Like the offense I explored yesterday, this is by no means the definitive list for next season. I'm just spitballing here so fans can have a starting off point to see what the team may look like. Every season players come out of nowhere and there's no doubt that it will happen again next season, but just taking an educated guess, this is where we'll start from.
Defensive Line: The three starters are all graduating, and Brandon Lindsey, Chad Alecxih, and Myles Caragein were all good players. Their replacements are young, but at least they are equally talented. The replacement for Caragein at NT should be Khaynin Mosely-Smith, who didn't play much this season, but is quick and strong. At the tackles, Aaron Donald is a definite at one spot. He's a playmaker already in his young career, but he gets out of control too often. If he can become more disciplined, he could be excellent. The other spot will probably be filled by a third young local in Tyrone Ezell. Shayne Hale and T.J. Clemmings are veterans who came to Pitt with a lot of buzz, but have yet to reach their potential. However, both have the talent to beat out Ezell if he doesn't earn the spot. Giant local Tyrique Jarrett is one of my favorite sleepers in this class. If he's eligible, and stays in shape, he could see time on the nose.
Shayne Hale, Sr.
T.J. Clemmings, Jr.
Aaron Donald, Jr.
Tyrone Ezell, Jr.
Khaynin Mosley-Smith, So.
Tyrique Jarrett, Fr.
Linebackers: The era of slow linebackers is finally over for the Panthers and the future at the position is finally starting to look bright again. Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts will graduate, as will Greg Williams (who was not slow). The combination end/rush linebacker in this system is called the Panther. Assuming he comes back from missing the season because of grades, Bryan Murphy has star ability at this position. The problem is, that's the best position for Juan Price, too. The opposite outside linebacker is called the Spur, and that position should belong to highly athletic Todd Thomas. Kevin Adams performed well this season with Thomas hurt, and if he stays at the position, he should also see time. In the inside, Graham could decide to start Price if Murphy comes back, just to get him on the field. If Graham decides against that, Shane Gordon and LaQuentin Smith look to the the favorites at the position. Nicholas Grigsby, who redshirted this season, and Eric Williams could compete for jobs, too. Incoming freshman Darryl Render has had a great season this year and could be the heir apparent at the Panther position. If Murphy or Price doesn't end up at the spot next season, then he could always see time right away. Newcomer Dane Conwell could be very good down the road. The wildcard is Dan Mason, who looked like a future All-American candidate before destroying his leg last season. He is determined to come back and if he can somehow pull that off, and play anywhere near how he used to play, then this unit is actually loaded, believe it or not, and better yet, the players are all young and will only get better. A possible late addition, if they can sign him, is Sto-Rox's Deaysean Rippy, who is highly coveted.
Shane Gordon, Jr.
Dan Mason, Jr.
Kevin Adams, Jr.
Bryan Murphy, So.
Juan Price, So.
Todd Thomas, So.
Eric Williams, So.
LaQuentin Smith, So.
Nicolas Grigsby, RS Fr.
Dakota Conwell, Fr.
Deaysean Rippy, Fr. (possible signee)
Defensive Backs: Antwuan Reed has had a surprisingly good year and he is the lone starter not returning. The corner that is returning, K'waun Williams, has been very good this season and could be an all-conference performer in the near future. Jarred Holley is returning at strong safety, and he's had a good year. At free safety, Jason Hendricks is more hit and miss, and he could return as a starter next season if Lafayette Pitts doesn't beat him out. Replacing Reed could be one of three very talented youngsters. Michigan transfer Cullen Christian was considered one of the better corner prospects in the country when he entered college, and he redshirted this season after the transfer. Two true freshman this season, Pitts and Lloyd Carrington, quickly showed signs that they have very bright futures. Throw in Andrew Taglianetti, Brandon Ifill, E.J. Banks, and Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal who started seven games as a true freshman for the Wolverines, and you can see that this may be the deepest unit on the team. And that doesn't include a freshman class that will bring in four more recruits, including talented corners Marchez Coates and Marzett Jeter. Two potential stars, if the Panthers could land them, are safeties Demetrious Cox and Bam Bradley.
Jarred Holley, Sr.
Andrew Taglianetti, Sr.
E.J. Banks, Jr.
Jason Hendricks, Jr.
K'waun Williams, Jr.
Cullen Christian, So.
Brandon Ifill, So.
Ray Vinopal, So.
Lafayette Pitts, RS Fr.
Lloyd Carrington, RS Fr.
Marchez Coates, Fr.
Marzett Jeter, Fr.
Best case realistic scenario for starting lineup:
DE: Aaron Donald , Jr. and Tyrone Ezell, Jr.- Both are strong and Donald has great explosion. As juniors, it's their time to star.
NT: Khaynin Mosely-Smith, So.- Freakishly strong and could help form an an excellent WPIAL front line.
Panther Back (end/rush linebacker): Bryan Murphy, So./Juan Price, So.- If Murphy returns from being academically ineligible (and he probably will), then it's his job to lose. He could be star. The question then is, will Graham combine him with Price or move Price inside? Or do both?
Spur (outside linebacker): Todd Thomas, So.- Great athlete who could become a star with more experience.
ILB: Shane Gordon, Jr./LaQuentin Smith, So./Juan Price, So.- If Graham decides to move Price then he will only do it if Price can start. Otherwise, it's pointless. If Price doesn't move then Gordon and Smith are the favorites to start.
CB: K'waun Williams, Jr., Cullen Christian, So./Lloyd Carrington, RS Fr.- Williams is guaranteed to start but the other position should go to one of the underclassmen.
FS: Jason Hendricks, Jr./Lafayette Pitts, RS Fr.- Hendricks is doing well for the most part but Pitts is a good young talent that could steal the position off him.
SS: Jarred Holley, Sr.- Good player and was a great leader even before he was a senior. Will be the leader of a very young defense.
This is normally where I would look at the roster in two years, but with only one senior projected to start next year, it's pointless. Bottom line, the Panthers have some very good young talent on defense, and they are very athletic. There is no excuse why the defense shouldn't be good for the foreseeable future.