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Checking in on Syracuse Alumni in the NFL

It certainly doesn’t feel like 2004 right now.

Let’s step into the time machine and travel back to 2004. Facebook and Gmail had just launched, George W. Bush was about to be re-elected, and Syracuse had recently dropped the “men” from its nickname.

In its first year as simply the “Orange,” SU football went 6-6 and qualified for the Citrus Bowl, where the team was obliterated by Georgia Tech, 51-14. Despite that disappointing result, Syracuse fans had a reason to be proud of the program.

In 2004, Dwight Freeney led the NFL in sacks, with 16. Donovan McNabb put up the best statistical season of his career (3,875 yards, 31 TD, 8 INT, 64.8 completion percentage, 8.8 yards per attempt). Marvin Harrison, while a couple years past his prime, was still a dominant receiver — he racked up 1,000 yards for the seventh consecutive season, and snagged a career-high 15 touchdowns.

All three of those players went to Syracuse, making 2004 a “golden age,” of sorts, for Orange alumni in the NFL. Now, one former SU player ranks among the best at his position, but after him, it’s pretty bleak. With training camps up and running, let’s take a look at how old Syracuse standouts are faring at the professional level.

If Chandler Jones isn’t the best current NFL player who spent his college days in the Carrier Dome, he’s certainly the most recognizable. The Bengals made the Rochester, New York, native the 21st overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, then traded him to New England, where he spent his first four seasons. Jones quickly established himself as a premier pass-rusher, tallying double-digit sacks in two campaigns, and qualifying for the Pro Bowl last season.

The Patriots traded Jones to the Cardinals during the offseason, and the defensive end should fill the biggest hole on Arizona’s roster — a guy who can get after the quarterback. Bruce Arians’s team was already a member of the league’s elite, but the acquisition of Jones solidified its standing as legitimate Super Bowl contender. Freeney was the Cardinals’ top pass-rusher in 2015, but he’s now a free agent. The Falcons and Cowboys are reportedly in the running for the 36-year-old’s services.

Justin Pugh remained in the Empire State when the Giants selected him with the 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He started all 16 games at right tackle as a rookie, but moved to left guard in 2015. That shift proved to be very successful, as he’s now one of the league’s top interior lineman. Ryan Nassib also still plays for the G-Men, but he’s still locked behind Eli Manning.

Shamarko Thomas has seemingly lived on the roster bubble since the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round in 2013. The safety has been trending downward — after making 22 tackles as a rookie, Thomas recorded seven in 2014 and just one last season. The former All-Big East defensive back was supposed to replace future Hall-of-Famer Troy Polamalu, but now, he might not even make the team.

Cameron Lynch was in a similar situation last season, but snuck onto the Rams roster after the preseason. There’s been a lot of turnover in the LA linebacking corps, so Lynch should once again qualify for the 53-man depth chart, and has a chance to start in 2016.

We may never see another year like 2004 (although there is a ton of talent in the pipeline), but Syracuse could use some extra representation in the NFL.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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