Two Syracuse defensive backs selected in 2021 NFL Draft

Two Syracuse defensive backs selected in 2021 NFL Draft

Andre Cisco goes in the third round to the Jaguars as the highest-selected Orange player since 2013.
Published: May 1, 2021 | Updated: May 17th, 2021 at 7:54 pm
The Syracuse football team takes on the Boston College Golden Eagles
The Syracuse football team takes on the Boston College Golden Eagles Nov. 7, 2020.

Three players from Syracuse football entered the 2021 NFL Draft with projections of being selected, but following the seventh round on Saturday, just two heard their names called as their childhood dreams were realized.

Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melifonwu, both members of a stellar defensive backfield for the Orange in 2020, found their new NFL homes as they take the next steps of their football careers. Trill Williams, a third member of that secondary, went undrafted but will join the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

Cisco was the first Orange off the board, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round. As the first pick in the third round, Cisco became the highest drafted player from Syracuse since Justin Pugh in 2013. The last defensive back from the program taken that high was Will Allen, a first round pick in 2001.

The Jaguars selected first overall in this year’s draft as the team with the worst record in the NFL. With numerous positions to fill, they selected the FBS active leader in interceptions despite an ACL tear that ended his season in the Orange’s first home game.

Once regarded as a potential first rounder, Cisco’s injury impacted his draft stock, but Jacksonville added an impact, ball-hawking safety who can play near the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage. His 13 career interceptions should translate well as he disrupts offenses in the AFC South for the first years of his career.

Along with his interceptions with the Orange, Cisco recorded 136 total tackles, 14 pass break ups, two forced fumbles and a touchdown.

At the end of the third round, 36 picks later, the Detriot Lions used their compensatory pick to select Melifonwu, a 6’3’’ corner with all the athletic traits NFL general managers crave. On the Relative Athletic Score test, Melifonwu scored a 9.69 out of 10, which is the 56th highest at his position since 1987.

The Lions selected Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and already feature starter Quinton Dunbar on the opposite side of the field, but Melifonwu will have a chance to compete for playing time on an otherwise below-average defense.

At Syracuse, Melifonwu registered 21 pass break ups, three interceptions and 89 total tackles. While his ability to track the ball for interceptions doesn’t rival Cisco’s, his physical traits and athletic potential make him an intriguing prospect.

Despite being the 14th corner selected in this year’s draft, Melifonwu will have the opportunity to develop his craft in Detroit under new head coach Dan Campbell.

As picks and rounds rolled by, a deep cornerback class hindered Williams’ draft stock. Come training camp, he will have to fight for a roster spot on the New Orleans Saints.

Williams, a 6’2’’ junior corner, has incredible size and speed just shy of Melifonwu. His excellent length allows him to excel in press-man coverage, but he had more trouble than his teammates closing on routes to break up passes.

At Syracuse, Williams notched 93 total tackles, six pass break ups and four interceptions. Last season, he was part of one of the most memorable plays of the season in the team’s only win against Georgia Tech. Ja’Had Carter picked off a pass returned the ball to midfield, and as the defense caught him, he flipped the ball back over his head to Williams to complete the pick-six.

Williams could contribute on special teams, and his size and speed could help him develop into an eventual starting cornerback.

A member of the Orange’s special teams unit, punter Nolan Cooney, also joined the Saints as a UDFA. Cooney averaged 44.8 yards per punt during his career at Syracuse and will look to add to the list of SU punters who have recently kicked in the NFL, including Riley Dixon and Sterling Hofrichter.

The Orange, who finished with just one win in 2020, relied on their secondary to remain competitive in ACC matchups. With two players from the unit selected in this year’s draft, the Orange will look to new faces to replenish the defense in 2021.

This fall, fans of the Orange can watch as the team tries to improve on Saturdays. On Sundays, they can tune into Jaguars, Lions and Saints games to watch as Cisco, Melifonwu and Williams start their NFL careers.

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is a magazine, news and online graduate student and lead sports producer for The NewsHouse.