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Syracuse Football Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Oronde Gadsden (19) makes a catch in double coverage against Boston College in the final game of the 2022 regular season.
Oronde Gadsden (19) makes a catch in double coverage against Boston College in the final game of the 2022 regular season.

Syracuse’s 2022-23 passing offense ranked about as close to the middle of the pack nationally as possible (67 out of 131 teams). But while some may view the Orange’s aerial attack as painstakingly average, it showed major growth from the 2021-22 season, where they finished 123rd.

Following that abysmal campaign throwing the ball, SU hired UVA Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck to the same position, and the change paid dividends for Syracuse’s signal caller Garrett Shrader. The Mississippi State transfer nearly doubled his passing yards and touchdowns while upping his completion percentage by 25%.

As a result of Shrader’s growth, SU’s pass catchers saw significantly more opportunities. After not having a single receiver eclipse 400 yards in 2021, three did so last season. Now, with Beck having been promoted to offensive coordinator and Shrader returning for 2023, the Orange aim to take another leap as a passing offense – and they may have the weapons to do it.

Tight Ends:

Oronde Gadsden II

Though he’s listed as a tight end, Gadsden possesses the skills of a wide receiver and is an absolute matchup nightmare. With a 6’5, 216 pound frame, the junior is too tall to cover with a cornerback but too agile to be guarded by a linebacker or safety. This mismatch was on full display last season, as the Ft. Lauderdale native led the Orange in all three major receiving categories enroute to a First Team All-ACC nod.

Gadsden operates primarily out of the slot and has a knack for finding soft spots in the defense. His ability to get open coupled with his elite size made Gadsden a security blanket for Garrett Shrader. In fact, SU’s leading receiver was targeted 38 more times than the next most passed-to option. Gadsden is the Orange’s sole representative on the All-ACC Preseason Team, and is poised to be the alpha among Syracuse pass-catchers.

Maximilian Mang

This giant German has only six receptions in his career, but plays a pivotal role for SU’s blocking schemes, particularly in the run game. It could be fair to assume Mang will assume a larger receiving role in his junior year, but expect his bread and butter to remain as a blocker.

Dan Villari

A once-quarterback transfer from Michigan, Villari played the final three games of 2022 as a tight end and made the official switch this offseason. The redshirt sophomore has prototypical size for the position (6’4. 237 pounds) and will look to work his way up the depth chart in his first full-go in the new role.

Wide Receivers: 

Damien Alford

Simply put, Damien Alford is a big play waiting to happen. The lanky, 6’6 Canadian is an ideal X-receiver and averaged over 20 yards per reception last year as SU’s primary deep threat. This go-around, Alford’s continuous improvement from year to year can continue with the departures of DaVaughn Cooper (graduated) and Courtney Jackson (transferred). The junior enters this season as the Orange’s clear WR1 and should play a pivotal role in vertically stretching the field.

Trebor Pena

Pena may be best known for his duties in the return game, as he led the ACC in kickoff return average in 2022. But in his sophomore year, the undersized-but-shifty Pena put up career numbers on offense and is the Orange’s 3rd leading returning receiver. So in short, Pena has set himself up to be a valuable Swiss-army knife for SU in 2023.

D’Marcus Adams

2018 feels like an eon ago, but in that year (Adams’ senior season in high school), the Florida native was an U.S. Army All-American that committed to Florida State. Things didn’t work out in Tallahassee, so Adams made his way to FAU before eventually settling at SU, where he recorded a career high 180 yards last year. Keep an eye out for the senior to get more looks in his second season with the Orange.

Isaiah Jones

If there’s any dark horse receiver to breakout in 2023, it may be redshirt junior Isaiah Jones. Another Florida boy, Jones saw his first significant action last year before suffering a season-ending injury in week three against Purdue. In that same game, Jones caught his first collegiate touchdown and looked to be a nice piece to the receiving corps. Now that he’s recovered, Jones aims to pick up where he left off.