Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.
For as much credit as former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone is rightfully due, the program’s resurgence doesn’t happen without the boatload of talented players, either. And that’s never been more readily apparent than at this year’s draft, as the Orange could have as many as six players selected, many in the first two days. Between stellar showings at the combine and pro day, and a league-wide feeling that now-Bills coach Marrone will draft as many former SU guys as possible, the value of every former Orange player has been steadily climbing.
Ryan Nassib, QB, Senior (Projected: Second Round)
In a realistic assessment of Nassib’s talent, he’s a smart passer with leadership traits, a strong arm and enough potential to work his way into a starting role within the next couple seasons. But operating under the assumption that Marrone is both drafting a quarterback and drafting all Syracuse players, suddenly Nassib could very well be a top-10 pick. Over the course of his career, Nassib was exactly the type of program-builder you need at the collegiate level; a three-year starter who improved himself each season. With a strong build and an even stronger arm, scouts see him as the type of passer who can stay calm in the pocket, while also threading the needle on medium routes. Where teams are concerned — and SU fans can agree here — are his ability to accurately complete long balls and his ability to put some touch on the ball. He never truly mastered either at Syracuse, and if there’s anything in particular that pushes him further than the first 40 or so selections, it’ll be that. Though again, with Marrone and former SU offensive coordinator (now Bills OC) Nathaniel Hackett calling the shots, it seems a foregone conclusion he’ll be a Bill in either the first or second round.
Justin Pugh, OT, Senior (Projected: Second Round)
The biggest issues with Pugh going into the combine were how his shoulder injury from last season was holding up, and if he really had the size to hack it at the tackle spot in the NFL. So while he’s put some durability fears to rest by showing off the shoulder’s doing fine, there’s now a prevailing thought that he’d be better off at the offensive guard position. At 6’5″ and 307 pounds, he’s got the right height and weight, but fails to have the arm length and brute force needed to hold down the offensive line’s most important position. Still, regardless of what position he ends up at, his speed (5.12 40-yard dash) and work ethic are appealing to teams, and he’s viewed as having a lot of upside (more than most O-linemen in the draft, actually).
Shamarko Thomas, SS, Senior (Projected: Third Round)
An aggressive tackler and active defender nearly anywhere on the field, Thomas has been getting a lot of looks from teams around the league. While just 5’9″ and 213 pounds, teams seem to be willing to overlook his slight size disadvantage for the benefits he provides in both the passing and running games. All about big plays, Thomas was known for making clutch interceptions, as well as plays at the line of scrimmage when teams needed him most. His speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and balance are considered elite, and also have him garnering favorable comparisons to former Colts safety Bob Sanders. The one knock on him is his penchant for falling for fakes, which coincides with him also being out of position quite a bit. But he’s another prospect with tons of upside, and he’s very likely to be chosen on the second day.
Alec Lemon, WR, Senior (Projected: Seventh Round)
Syracuse’s all-time receiving leader falls a bit due to the fact that he possesses little in terms of elite speed or leaping ability. But where he’s likely to make a lot of that up are his soft hands and overall solid catching ability as a slot receiver. With a very strong finish to his senior season, teams could take more notice, but Lemon may also get dinged for being Nassib’s primary (read: almost exclusive) target over the second half of the year, too. His case wasn’t helped by his reliance on Nassib at the combine, too. At just 6’1″ and 202 pounds, he may need to put on a few pounds. However, if he can do that, and still exhibit that catching ability that was such a key factor at SU, he’ll find himself in camp this summer without a problem (drafted or not).
Deon Goggins, DT, Senior (Projected: Undrafted)
If Goggins were actually slated to be drafted, there’s no doubt his story coming up from the streets of L.A. to go to Syracuse (he wanted to go to a school he felt would help him find a job afterward) would be everywhere. With that off the table, he appears to evaluators as an undersized (6’1″ and 287 pounds) defensive tackle with a surprisingly quick motor (4.87 40-yard dash). As a smart player who can both rush the passer and play the middle of the field, Goggins is likely to appeal to teams looking for a free agent who can fill a variety of roles. Given his unique size, speed and abilities, there’s little chance he’s drafted, but at the same time, he possesses some interesting upside as both a defender and special-teamer.
Zack Chibane, OG, Senior (Projected: Undrafted)
A large part of why Syracuse’s running game was so impressive over the second half of the year was because of how well Chibane opened up holes for runners up the middle. At a hulking 6’5″ and 302 pounds, he’s obviously got the physical attributes to make it as a guard, but just the same, he’s billing himself as a versatile lineman when speaking to scouts. Several were impressed with the type of effort he and his linemates were able to put forth in tough weather environments like the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl (snowing all game long), and he’ll likely continue to use that chip to his advantage. Though he’s clocked on the slower side (5.53 40-yard dash), there’s thought his upper body strength may be able to combat that. He’ll likely get a few chances to make a team as a free agent this summer.