It’s a rough patch in my life right now, alright? Syracuse is 0 and 3.
– Adam Sandler, Big Daddy (1999)
There’s a new sheriff in town in upstate NY, and he’s definitely brought some Louis with him. Whenever there’s wide-sweeping staff turnover, there tends to be a lot of intrigue around the program that follows. What’s the offense going to look like next season? Will there be pigs? I’m here today to take a preliminary look at the program. I will highlight some names, as well as the backgrounds of the new staff, to better answer the above questions.
However, we won’t really have the answers until things kick off in September. That being said, hopefully, with the spring and summer reports still to come, we can get an idea of whether there might be some College Fantasy Football (CFF) value here and where that might be.
The first place to start off with, I think, should be the new staff.
HC — Fran Brown (DEF): Given that Brown’s background is defense and he has only served in defensive roles in the past, I don’t think it’s all that relevant for our purposes to go through his track record.
OC/RBs — Jeff Nixon: Coach Nixon joined Brown’s program from the New York Giants. Nixon was the RB coach of the NFL program in 2023 after serving as assistant head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2022. In the previous year, he mentored former CFF legend and first-team All-VP selection Chuba Hubbard at Carolina.
Oddly enough, he actually spent some time as the OC before that season. He took over play-calling duties when Joe Brady was let go on December 5th, 2021. From that time in the season onward, WR DJ Moore averaged 10.2 targets per game, which, admittedly, was not a huge uptick from his 9.33 targets per game under Brady. The RBs were not #pigged at all under Nixon, unfortunately.
Coach Nixon also spent time as the co-OC at Baylor from 2017-19. There, he had Denzel Mims receive over 1,000 yards in 2017 (1087) on 61 catches. In 2019, Mims had 1,020 yards. He scored eight and 12 TDs, respectively. This stint and the interim appointment at Carolina are the only two segments of his career where he likely had a major hand in play calling so far.
Co-OC/TEs — Michael Johnson: Coach Johnson is a very interesting man. In his long, illustrious career in coaching, he has mentored the likes of Michael Vick in Atlanta, Alex Smith in San Francisco, and had a two-year stint in San Diego where he coached Jim Harbaugh, Drew Brees, Ryan Leaf, and Doug Flutie—fucking Doug Flutie, are you serious? This guy’s web of influence knows no bounds.
His background is all over the place, where he has served as an HC, OC, WRs coach, and QBs coach from 1997 to now. At WR, he coached Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell in 2018 to a then single-season record of 1,184 yards receiving and 10 TDs, which led the PAC-12 that year. He also coached stud NFL veteran Derek Mason to his sixth-career 1000-yard season in 2007. While he OC’d UCLA in 2011, his lead receiver— Nelson Rosario, finished the year with 1,161 yards receiving.
Normally, I would think that the co-OC title in a program is merely an ego boost and a new title to justify a pay raise—that the one who held the title wouldn’t really be involved in play calling all that much. However, in this case, Johnson is such a veteran that I would assume he’ll be involved. His track record is all over the place, so I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing for our sake. But he has a pretty neat list of former understudies in the last 20 years.
Some interesting facts about his time with the Falcons. Vick went to three-straight Pro Bowls in his time in the QB room. He also became the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 250 yards and run for more than 100 yards in a single game at Denver during the 2004 season.
There were several transfers that Syracuse brought in at various positions, but I will focus solely on those that are relevant for CFF players.
QB Kyle McCord — At QB, the Orange famously brought in former OSU signal caller Kyle ‘Joker’ McCord via the transfer portal. McCord had a lackluster career with the Buckeyes. The former four-star should have a little more leeway to operate at Syracuse. The goals and aspirations are not exactly at the same level. And yet, if McCord plays his cards right, this Syracuse team could make some serious noise in the ACC this upcoming season.
WR Yazeed Haynes — Fran Brown brought some of his luggage with him up from Athens in former UGA WR Haynes. He is a former four-star receiver from PA and did not play in his freshman season at UGA. However, that can’t really be held against him, given that was probably the top roster in all of CFB.
While the Orange already have a good nucleus of young WRs, Haynes is potentially a nice addition. I am not expecting a meaningful impact from him in year one at Cuse, mostly because there are other receivers who are already pretty prominent on the roster. Granted, this program is entering into an era of a new regime with a new QB. So there might be some shuffling in terms of the WR pecking order.
WR Jackson Meeks — In addition to Haynes, Brown also brought Meeks up with him from Athens. Meeks is a C/O of 2021 prospect out of Phenix City, AL, who struggled to gain any traction at UGA. Again, I won’t hold it against him too much. Similar to Haynes, I’m not expecting much here.
RB LeQuint Allen — Rising junior Allen has had an interesting career thus far. He broke out as a freshman, capping the year off with an 11-catch performance vs. Minnesota in the Bronx. He was then suspended in the summer for all of 2023, only for that decision to be appealed and ultimately overturned.
His 2023 season wasn’t quite what many had hoped for, but it was still a solid year (17.2 PPG). I would liken to him former Vanderbilt WR Will ‘Mr. September’ Sheppard, in that Allen’s September was very good, but the rest of the year was just OK. In four of his first five games, Allen scored 19 or more points. In his remaining contests, he only scored more than 19 once (34.1 vs. GT).
WRs Damien Alford, Umari Hatcher, and Donovan Brown — Each of these three WRs had at least one big game in 2023. Alford’s entering his fifth year, Hatcher his fourth, and Brown his third. The one who averaged the most points is Alford, at 8.62 PPG. Of course, this was under the old regime, so the pecking order is likely to look differently in 2024.
TE/WR Orande Gadsden — Gadsden was a first-round lock in every CFF draft last summer. However, this year, the status of his TE eligibility is up in the air. Should he reclaim that dubious designation, he will be the first ‘TE’ off the board this year and probably a lock in the first two rounds. If not, the calculus changes dramatically. While he might still be WR1 of this team, without knowing what the plan is from the staff, expect a serious amount of discounting from drafters.
TE/RB/QB Dan Vilari — Another multi-position eligible player, Vilari, became the man of the hour late in the season. He began carrying out QB and RB duties for the Orange while maintaining his TE eligibility. It seemed Syracuse was the place to look for these types of things.
Again, this being under the old regime and the status of his positional eligibility currently being in doubt, I’m not expecting him to be valued very highly amongst savvy drafters at the moment. Should he and Gadsden receive the TE tag, then things could get interesting. Imagine having both of these players on your roster as TEs; one is actually the WR1, and the other is the RB2/TE2/WRX/QB2. That’s almost so gangster I want it to happen.
The new staff here are very hard to read, as they do not have pronounced track records in college to rely on. That makes projecting where the pigs are ahead of time very difficult.
One player whom we can zero in on is, once again, Gadsden, should he acquire the TE designation. The same goes with Vilari, though to a lesser extent. I’m not touching McCord or any of the other WRs until further notice. I still like Allen at RB, and although I will discount him in my rankings, I think he’s probably the safest option here as of writing this article.
Like this type of content? I’ve got good news for you; there’s an ungodly amount of it over here: VolumePigs.
You can also find me occasionally tweeting about CFF and CFB over here.