Damien Alford’s journey since he got to Syracuse has been a fascinating one. The Canadian has shown flashes of being a number-1 receiver at the collegiate level with his deep ball prowess, but there have been instances where he just disappears or is not noticeable on the field. Earlier this offseason, we thought his time in Central New York was over thanks to the wonder that is the transfer portal, but he changed his mind and now he’s back. You can’t deny the potential is there, but will Alford come close to reaching it?
Entering last year, hope sprung eternal among SU fans for what Alford’s numbers might look like. This was in large part because the wideout made arguably the biggest highlight-reel play of the 2021 season when he caught a 45-yard dart from Garrett Shrader in the waning seconds against Virginia Tech to give the Orange a stunning victory. In 2022 he showed improvement, recording career highs in both receptions and receiving yards while placing third on the team in the latter category. It’s only natural to expect another step forward this year, but the sky-high expectations (albeit unfair expectations) that were placed on Alford were not met last season.
Make no mistake, Alford doesn’t get all of the blame for not meeting those expectations. He can thank Oronde Gadsden for making his life easier. Listed as a tight end, the rising junior shattered Syracuse’s single-season records for receptions and receiving yards at that position. If he’s going to produce like that, you don’t need Alford to be super dominant.
The flip side of that is Gadsden can’t do it all by himself, especially this-coming season. Gadsden was a relatively unknown commodity entering last season, that is not the case this time around. Defenses are going to gameplan for him, that’s the downside of being a First-Team All-ACC nominee. Additionally, Devaughn Cooper, who was right behind Gadsden in both receptions and receiving yards last year, is gone. That’s additional production that needs to be filled, creating a need for Alford to step up. Courtney Jackson, another guy many believed could step up, couldn’t and is gone. As is Sean Tucker.
Simply put, the expectations last season were for Alford to be “the guy” among the receivers. They aren’t there this year, nor should they be. The big thing is consistency. Can Alford pose a threat to ACC defenses game in and game out? We saw flashes of it with three straight 50+ yard games to end the season. But those were the only three such games. It should not take a player with Alford’s deep-ball threat 11 games to hit the 50-yard plateau.
Alford has all the tools necessary to succeed. He’s 6-6 and has more than enough burst to be a consistent threat for Jason Beck’s offense. And if he’s healthy, why can’t be? Is it realistic to expect a 1,000-yard season? Absolutely not, but 50 yards per game doesn’t feel like a gigantic ask for someone with his potential. If Alford can do that, it adds a brand new dynamic to the offense.