The NFL completed its annual ranking of the top 100 players heading into the season at hand. For Orange’s sake, why not do a Syracuse football edition?
Former Cuse football star Chandler Jones is ranked as the fifteenth best player in the 2020 NFL Rank. While that ranking arguably could have been even better, it puts Syracuse football on the map. However, there are plenty of other former Orange stars in the NFL, so a ‘Cuse Rank’ just seems right.
Before I dive into my rankings, here’s a quick look at who’s on the table to rank. According to ourlads.com, 10 former Syracuse football members are currently on NFL rosters. Unfortunately, Sean Riley was cut from the New England Patriots earlier this week, or else it would have been 11. Amba Etta-Tawo is also listed, but like Riley, is a free agent.
This list of 10 ‘Cuse alumni in the NFL includes a few rookies, so it will be tough to measure their worth compared to players with seasons under their belt or in the case of Jones, veterans with spectacular track records.
10. Cody Conway
The big offensive lineman (6-foot-6, 296 pounds) has still yet to appear in an NFL game. Conway is currently a member of the Green Bay Packers, and according to the team website, re-signed this January after spending the last five weeks of the regular season and the playoffs on the practice squad.
There’s no telling yet if Conway will get a chance to play in a game with Green Bay, but for one of the main blockers on some high-scoring SU teams, he deserves a chance. With players starting to opt-out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, perhaps Conway’s number could be called.
9. Trishton Jackson
Jackson spent last season with the Orange after playing his first two years of eligibility with Michigan State (and appearing in Syracuse’s January 2019 bowl game). He was Tommy DeVito’s favorite target last year, hauling in 66 receptions for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Jackson went undrafted this season but was promptly picked up by the Los Angeles Rams and is still listed on their official team roster. With Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as the main wideouts, the Rams may need help with the depth at this position. Brandin Cooks was traded earlier this offseason, so perhaps Jackson could be a candidate to help fill that void.
8. Kendall Coleman
Another 2020 undrafted signee, Coleman is part of the Indianapolis Colts roster. In an article on Colts.com, Coleman is listed as a ‘notable camp battle’, along with four other NFL hopefuls.
At Syracuse, Coleman surely showed his worth on the defensive line, accounting for 26.5 career sacks, with 10 of those coming in his junior season. Last year, he was less as a factor, with only four sacks, which could have hurt his draft stock. However, he has the mindset and skill of an NFL player and should be a key component at Colts camp to compete for an NFL role.
7. Chris Slayton
Slayton was a seventh-round pick by the New York Giants in 2019. Continuing with the trend, he’s yet to record an NFL statistic, but definitely has the ability once given the chance.
Syracuse football was blessed by his hard-hitting style, as he had 30.5 sacks over four years, including at least eight or more from his sophomore to senior season.
The Giants have needed a solid defensive foundation for a few years now, and Slayton is sure to be on the radar during camp this season. His 6-foot-4, 307-pound frame should be a selling point, but in the end, it will be up to the Giants’ front office on if he’s worthy of the active roster.
6. Sterling Hofricter
Welcome to Punter U! Sterling Hofricther is on track to become the next great punter out of Syracuse University. Hofrichter was drafted in the seventh round of this year’s draft and has all of the intangibles to start for the Atlanta Falcons this year.
Atlanta had their share of struggles with punters last season, so perhaps Hofricther could be the answer. At SU, he started all four years and was thought of as one of the top punters in America over his last two seasons.
Punters normally don’t get the hype they deserve, but at Syracuse, it’s a different story. Sterling Hofricther is a prime example of that.
5. Alton Robinson
A Seattle Seahawks fifth-round draft pick in 2020, Robinson is the first player on this list that definitely has a good chance at playing some downs this season. In an article on seahawks.com, head coach, Pete Carroll said this on Robinson:
“I think Alton was involved in 18 or 19 sacks the last couple of years as a junior college transfer. Big production…He’s really determined to be part of something unique and special. I’m really excited about bringing him in…I was really surprised that Alton was still there because he could be a big help for our football team.”
Those are some strong words from one of the greatest coaches the NFL has ever seen. Seattle has been trying to revamp their team in recent years, after having slid from their ‘Legion of Boom’ days. Robinson has all the tools and size to fit in on their defensive scheme and should get quite the look during training camp.
4. Zaire Franklin
Kendall Coleman isn’t the only former Syracuse football star on the Colts roster. However, he may have gotten the good word from how Zaire Franklin has produced with Indy.
SU head coach Dino Babers once said that Franklin is “uncuttable” and those words came true and then some. Not only has the undrafted free agent survived being cut, but he’s also solidified himself as a key component on the Colts’ defense.
In 2018, Franklin played mostly on special teams, making six total tackles. In 2019, he worked that much harder on his game, once again playing all 16 games, but this time, starting in two of them. Franklin made 29 total tackles along with a pass deflection, setting himself up for what could be an even better 2020.
The Colts have had success in the past with former Orange players – just ask Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison. Now, Zaire Franklin looks to add on to the list.
3. Justin Pugh
Syracuse football alum, Justin Pugh, is one of the most reliable offensive linemen in the NFL. Heading into his eighth NFL season, Pugh has started every single game he’s played in 86 – out of 112 to be exact.
While injuries have been the cause of concern over his career, he’s been able to bounce back and perform at the same great level time and time again, showing his durability and talent.
Although he’s never been selected to a pro bowl, Pugh is certainly one of the top o-linemen in the game. Drafted 19th overall in 2013, he has lived up to his potential and represents the Cuse name well.
2. Riley Dixon
It’s Punter U for a reason, guys. Riley Dixon has been in the NFL for four full seasons, starting all 64 games, while playing for the Denver Broncos and now the New York Giants.
A 2016 all-rookie team member, Dixon has made his mark in the NFL, ever since. During that 2016 season, he had a 41.3-yard net average, the highest by a rookie in league history. Since then, he has continued to exceed, setting a personal best for yards per punt in 2019 with 46.1.
Is it foolish to have a punter at second in a ranking list? Not at all. Dixon is really that good and after all, punters are people too!
1. Chandler Jones
There’s really only one obvious option here, and it’s a really, really good one. Chandler Jones isn’t just one of the best Syracuse football players of all time. He’s one of the top players in the entire league and arguably top at his position.
Jones was a monster in Orange, with an incredible 27 tackles for losses and 10 sacks in three seasons. In the NFL, Jones has been one of the top sack masters since his league inception, with 96 sacks in just eight seasons.
Often underappreciated compared to JJ Watt and Aaron Donald, Jones has been one of the best NFL players on the D-Line this past decade. He’s a Super Bowl Champion, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time All-Pro team member, and made the NFL’s all-decade team.
Congrats Chandler! You’re number one in the first annual Cuse Rank!