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2022 Syracuse Football Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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Colin Bock
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Incoming Freshman wideout Donovan Brown (87) stiff-arms defensive-back Cam Reirden (37) en route to a first-down. Rivals and 247 Sports assessed Brown a three-star recruiting rating.

On a Broader Scale…

The Orange aerial artillery were seldom presented with opportunities to launch into a full-fledged vertical attack. Across his nine starts in orange and blue, Mississippi State transfer QB Garrett Shrader aired out just 11 passes for 20 or more yards. The junior was given a first down via a roughing the passer penalty at a more frequent rate than doing it himself. Shrader’s overall inaccuracy proved to be a glaring liability for the Orange as a whole. The signal-caller completed over 50% of his passes merely four times across his nine starts, and also failed to throw a touchdown pass in three starts. With minimal opportunities to produce, Syracuse’s pass-catchers posted uninspiring superficial stat-lines that suggest incompetence. In reality, SU’s smash mouth style of play produced a rushing attack so dynamic that it left a talented pool of receivers to collect dust. But with several new prospects, the Orange are poised for a breakout year in the pass-catching phase.

SU’s X-Receiver

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Colin Bock
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Rising sophomore receiver Damien Alford (82) hauls in a long-range touchdown strike in the Spring Game. The Montreal-native averaged 19.2 yards per catch in 2021.

DAMIEN ALFORD, WR - 6-foot-6, 211 lbs. / Sophomore from Montreal, Quebec

For the lanky outside receiver from Montreal, size is everything. At a staggering 6’6,” Alford still releases into his routes like a young Amari Cooper. If you surrender outside space as a defensive back in press-coverage, you are as good as done for. Alford possesses the burners and size to serve as an elite deep-threat alongside a competent quarterback akin to his play style. Often a big play waiting to happen, Alford was the primary source of Shrader’s big play production. In the open field, Alford is a menace, and should he beat you man-to-man, you will not catch up to him. I predict, with high confidence, that Alford emerges as SU’s go-to pass-catcher.

Despite being SU’s third-most productive pass-catcher a year ago, Alford’s overall talent is still quite raw. He failed to record more than just two receptions in a single game last year, and had six games with under 20 receiving yards. A lack of a trustworthy sample makes Alford’s stock volatile, but from a pure physical standpoint, he remains the clear top-choice.

SU’s Slot Receiver

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Rich Barnes
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Cuse.com
Rising redshirt sophomore WR Courtney Jackson reels in a one-handed grab against Duke defensive back Jordan Waters (0).

COURTNEY JACKSON, WR - 5-foot-11, 175 lbs / Redshirt Sophomore from Monroeville, Pennsylvania

A shifty slot-receiver, Jackson paced the Orange in receptions and receiving yards last year. Working between the hashes, no other pass-catcher possesses Jackson’s blend of agility, elusiveness, and ability to work after the catch. The sophomore brings a cerebral approach to creating first-downs, often using his speed and defensive miscommunications to create separation.

Of course, Jackson provides high-end value as a punt-returner, too. The 5’11” receiver put the icing on the cake of a Syracuse victory over Boston college with a 64-yard punt-return touchdown.

Despite his uncanny ability to change direction, Jackson struggles against handsier slot-corners. Jackson also fails to create separation against press-coverage on the outside. The Pennsylvania-native needs to add size and reps in order to warrant consideration as more than a slot-specialist.

SU’s Z-Receiver

DONOVAN BROWN, WR - 6-foot-2, 173 lbs. / Freshman from Montgomery Village, Maryland

Projecting a freshman’s production is a fairly-impossible task. So is tabbing a three-star recruit as a year-one starting receiver. But after a standout Spring Game performance, Brown appears poised to take SU’s receiving room by storm. An undefeated 4A State Champion at Quince Orchard High School, Brown paced the team with 13 touchdown receptions. It should come as no surprise that Brown produced massive chunk plays in the pre-season tune-up, including a stiff-arm en route to a massive gain into opposing territory.

Still, Brown lacks the size to consistently navigate press-coverage. He has strong hands and immaculate concentration during a catch-opportunity, but I worry about his durability at his current weight of 173 pounds. I bet on his budding confidence and propensity for big plays to see him into a starting role in year one.

Role Players

ANTHONY QUEELEY, WR - 6-foot-2, 198 lbs. / Redshirt Junior from Orlando, Florida

With the ball in his hands, Queeley is a master at making people miss. Despite carrying a limited load as an overall receiver, Queeley provided clutch plays by picking up first-downs with his legs. At 6’2” and just shy of 200 pounds, Queeley has ideal size for a player in the Yard after Catch role. I almost hypothesize he presents a threat in the run game if used properly. I’ll leave that for Head Coach Dino Babers to decide.

TREBOR PEÑA, WR - 6-foot, 176 lbs. / Sophomore from Ocean Township, New Jersey

Peña caught just two passes last year, but he demonstrated a potential for more with those two receptions. Most notably against Clemson, Peña brought the Orange within a field-goal of mighty Clemson by pirouetting through a pair of defensive backs for a 62-yard score.

With a lankier build and small sample size to go off of, Peña is another dark-horse bet to emerge as a viable threat on this roster, but it all depends on his physique. At 176 pounds, Peña presents the same durability concerns I assigned to Brown. Ultimately, I view him as a return specialist who can manufacture a handful of massive gains in otherwise murky situations. Even that has massive value.

DE’VAUGHN COOPER, WR - 5-foot-11, 180 lbs. / Seventh-year Senior from Los Angeles, California

With his mix of size and his propensity for working between the hashes, Cooper presents as a strong backup to the preeminent Courtney Jackson. Cooper possesses the same elusiveness and quick release as Jackson. The SoCal slot receiver’s skillset and potential improvement from Shrader in the short to intermediate passing game gives Cooper breakout potential in his final campaign.

UMARI HATCHER, WR - 6-foot-3 178 lbs. / Redshirt Freshman, from Woodbridge, Virginia

A first-team all-state selection in 2019 out of Virginia, Hatcher posted 1,400 receiving yards across 56 receptions in his senior campaign. After producing at the Junior College level, Hatcher finds his way to Salt City for a chance to emerge. With a great frame and production at lower-levels backing him up, Hatcher could meander into a consistent backup role.

The Tight Ends

MAXIMILIAN MANG, TE - 6-foot-7, 254 lbs. / Sophomore from Nutheal, Germany

Syracuse’s tight-end staff lacks the same depth as the receiving corps. Among the group, nobody has emerged as a prominent threat in the passing-game. Mang is a master in the run game, opening lanes for all-world tailback Sean Tucker to go to work. Other than providing space for Tucker, Mang’s role in SU’s offense is, and will be, limited.

CHRIS ELMORE, TE/FB - 6-foot, 293 lbs. / Redshirt Senior from Chicago, Illinois

Despite this article being a preview for pass-catchers, Elmore finds his way into this discussion as a mauler in the run game. A fan favorite, Elmore bulldozes all would-be tacklers in his line of sight before plowing through smaller defenders at the second-level. Elmore posted just one reception last year, and given SU’s heavy emphasis on the run-game, his placement here is oxymoronic.