Position Preview: Wide Receiver

Syracuse wasn’t the most prolific passing team in the ACC a season ago, but its young wide receiver corps is back with that much more experience for 2014. Who will emerge? CuseNation.com breaks it all down in today’s position preview.

Scott Shafer had a streaky offense to his name in 2013, a flash here, a flash there and some lulls in between. The Syracuse ground game was often the spark for any gaudy numbers, so it’s no secret that the passing attack will need to take the next step if the Orange is to contend in year two under the new regime.

Quarterback Terrel Hunt it back, as are five of the top six wide receivers from a season ago. Among targets to haul in more than 100 yards worth of passes in 2013, only Chris Clark has departed the roster. The top two targets, Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West, each return and remain projected to lead the group into 2014. They’ll have plenty of help, from plenty of youth, in what is a deep position on the roster.

Current Depth Chart

Starters: Ashton Broyld, Jarrod West, Brisly Estime.

Reserves: Adrian Fleming, Quinta Funderburk, Sean Avant, Alvin Cornelius, Ben Lewis, Corey Winfield and others.

The Incumbents

Broyld and West return for another run together as the top two targets for Hunt and company, but there’s no doubt that 2013 emerger Estime will see his role increased after a spring and summer as the known commodity he now is. The small and shifty Floridian broke out in spurts as a freshman and ended up with more receptions than West as a catch-and-run weapon.

After the initial three, considered one starting group in SU’s attack with two wideouts and an H-back (Estime) lined up in most common offensive sets, veteran speedster Jeremiah Kobena remains a rotational option and Cornelius seems poised to take the next step after making a late impact in 2013.

Breakout Potential

Is this the year the highly-touted Funderburk, a one-time four-star and SEC signee, places his name firmly on the map? It has to be, as the talented 6-foot-3, 209-pounder enters his senior season (in the classroom). West and Broyld are steady, but not gaudy options for the SU offense, and it has previously praised Funderburk for his length, speed and potential. He flashed on special teams more than offense a season ago, finishing with just 50 receiving yards on a trio of catches.

Now more than assimilated into the Orange offense after a seemingly up-and-down transfer process away from Arkansas in the spring and into the summer of 2012, Funderburk has no excuse with continuity on the staff, more playing time expected and the offense in desperate need of a deep threat. If he doesn’t eventually fit that bill, look for one of two freshmen to possibly bridge the gap between last year’s not-so-exciting unit and a potentially more consistent one.

Freshman Impact

As we just eluded to, at least one freshmen could not only have to make an impact, but may have to eventually make a significant one for the 2014 Orange. Even before the news of K.J. Williams not making it in, the SU staff expected signee Steve Ishmael to make his name a known one early in his ‘Cuse career.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder out of South Florida was a play-making machine in high school to the point that the staff felt he was largely underrated by most services. Still, one month after telling CuseNation that he would be 100 percent after offseason meniscus surgery, Ishmael will have to make up a lot of ground both physically and mentally since he enrolled in the summer and not in January. However, he and early enrollee quarterback Alin Edouard have exchanged nuggets from the playbook for months.

Should Ishmael not be the guy, one shouldn’t rule out the raw and talented Jamal Custis. Listed at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, the wide receiver/tight end hybrid with a basketball background has all the tools to impress sooner rather than later in his SU career. 2013’s top tight end, Beckett Wales, is another pass-catching departure role that Custis could help fill. This means that often the biggest hurdle freshmen face, an actual on-field opportunity, could be that much more attainable for Custis.

Most Important Player

Here comes the curveball, it’s Broyld. The versatile offensive weapon, another former four-star looking to take the next step at SU, will have to do just that in order for the wide receiver group to be considered a threat in 2014. No matter how good any frosh is, it will take time for him to see consistent reps on Saturday’s, so guys like Broyld have to be the difference -- especially early in the season. West is what he is, a long possession target, Estime is a catch-and-run specialist, and one of the newcomers or Funderburk could eventually turn into the deep threat. But Broyld has to be a combination of the three roles for this group to be a feared one.

He, too, showed flashes in 2013, and he somehow led the roster with 50-plus catches without finding the end zone. He’s not a natural running back or quarterback for that matter, so fully buying into his role as a wideout will be his way to impact the team if it has any shot to surprise in the ACC. He is big, a listed 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, strong and should have had ample time to improve in the areas that somewhat held him back in year’s past: continuity, route-running and hands.

Projected Starters

The depth chart should hold up, with Broyld, West and Estime getting the most attention early on and throughout camp, but one would be naive to think others won't have a lot to do with the unit's success. The freshmen mentioned above, as well as Funderburk and others seemingly on the cusp of making more of an impact like Cornelius and Fleming have to fit that bill. Either way, the group should be an open one considering there are no returning stars to this point within it.

If the SU offense is to take the next step, this group will have to be a big part of it.

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