5 SU Players to Watch this Season
2022 ACC Media Days has come and gone, which means the beginning of the college football season is another step closer. As Syracuse embarks on year seven of the Dino Babers era, here are a few players to watch this season that could make or break its chances to compete in the ACC and earn a bid to a bowl game.
One of the biggest takeaways from Garrett Shrader’s appearance at media day was his confidence in the wide receiver group. Foremost among those wideouts is redshirt sophomore Courtney Jackson. Shrader went on to say that the quarterback battle with Tommy Devito hindered his ability to get chemistry with wide receivers last season. That’s not going to happen in 2022.
WIth Shrader as the definitive starting quarterback, Courtney Jackson sticks out as his number one option. Take a look back at his stats from last season. The first four games of the year – before Shrader was named the starter – Jackson had just five receptions for 57 yards. His final eight games totaled 32 catches for 332 yards, including a season-high eight catches, 92 yards, and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh. The difference in Jackson’s playmaking was night and day with Shrader on the field instead of Devito. That has the chance to improve in 2022 with a new offensive system and another year to gel with his starting quarterback
If you get a pick-six against Trevor Lawrence in Death Valley as a freshman, you are most certainly a player to watch. That’s a hard and fast rule everyone should live by. Williams enters the 2022 season as one of the top defensive backs in the ACC – he led the conference in PBUs last year while defending the second most passes per game. Syracuse’s secondary will be one of its strengths, as has often been the case in the last few years.
However, Williams and the rest of the secondary may be pushed more than normal with SU’s defensive line taking a step back from last year. If a lesser pass rush from the down lineman results in more time for opposing QBs to throw the ball, we’ll see what Williams and company are really made of in 2022.
It’s no question the defensive line is the biggest question mark on this Syracuse team entering 2022. There may be no single SU player who more is being asked of than Steve Linton. He is likely to be a starting defensive end after playing in just seven games last year and recording six tackles. Linton is undersized for an ACC-caliber edge rusher, weighing in at just 220 pounds. All that said, he’s had a healthy offseason, which wasn’t the case last year when he got surgery on an injured knee. Come September 3rd, Linton has a chance to prove a lot of people wrong if the SU defensive line can put pressure on Louisville QB Malik Cunningham.
Bleich has had one of the more interesting careers at Syracuse, and still has two years of eligibility left. In 2020, he was one of just a handful of players that had to sit out the entire season after transferring. Then last season, Bleich missed four games with illness and an injury. If he can stay healthy, Bleich can be a difference-maker on the offensive line. This is still a guy who stands at a domineering 6’6 335 pounds and was primarily recruited by programs that are a step (or a few steps) above Syracuse. That’s a big “if”, though. Keep in mind, we’re less than two years removed from Syracuse starting a fullback at guard because of all the injuries to the o-line. That can’t happen in 2022 if the Orange want to make a bowl game.
We all know about Sean Tucker. He enters the season as the guy on this Syracuse football team, and Dino Babers explained to the media that he has no intentions of hiding that. However, no running back can be on the field for 100% of snaps – especially with the amount of hits that Tucker will be taking. That said, New Mexico State transfer Juwaun Price enters the season as the presumed number two.
It’s pretty tough to take away any positives from a 2-10 Aggies season, but Price was one of them. He averaged over five yards per carry, racking up just under 700 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground in 2021. Much like the aforementioned Courtney Jackson, the last game of 2021 was Price’s best. He piled up 156 rushing yards and four touchdowns against UMass. On top of that, Price can be an option in the passing game; last season he had 26 catches for 181 yards. Along with true freshman, LeQuint Allen, Price can prove that Syracuse’s backfield extends further than just Sean Tucker. “We think that those three backs altogether might be one of the better crews we’ve had in a long time,” Babers said.