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Breakout Players for 2022: Defense

Courtesy: Dennis Nett of syracuse.com

We are within 100 days of the start of the college football season! Syracuse gets started with a matchup against Louisville which was recently declared to be a primetime game. As the anticipation and excitement continue to build let’s look ahead and lay out what could happen this fall. We began with the offense last week, now let’s hit the defense and rank the most likely players to burst onto the scene in 2022.

1. Caleb Okechukwu, DL

Okechukwu enters his fifth season with the program. The defensive end recorded his best season last season. The St. John’s College product played in all twelve games and contributed off the bench. The rising redshirt-junior tallied 21 tackles, a pair of tackles for loss, and a sack. Expect the former three-star prospect to contribute big in the defensive trenches as a run stopper and pass rusher.

2. Terry Lockett, DL

With all three starters gone along the defensive front, that makes way for a couple defensive linemen to enjoy opportunities to step up. Lockett looks to be the starter in the middle of the front three. The rising sophomore earned some valuable experience last season which should make the transition process from backup to starter a little easier.

The Massachusetts native saw time in eleven games in 2021. With those opportunities, Lockett turned in a dozen tackles and a pair of sacks. Syracuse doesn’t have much depth in the defensive line room as a whole. This is a blessing and a curse because obviously injuries are always something to think about. On the other hand, if Lockett stays healthy he should get the lion’s share of snaps at the defensive tackle spot.

3. Ja’Had Carter, Safety

The former freshman All-American has had a very promising start to his career. However, the Richmond native can still hit that next tier and become a mainstay in the secondary for Syracuse. Carter played in all eleven games and started ten of those back in 2020. In his freshman campaign, Carter totaled more tackles than any other SU defensive back.

That momentum spilled over into 2021. The third-year Orangeman started eight games last season but saw a a dip in production recording about half of the tackles he made in ’20. The Jireh Prep Academy product missed four weeks of the season with an injury and never really seemed to recover. Carter can take the next step and anchor Tony White’s outfield if he can stay healthy this fall.

4. Justin Barron, Rover

It seemed like the rover spot was Rob Hanna’s to lose after his impressive freshman season in 2020. Barron swooped in and gobbled up all of those snaps last year though. The converted wide receiver was an immediate impact player at the linebacker/safety hybrid position. The Connecticut native played in every game in 2021 and started the last nine.

The Suffield Academy product racked up 45 tackles which was good for third-best among SU defensive backs. Barron’s best performance came against NC State when he made eight tackles in a loss. Can the lengthy defender provide a steady presence in the second level and complement Syracuse’s stout linebacker core? If so, then look out for #23 in Orange and Navy to enjoy a big year.

5. Jason Simmons Jr., Safety

The center fielder transferred in from New Mexico State during the winter of 2021 and immediately benefitted the team. Simmons locked down one of the safety spots and started ten of the eleven games he played. The Texas native struggled at times with downfield coverage but was a big help in defending the run and intermediate passing game.

Can the rising junior further acclimate himself to ACC football and make strides in year two in White’s defense? Those are the questions that Simmons needs to answer this off-season if he wants to keep his starting gig and progress to a higher level.

6. Steve Linton, DL

This is a bit of a shot in the dark. With all the vacancies in the d-line group there is just opportunity that’s waiting to be claimed. We’ve already touched on Lockett and Okechukwu as locks for breakout campaigns. Linton gets included here because it seems like this is the year where the light gets flicked on and the former prized recruit uses his special skillset to make a name for himself.

Linton missed the first portion of the 2021 season but proceeded to see time in seven of the next eight. The Georgia started a game back in 2020 and has shown flashes with 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in three seasons of work. There is still a lot to be desired from the former Peach State high school football star.

At 6’5, 217, Linton offers a frame that doesn’t really otherwise exist in the d-line group. Can the edge player us that to his advantage and carve out a role for himself in 2022? Unlock that door and you’ve got something.

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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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