might look to fill.

Defensive Line

The DL was cause for concern most of the year, especially after starting out 6-0. Syracuse ran into teams adept at running the ball during the second half of the year and the youth there showed.

Losing Terry Lockett after four games didn’t help. And their best pass rusher, Steve Linton, entered the transfer portal.

Young talent returns in Denis Jaquez, Jr., Francois Nolton Jr., Kevon Darton, Jatius Geer, Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff, Kevin Jobity, Jr., Chase Simmons, and Belizarre Bassett II. Anchoring the line will be Caleb Okechukwu, who announced his return previously. Reinforcements include Lockett’s return, Alabama transfer Braylen Ingraham, and Rashard Perry, a true freshman.

Perry is an intriguing candidate for immediate playing time as he appears to have a build that looks like it was chiseled from granite. Still, the Orange appear to be in the market for another DL from the portal who can step in and play immediately given the unit’s youth.

Offensive Line

Much like the DL, Syracuse is always in search of depth along the offensive line. This is especially true for next year as a couple of key cogs are moving on in Dakota Davis and Matthew Bergeron – the latter who should hear his name called in this year’s NFL Draft.

Chris Bleich, who announced his return via Twitter, is set to lineup with Kalan Ellis and Enrique Cruz. Josh Ilaoa and Jakob Bradford, who played in the last six games, also return. Carlos Vettorello has another year to play if he chooses but has yet to announce publicly.

Syracuse is bringing in five offensive linemen with this class: J’Onre Reed, Jayden Bass, Lysander Moeolo, Trevion Mack, and Joe More.

Reed and More stand the best chance to play right away. Reed is a JUCO who could fill the void of a natural center, and More is transferring in from Richmond. He played with the Spider since 2018. The six-foot-five, 302-pounder, More is physically ready to earn playing time, if not a starting spot.

The OL has been a bellwether for Syracuse’s success in recent years. Babers probably wouldn’t hesitate to add another potential starter through the portal as a team can never have enough OL depth.

Wide Receiver

Oronde Gadsden II emerged this year as a legit pass catching threat as the Floridian was selected to the First-Team All-ACC as a Tight End. Outside of Gadsden, Syracuse’s receiving corps was up and down.

Damien Alford, with his 6-foot-6 height, has proven to be a deep threat. He hauled in the game-winner at VaTech last year and his 58-yd TD put Syracuse in front for good in the season finale at BC. D’Marcus Adams also flashed in his first year with Syracuse. He played in nine games and caught six balls for 180 yards – 30 YPC – to go along with two TDs.

Courtney Jackson transferred at season’s end and Devaughn Cooper exhausted his eligibility. Players like Trebor Pena, Isaiah Jones, and Donovan Brown could carve out bigger roles next year, but Syracuse would be well-served by finding a consistent WR via the portal to complement Gadsden.

» Related: Syracuse offensive lineman J’Onre Reed ‘wants to be known’ by the end of his SU career

Portal Giveth, Portal Taketh

The transfer portal is now an interesting place. Players at lower end P5 schools have a chance to transfer to factory programs with a higher profile, and cash in while doing so.

Syracuse certainly felt that effect as Duce Chestnut, Ja’Had Carter, and Steve Linton – three of the best players on defense – all entered the portal. Carter opted for Ohio State while Duce just announced his transfer to LSU on Sunday.

That said, a program like Syracuse can also work the portal to its advantage.

More could very well help offset the losses of Bergeron or Davis on the OL while Ingraham, assuming he’s recovered from his knee injuries, could make an immediate impact in an area of need.

But no doubt, losing Crater and Chestnut is a big blow to one of the better secondaries in the ACC. That’s when Syracuse worked some portal magic with an orange tinge.

Defensive backs Jaeden Gould (Nebraska) and Jayden Bellamy (Notre Dame) each selected Syracuse. They ranked as the third and sixth best recruits in New Jersey Class of 2022 according to the 247 composite rankings. Add them to LeQuint Allen (15) and Denis Jaquez, Jr. (17) and Syracuse cleaned up in the Garden State’s 2022 class.

Dino Babers has to like Syracuse’s position heading into next season. He has Garrett Shrader returning while a significant amount of conference foes saw their starting QBs transfer. The Orange will also pass the run game baton to LeQuint Allen. And after his bowl game performance, Babers appears to be clairvoyant when he said at the beginning of the season that Allen “has some stuff to him.”

If Babers can tap the portal one more time or two, the Orange will be well-suited to return to a bowl game next season, if they aren’t already.

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About Steve Auger 165 Articles
Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. And according to Rutgers' fans, he's "not a take."