The inevitable happened on Sunday. If you didn’t see the writing on the wall that Taj Harris was not happy in Syracuse, you should have looked closer. The Orange’s top receiver’s distaste with his team boiled over and led to him announcing he was leaving Central New York and entering the transfer portal.
Now the question becomes, who steps up and fills the void? Syracuse has plenty of wide outs on the roster, 14 to be exact. Plus, you could toss in the three tight ends and seven running backs as receiving options too. So, the pool to pick from is not shallow, and SU Head Coach Dino Babers said his team has plenty of talent after the Florida State loss.
“We had more than enough in that locker room to win. We are disappointed we came up three points short, but we had more than enough in that locker room to win this game, more than enough,” said Babers.
So, who are the main candidates to take on a bigger role?
Jackson seemed to be WR1 in Harris’s absence against Florida State. The redshirt freshman hauled in six catches for 57 yards, leading the team in receiving. Syracuse’s passing offense is pretty simple, bubble screens and quick crossing routes. Jackson is good at both of those. He has the elusiveness to break screens into big gains and the speed to beat his defender across the middle. It seems like Jackson and Garrett Shrader have good chemistry, so expect him to step into the top spot.
Queeley entered the season as WR2, but hasn’t lived up to the billing. He caught his first touchdown pass last week against the Seminoles, but has been relatively quiet other than that. Despite those struggles, Queeley is probably the most talented wide receiver on the roster. He’s got the speed and size needed on the inside and out. If he can be the receiver he’s touted up to be, Queeley can be just as good as Harris.
Let’s be honest here. Tucker has enough on his plate on the ground, but he needs to be an option out of the backfield. The Orange love to check it down or run designed running back screens, and that is Tucker’s domain. The plays work and they are already in the SU playbook, so don’t be surprised if SU goes to Tucker through the air more often moving forward.
What about some of the lesser-known names that could pop up in the stats sheet?
Alford is your redzone threat. Listed at 6’6 he is the tallest receiver Syracuse has, excluding the tight ends. If the Canadian learns how to utilize his height, he will be a tough cover in the corners of the endzone. Alford already has four receptions this year, so he’s established in the offense. However, with Harris out, he can grab an even bigger role.
Johnson is another player that already has a spot on the offense. He won’t need to fight for reps, but he will probably see an uptick in his targets. The redshirt-junior has had issues with dropping open passes in the past, so he’ll have to clean that up in order to help fill the whole Harris left.
If you don’t know the name Devaughn Cooper yet, I don’t blame you. He is a redshirt senior that transferred to Syracuse this season after previously playing at UTEP and Arizona. He is a pretty average wideout without many attributes that jump off the page, but it seems like Shrader likes him. Cooper got targeted a bunch against Florida State and will most likely continue to see the ball come his way throughout the year. So, whether you think he’s the most talented option or not, he will be taking some of the Harris looks.
In the deep depths of my heart I want to say that this change will lead to Syracuse using its tight ends, but everyone knows that isn’t true. Utilizing the TEs could be a gamechanger, especially in the redzone, but that hope isn’t very realistic.
Whoever steps up for the Orange, they will have to do it sooner rather than later because you can’t be a one-dimensional offense against ACC defenses. Syracuse will need to start figuring out their air play in order to grab some conference wins.