Syracuse Football had a pretty eventful weekend as four of its former players made it to the pros. Two players were drafted, which is tied for most in a single draft for SU since 2013, while two signed after the draft as undrafted rookie free agents.
Andre Cisco was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Ifeatu Melifonwu was also selected in the third round, 101 overall, by the Detroit Lions. Trill Williams and Nolan Cooney both signed with the New Orleans Saints as UDFAs.
Williams’ slide out of the draft came as a surprise to some, including the Fizz. However, the third round grades for Cisco and Melifonwu were as expected. Now that we know what teams the former Orange are on, let’s take a look at some depth charts and predict where they fit in.
Andre Cisco – Jacksonville Jaguars
Here is the Jaguars’ defensive depth chart according to ESPN:
Cisco is most likely going to play free safety in the NFL, not strong safety, even though there is not a huge difference between the two. Free is a little smaller and plays back on passes more, while strong is usually a little bigger and tends to play closer to the line to help in stopping the run. One of Cisco’s biggest weaknesses heading into the draft was his tackling ability, so strong safety isn’t probably his best spot, at least at first.
With that being said, Cisco is in a great spot in Jacksonville. The Jags have a young defense that needs a lot of help, most notably on the back end. Jarrod Wilson has been with Jacksonville since 2016, spent three years primarily as a special teamer, and moved into the starting FS position two seasons ago. To put it simply, Wilson is decent at best. He’s not a mainstay. He’s not a ballhawk. He’s not a hard hitter. He’s a serviceable player, but one that Cisco could absolutely beat out for the starting spot. Don’t be surprised if Cisco steps into the starting role at some point this year, if not right off the bat.
Ifeatu Melifonwu – Detroit Lions
Here is the Lions’ defensive depth chart according to ESPN:
According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions had the worst secondary of any NFL team last year, and the worst in the PFF era which dates back to 2006. This comes as a slight surprise as Detroit selected Jeffrey Okudah with the third-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The rookie was a big disappointment, giving up 20 first rounds and a league-worst 2.1 yards per cover snap. On the other side, Quinton Dunbar is a new addition to the Lions lineup. Coming from Washington last season, the six-year vet was pretty average, allowing 30 receptions on 47 targets.
Now, you have to expect that Okudah will pick up his play, but Melifonwu is also in a very good position here. I would anticipate him coming in on certain sets to start and then becoming a consistent presence in the secondary for the Lions.
Trill Williams – New Orleans Saints
Here is the Saints’ defensive depth chart according to ESPN:
The Saints secondary has some well-known names, but was pretty middle-of-the-pack last season. Marshon Lattimore and Malcolm Jenkins are both three-time Pro Bowlers, while Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson are two young, up-and-coming talents.
The difficulty with predicting where Trill fits into this depth chart is because we don’t know what position he’s going to play in the pros. Williams has seen time at both safety and cornerback before. He was listed as a safety for the draft, but could play either spot. He is going to have some tough competition in a secondary unit that already has solid depth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trill doesn’t work in New Orleans and tries to find a different home later in the summer camp process.
Nolan Cooney – New Orleans Saints
Here is the Saints’ special teams depth chart according to ESPN:
Longtime Saints punter Thomas Morstead was released from the team a couple months ago, which opens the door for Cooney. The SU punter will now have to battle with Blake Gillikin in camp for the starting spot. Gillikin is going into his second year in the league, after sidelined last year with an injury. He spent his college years at Penn State and went undrafted just like Cooney. Their college numbers are very comparable, so this one will completely come down to who has a better camp. The tough thing about being a punter, though, is there is only one spot. Cooney will have to beat Gillikin or go looking for a different team.