Syracuse Orange Football is not quite at the point of rebuilding where a good number of their players are going to declare early for the NFL draft. However, that does not mean there are not talented underclassmen on the team.
Junior defensive end Chandler Jones and junior Shamarko Thomas along with true senior wide receiver Dorian Graham were all testing NFL draft waters a couple of weeks ago. Now, the news is that Dorian Graham will definitely not be returning to Syracuse while Jones and Thomas will not sign with agents, but continue to prod.
So how will these players translate into professional football players? First to Graham.
Dorian showed flashes of his play making ability all year, separating from coverage on deep routes and explosiveness on kick returns early in the season. However, after the West Virginia kick return, he was moved up to the number two receiver and did not take kicks or punts.
Graham never had more than six catches in a game (once vs West Virginia) and never eclipsed 25 yards receiving in the games following West Virginia while only passing that mark three times prior. Furthermore, Graham was not immune to the dropsy's that plagued all of the Syracuse receivers in the five game losing streak.
Essentially, unless the 5'10" Graham can have an incredible showing at the combine, this move is a bust for Graham as his game does not translate to the NFL level.
The defensive players show more upside, but both could become solid NFL picks with another year of experience.
First to Thomas. Shamarko missed three games this season with a lower body injury, but he still finished third on the team with 67 tackles. While Thomas is a solid safety, he was not better than former counterpart Phillip Thomas who showed a play making ability Thomas did not seem to possess on the field.
Right now, Thomas' work ethic and athleticism may be enough to get him drafted, but he is still on the fence until he shows a Phillip Thomas like ability to find the ball and force turnovers.
Finally to Mr. Chandler Jones. Jones showed his ability to take over a game against West Virginia, as he shut down Geno Smith with his domination of the line. However, Jones dealt with his first major injury at the beginning of the season and missed five of the first six games.
Aside from the West Virginia contest, he looked good but never could replicate the performance against what many would say was inferior competition. Jones never had less than four tackles in a game, racking up 34 in six games along with four sacks.
Jones is the best prospect out of the bunch to be drafted and most likely a final day selection. If Jones were to return and post those numbers for a whole season, he could very well move up into the 3rd-4th round.
Overall, these players are crucial to Syracuse success next year as they fill holes that otherwise will become weaknesses in the Orange defense and passing attack. Hopefully for Thomas and Jones, they will return to the Orange with the resolve to improve while everyone in Orange Nation wishes the best of luck to Dorian Graham.