In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 8
2012 NFL Draft picks: 2 – DE Chandler Jones (1st round, 21st overall), OG Andrew Tiller (6th round, 179th overall)
In a five-year period from 1998-2002, Syracuse produced six first round draft picks, including one each season during that stretch. However the program took a step back under the watch of head coach Greg Robinson (2005-2008) and it took a decade for the Orange to see their next first round pick as defensive end Chandler Jones was drafted 21st overall this past April by the New England Patriots.
Coming off a five-win season, Syracuse has only one bowl appearance since 2004, but fans have high hopes for the Orange in 2012, year four of the Doug Marrone era as head coach. Despite a few crucial losses on the roster, Syracuse does return one of the more talented quarterbacks in the country that no one is talking about and one of the top young left tackles in the conference – both have futures in the NFL.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OT Justin Pugh (6-6, 290)*
For the dozens and dozens of players Syracuse has sent to the NFL, the Orange has had only one offensive lineman selected in the first round, and that came in 1960. Pugh (pictured above) still has work to do before he hears his name called in the first 32 picks in either 2013 or 2014, but he has enough talent to warrant at least a top-100 selection and make a case for the first round. He was a lightly-recruited player out of Pennsylvania and redshirted in 2009. Pugh earned the starting left tackle job as a freshman in 2010 and started all 13 games, earning All-Big East Second Team honors. He started every game at left tackle again last season as a sophomore, earning First Team All-Big East honors. Pugh enters his junior year in 2012 as the most experienced lineman on the Syracuse offensive line and has an extremely bright future with two more years of eligibility remaining in his collegiate career. He is an effortless mover for a 290-pound tackle with good body control and coordination to take on blocks and mirror rushers in space. Pugh needs to continue to fill out his frame and spend more time in the weight room, but the sky is the limit for the rising junior.
2. MLB Marquis Spruill (6-1, 215)*
Although he has only two years on his resume at the college level, Spruill has made the most of his playing time thus far at Syracuse. Tipping the scale at just 215 pounds, he is a tick undersized for the middle linebacker position, but he flies all over the field with the range and burst to chase down plays. After he spent a season at Fork Union Military Academy to get his grades in order, Spruill earned the starting middle linebacker job as a true freshman in 2010 (13 starts), recording 51 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. He started all but one game as a sophomore last season, finishing with a career-best 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble, earning Second Team All-Big East honors. Spruill is still developing his instincts and anticipation, but he explodes to the ball and arrives with bad intentions. He has fluid body control with the hips and footwork to hold up in coverage, as well as the functional strength to make a difference against the run. Spruill still has room to develop the mental side of his game, but he should be the leader of the Orange defense in 2012 and continue to impress on the field.
3. QB Ryan Nassib (6-2, 230)
Only two quarterbacks from Syracuse have been drafted since 1945, but with a consistent senior season, Nassib will be the third (and first since Donovan McNabb in 1999). Entering his third year as the starting quarterback for the Orange offense, he will contend for most of the school's career passing records in 2012. Nassib flew under the radar as a two-star high school recruit out of Pennsylvania, redshirting in 2008 and serving as the back-up behind Ex-basketball player Greg Paulus in 2009. He inherited the starting quarterback duties in 2010 as a sophomore, throwing for 2,334 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Nassib had his best season last year as a junior, finishing with 2,685 passing yards, 62.4 completion percentage and a TD-INT ratio of 22-9. He has good-enough arm strength to make throws at all levels of the field with the mechanics and beautiful ball fakes that scouts love to see. Nassib tends to make poor reads under pressure and force throws, but is a smart player and does a nice job using his eyes to hold defenders and work through his progressions. He isn't a statue in the pocket and is very accurate throwing on the run, flashing impressive toughness for the position. Nassib is a gamer with a live arm and the potential to rise up draft boards with a consistent senior year, ranking as one of the more underrated players for the 2013 NFL Draft.
4. WR Marcus Sales (6-0, 185)
After missing all of 2011 due to a year-long suspension, Sales was recently reinstated to the Syracuse program and has the skill-level to lead the team in receiving as a senior. He was arrested in July 2011 and hit with multiple drug charges, earning immediate suspension from the school. However the charges were dropped in October and Sales was allowed to enroll at school and rejoin the team this spring. A hometown kid from Syracuse, New York, he received dozens of FBS-level scholarship offers out of high school, choosing the Orange over Louisville, Pittsburgh and Miami (FL). After serving as a true freshman back-up in 2008, Sales became a starter in 2009 and recorded a career-best 28 catches for 324 yards and three touchdowns. He finished second on the team in receiving as a junior in 2010 with 414 yards on 26 grabs and 4 scores, averaging just under 16 yards per catch. He missed all of last season because of his suspension due to his drug arrest, which served as a redshirt year. Sales has good speed for the position with the balance and concentration to reel-in tough receptions while still making an impact after the catch. He has a lean frame and needs to improve his overall consistency, but the raw skills are evident. Sales is playing catch-up because of his time away from the game, but Syracuse lost four of their top five receivers from a year ago and he will be given every opportunity to excel with a senior quarterback and offensive-minded head coach.
5. SS Shamarko Thomas (5-10, 210)
After last season, Syracuse had three underclassmen defenders who considered entering the NFL Draft early. Defensive end Chandler Jones and free safety Phillip Thomas decided to go pro, but Thomas will return to Syracuse in 2012 for his senior season. The versatile defender has 25 career starts under his belt with playing time at linebacker, cornerback and safety. After initially committing to Louisville out of high school, Thomas changed his decision and enrolled at Syracuse. He started 15 games over his first two seasons and was moved all over the defense, totaling 108 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Thomas settled in at strong safety in 2011 as a junior and finished third on the team with 67 tackles, adding three tackles for loss. He plays the game with reckless abandonment and loves to throw his body around on the field, seeking big hits against the ballcarrier. Thomas plays too aggressive and too often bites on fakes, finding himself constantly playing from behind. A willing and tough run defender, he has a future at the next level if he can stay loose and disciplined with his coverage responsibilities.
WR Alec Lemon (6-2, 200)
DE Deon Goggins (6-1, 270)
DE Brandon Sharpe (6-2, 245)
LB Dan Vaughan (6-2, 220)
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire