Syracuse football recruiting has been on an upward climb in recent years. Especially considering team rankings, as the Orange are set to improve their national placement for the second consecutive cycle. Looking at Syracuse, it’s easy to say that their best recruiting classes of all time includes past classes with some of college football’s all-time best players.
Isn’t any class with Jim Brown or Ernie Davis or Floyd Little one of the best? How about one with Donovan McNabb, Kevin Johnson and others? The Orange have had their fair share of strong recruiting classes over the years.
But let’s look specifically at the Scout era, from the 2002 cycle forward. Which was Syracuse’s strongest class? You could strictly by ranking, which would mean the 2002 class was the best as it was ranked 36th, the best Syracuse ranking since Scout’s existence.
While that class had some contributors like safety Anthony Smith, quarterback Perry Patterson and offensive lineman Quin Ojinnaka, they also had a lot of misses. Even Patterson, a four-star prospect, was a bit of a disappointment despite being a multi-year starter.
After a lot of evaluation and research, the best Syracuse recruiting classes in the Scout era were in the 2008 and 2011 cycles. This was based on contributions from the players within the classes, number of misses within a class and impact on the program those players had.
The 2008 class had its share of stars. Marcus Sales, a coveted local product, chose Syracuse over offers from Boston College, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia. While his career was a bit up and down, he ended up being a solid contributor for Syracuse.
He was part of a record setting offense in 2012, leading the team in touchdown catches and finishing second in receptions and receiving yards. The man throwing passes to him during that season? Fellow class of 2008 signee Ryan Nassib.
Nassib was a steal for Syracuse in the 2008 class.
Nassib finished his Syracuse career as the most prolific passer in school history. He is the leader most pass attempts, completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes in a game and season. He holds the individual season and game records for passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy without any other offers.
Add to that class a multi-year star along the defensive line in in-state Chandler Jones, very productive running back Antwon Bailey and multi-year starter Mikhail Marinovich, and you have the makings of a strong class as far as impacts stars within the program.
What pulls this class back are the misses. Averin Collier was a four-star prospect from the Rochester area who barely played and did not finish his career at Syracuse. High profile wide receiver DeAndre Preaster never made it to campus after battling legal trouble. Another wide receiver, Trey Fairchild, left after Greg Robinson was fired after his redshirt season.
Plenty of star power in the 2008 class, but plenty of misses as well.
The 2011 class is not finished with its contributions to the program, but it is easily the deepest one Syracuse has had since Scout’s 2002 beginnings. The offensive line haul is as impressive as any position in any class for the Orange. Multi-year starters up front Ivan Foy, Rob Trudo and Nick Robinson all signed with Syracuse in 2011.
Sticking with the offensive side of the ball, Syracuse also landed Adonis Ameen-Moore, Ashton Broyld, Terrel Hunt and Jeremiah Kobena. Ameen-Moore never become the go-to running back, but found a niche as a short yardage back.
Broyld had to delay his enrollment until the next season as a year of prep school was necessary in order to qualify academically. He has been a bit of an enigma on the roster, but has contributed as a receiver and running back for multiple years. He will be a key offensive weapon in 2015 once again.
Hunt became Syracuse’s starting quarterback during the 2013 season and led the Orange to a Texas Bowl berth and victory after a slow start under previous starter Drew Allen. Hunt was injured in 2014, but was their best offensive weapon prior to the injury.
Jeremiah Kobena has contributed as a receiver and kick returner during his career.
Defensively Syracuse landed three stars in the 2011 class. Durell Eskridge, who has declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, has been a big time safety for Syracuse, specifically over the last two seasons. Eskridge was projected as a wide receiver, but the Orange did not have room for him there. He moved to safety and things turned out pretty darn well.
In addition to Eskridge, two fellow contributors in the secondary signed with Syracuse in 2011. Ritchy Desir, key reserve safety and part-time punt returner had a solid Orange career. Brandon Reddish took until his senior year to fulfill the promise of his talent out of high school, but became a legitimate NFL prospect and started for multiple years.
Lynch became a star at Syracuse out of Brookwood High in Snelling (Ga.).
Also contributing on defense were linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch. Those two were big time leaders for the Orange for several seasons. Lynch really emerged as a leader during this past year, his last on The Hill. Davis flashed his big playmaking ability with his hard hits and frequent blitzing.
Another linebacker, Siriki Diabate, came to Syracuse out of the junior college ranks. He started at middle linebacker during Syracuse’s 2012 season that was capped with a Pinstripe Bowl victory.
Underrated was long snapper Sam Rodgers, who filled the position nicely for his entire career and was a captain this past year.
There were misses in this class, as there almost always are. Running back Tyree Smallwood never made it to campus. Shu Mungwa left to pursue a rap career. Kennan Hale and Kyle Foster both had injury plagued careers, Jonathan Fisher never panned out at punter and Louie Addazio left to join his father at Boston College.
But the sheer volume of key contributors and multi-year starters make this a very deep and talented class.
Which class one prefers is based on personal preference. The 2011 class is unquestionably deeper than 2008. But 2008 has the more historically significant player in quarterback Ryan Nassib. The 2008 class was also instrumental in digging Syracuse out of the Greg Robinson era and starting to turn things around. That turn around is still ongoing, but they certainly helped set the stage.
Ultimately, because of the number of star players and key starters, the 2011 class wins the debate here. Fewer misses and more contributors make Syracuse’s 2011 class their best since Scout’s inception.
Syracuse currently holds the 44th best class in the 2015 cycle. If they finished in that slot, it would be the second best class the Orange has had in the Scout era (2002 cycle and beyond). With many schools right behind them looking to add a significant number of commitments, and Syracuse nearly full, they are likely to slip a few spots.
If the Orange land their top targets, including Jake Pickard and Doyle Grimes while keeping Steven Clark, a top-50 class is likely. It would mark only the fourth time in the last 15 cycles they have cracked the top-50.
The class is currently headlined by four star safety Marquise Blair and complemented by key regional players Dontae Strickland, Amir Ealey, Daivon Ellison and Evan Adams among others. In-state, Syracuse was able to keep some talented players home including Jordan Fredericks, Qaadir Sheppard and Tyrone Perkins.
Coming off of a 3-9 season, the Syracuse staff has been strong on the trail. Keeping the recruiting momentum going, improving the class rank once again while landing a four star for the second consecutive cycle, is impressive with the lack of on field results this past season.
This class along with the 2014 haul has the potential to be a foundation for the Scott Shafer era as the program looks to take the next step towards more consistent results year in and year out.