After a brief hiatus, we’re back with part 4 of hit or miss! In these series, we’re taking a look back at the 2016 class full of players that have all but graduated by now. Of course, a few still compete for Syracuse or elsewhere, but this series aims to evaluate the careers of the recruits and see if their careers were productive enough to warrant a hit, or disastrous enough to warrant a miss. So let’s get into the next recruits from 2016!
16. Josh Black – 3 star DE
- Coming out of Machesney Park, Illinois, Black came to Syracuse as a two-way player in the trenches. The Harlem high school product had just five offers from a trio of MAC schools, in-state Illinois, and SU.
- The health and exercise science major first came to the Salt City weighing 235 pounds. Black’s out of this world athleticism paved the way for early playing time. He started nine of the ten games he played as a freshman at defensive end. Black racked up 21 solo tackles, 4.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks.
- Black’s second season wasn’t as friendly. He played in SU’s first four games but injured his knee against LSU and missed the rest of the season. He set a new career-high with five tackles against Central Connecticut State.
- In Black’s sophomore year (2018) he moved down the line and played in 11 games, splitting snaps with Mckinley Williams at nose tackle. He’s had his hand in the dirt, lined up over guards and centers ever since. The former 3-star recruit put up solid numbers, but perhaps most notably blocked a field goal against Louisville. That was the first time an SU player blocked a field goal in five years (2013).
- Black started to elevate as a junior. He started all 12 games at nose tackle, racking up 39 tackles, 6 TFL’s and 4 sacks. He was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week after SUs 24-0 win at Liberty. That momentum carried into 2020 and Black’s senior season. In the new 3-3-5 system, he was a perfect fit at defensive tackle. Part of the reason why he was one of our picks for SU’s most important players heading into the season. That worked out well, as Black made 38 more tackles with 4 TFL’s, 2 sacks, and an interception vs Georgia Tech.
- Black announced earlier this year his intentions to return to Syracuse for the 2021 season as a grad student. Remember that knee injury suffered vs LSU? That earned him a medical hardship waiver and the opportunity to return to the Hill for one more year. He’ll spearhead SU’s defensive line that also returns Mckinley Williams (more on him shortly) and Kingsley Jonathan. So far, Black has started 36 of 48 games played, has 120 tackles, 18 TFL, and 7.5 sacks to his name.
- Black’s career trajectory would already warrant him a hit, and as the former 1,493 ranked prospect in the nation, he far outlived his recruiting rankings. Syracuse Nation should be excited about the 2021 season, especially because Black will be back to hold it down in the trenches.
- Hit or Miss: HIT
17. Aaron Servais – 3 star OT
- If you know anything about college football, you know that Wisconsin offensive lineman are another breed. So anytime you can go to the Badger state and steal a prospect from going to Camp Randall, that’s a big recruiting win. It’s been somewhat of a bumpy road for Servais, but maybe he’s finally found his spot on the offensive line.
- Servais is actually from Green Bay and was rated the 10th best prospect in Wisconsin. He had five offers, SU being the lone power five and was snubbed by the in-state Badgers.
- His SU career got off to a slow start, taking a redshirt in his freshman season, but he was a member of the travel team which is no easy feat as a frosh. In 2017, Servais elevated considerably and started all 12 games on the offensive line. The redshirt-freshman led the Orange with 1,036 logged snaps, and was third on the team with 36 pancake blocks. He even had six knockdown blocks vs LSU.
- As a r-sophomore, Servais continued to climb the ladder and started all 13 games for the Camping World Bowl Champions. He led the Orange with 36.5 pancakes, and played a key role in the nation’s 11th most prolific offense, which set school records with 523 points and 38 rushing touchdowns.
- As a junior, Servais was elected co-captain of the offense with running back Moe Neal. The former 3-star started every game for a third consecutive season and logged time at both left tackle (4 starts) and center (8 starts). The offense was considerably better in SU’s final four games when Servais kicked out from center to tackle. The Orange averaged 242 yards rushing in the final three games, 88 more than SU had averaged all season. The team’s sacks allowed also decreased from about 5 to 2.
- In 2020, Servais started at 11 games at offensive tackle. He started the first three games at left tackle and flipped with Matthew Bergeron to right for the final eight games of the season. The offense was better when that happened as 36% of the sacks allowed came in the first two games, and the Orange allowed just 2.7 per game the rest of the way.
- Servais followed suit with Black, and will return for the 2021 season as a grad student. He enters the fall with a team-best 48 consecutive starts and figures to slot at right tackle, just like how he ended last season.
- The Wisconsin native has lived up to the reputation of spitting out great offensive lineman prospects. Servais has played a prominent role in the SU offense over the last five years paving the way for program records and big offensive outputs. The line has sputtered at times the last two seasons, but with a veteran like Servais back, the trenches should be a strength of this team.
- Hit or Miss: Hit
18. Carl Jones – 2 star WR
- Jones was a two-sport athlete out of St. Edwards high school in Lakewood, Ohio. St. Ed’s is one of the more respected programs in the Buckeye state. The 6-2, 175 lb. prospect had just two offers in SU and Army.
- As a freshman Jones played in all 12 games as a member of the kickoff and punt coverage teams and registered 11 tackles. As a sophomore, Jones played in 12 games against mostly on kickoff and coverage teams, but also recorded a TFL against Boston College.
- In Jones’ junior year he was a key cog on the SU kickoff coverage team that ranked first in the ACC allowing just 18 yards per return. He also made a tackle vs West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl.
- In 2019, Jones’ senior campaign he played in 13 games on kickoff coverage, punt coverage, and as a reserve cornerback. SU’s punt coverage team finished fifth nationally allowing just under 2 yards per return and set a school record with just 17 return yards allowed all season (shoutout Sterling Hofrichter). Jones also broke up a pass against Holy Cross.
- Overall, Jones played in 49 games for SU and racked up 14 tackles with 1 PBU. He reportedly ran a laser-timed 4.29 40-yard dash as a rising senior. A respectable career for the former 2,189 ranked prospect in the nation. Jones came to Syracuse and had an immediate impact and was a big-time player for the special teams units. Although he didn’t have any impact aside from the coverage teams, you have to remember he was a 2-star recruit.
- Hit or Miss: Hit
19. Mckinley Williams – 2 star DE
- Williams was rated the worst prospect in SU’s 2016 class. Looking back five years later, that’s pretty crazy because he’s arguably one of the best players to come out of this cycle. Williams is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and attended Dillard High School. If that sounds familiar it’s because it’s the same school former SU linebacker Kenneth Ruff played at. Williams is nicknamed “grizzly” or”bear” and also wrestled in high school
- As a freshman, Williams played in all 12 games and logged one start. Bear logged 14 tackles, 2.5 TFL’s, and one sack. As a sophomore, Williams started in five of the 12 games he played at nose tackle. He logged 25 tackles and 4 TFL’s.
- As a junior in 2018, grizzly started in nine of 12 games played and recorded 17 tackles, 3 TFL’s, and a fumble recovery. Williams’ smooth upward trajectory was halted in his senior season when he suffered a foot injury in preseason camp. Bear missed the first nine games of the season, but saw action in the final three contests Fortunately, Williams was able to redshirt and return in 2020 for another try at his senior campaign.
- Last season, Williams started all 11 games at nose tackle and logged 35 tackles, 8 TFL’s and a sack. Bear ended the season with one TFL in six of the season’s final seven games.
- Williams joined Black and Servais with his decision to utilize the COVID year and return for one last season on the Hill. Heading into the fall, Bear has played in 50 career games with 26 starts, made 99 tackles (61 solo), 18 TFL’s, and 2.5 sacks.
- Again, Williams was the lowest rated recruit in this class, but the production tells another story. Bear enters 2021 as one of the best players from this cycle and he can build on it even more this fall.
- Hit or Miss: Hit
20. James Pierre – 3 star S
- Pierre signed with Syracuse in May of 2016 and was a highly recruited prospect out of talent hotbed Deerfield Beach, Florida. He had offers from Wisconsin, Miami, Tennessee, and South Carolina (amongst several others).
- Pierre was originally verbally committed to play for “The U.” Five months later he signed to play at North Carolina, but had to de-commit because UNC wouldn’t admit him. Well the same situation arose at SU as well. The NCAA ruled Pierre academically ineligible and never played a down in the Salt City.
- Pierre ended up going back home and playing for Florida Atlantic. He was an Owl from 2017-2019 and ended up having a productive career. He played 39 games, made 80 solo tackles, logged 8.5 TFL’s, 3 INT’s, and 18 PBU’s. See what could’ve been by clicking this link.
- Flash forward to today, Pierre is a 24-year-old defensive back on the Pittsburgh Steelers. He signed with the Steelers in late April of 2020 as an undrafted free agent. Last season he played in 16 games and recorded 9 tackles. Here’s his full story. It’s really great to see a guy blossom so high after having some trouble just years earlier. He’s definitely a hit… but for Owls fans down in Boca Raton, FL.
- Hit or Miss: Miss (for Syracuse)
21. Jo-El Shaw – 3 star RB
- Shaw’s situation is very similar to Pierre’s. Shaw was a three-star tailback prospect from Pittsburgh, PA. He had offers from MAC schools, Pitt, and Kansas. He signed with the Orange in February of 2016. Fast forward to June and Shaw is enrolled at Lackawanna Community College, but how’d this happen?
- Shaw didn’t quality for SU academically, so he had to get his academics right and head back home. SU missed Shaw’s power running ability as the Orange averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in 2016. Coach Dino Babers re-offered Shaw following the ‘16 season. At Lackawanna he played in 10 games and ran for 601 yards with seven scores.
- In January of 2018, Shaw spurned the Orange and signed with Kent State (the same school former SU WR Nykeim Johnson will play at in 2021). Shaw pledged his commitment to former SU co-offensive coordinator Sean Lewis who is still the head man today.
- As a flash, played just one season in 2018. He played in 10 games and made four starts. He took 138 carries for 657 yards and seven touchdowns. Shaw also caught nine passes for 84 yards and two more scores. He had four different 100-yard outings and led the team in rush yards. Shaw became the first Flash since Dri Archer in 2012 to have two different three touchdown games. In his final collegiate game he ran 31 times for 159 yards against Eastern Michigan, both career-highs.
- Shaw was destined for greatness heading into the 2019 season. He was named to both Athlon and Phil Steele’s preseason All-Mac Third team. As a senior, Shaw played in eight games and took 73 attempts for 320 yards and a pair of scores. His season was cut short in early November when Coach Lewis announced Shaw was no longer with the team due to a violation of team rules.
- Shaw declared for the NFL Draft soon thereafter. From extensive research, Shaw never landed on an NFL team in any capacity. Another tough blow for the Orange, Shaw could’ve been a great complement to Dontae Strickland, Moe Neal, and Abdul Adams.
- Hit or Miss: Miss (for Syracuse)
That wraps up today’s re-visit of SU’s 2016 class and that wraps up the series as well. Prospects 16-19 featured three hits, followed by a couple of signees that never played for Syracuse, but went on to do some good things in other places. Stay tuned for a wrap-up of this series with top five players, gem of the class, bust of the class, and what could’ve been.