As we enter May, things are about to heat up in football recruiting. In the next few months, there will be a lot more verbal commitments nationally, and presumably at Pitt also. Especially since the Panthers will hold their prospects camp in a little more than five weeks. This is especially important now as Pitt's main talent evaluator, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, is a huge believer in making evaluations at these camps.
Quarterback: Obviously this is a position of dire need and until the Panthers land more talent and depth at this position, the program is limited. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Chad Voytik but it's not good to have just one option, and like any freshman he's not a sure thing. Tino Sunseri will be gone after this year (hold your cheers), and while Mark Myers will have two more years after this season, he is still a major question mark. That's why it's imperative that the Panthers add talent and numbers at the position. In fact, it's probably best to take two quarterbacks in this class, one elite prospect and one development prospect, though it may be hard to convince a kid to sit behind two better prospects.
The Panthers were potentially dealt a big blow (depending on who they end up with) when Malik Zaire chose Notre Dame, and right now the only top tier QB that the staff has offered is 6'2" 200 pound Tra'von Chapman (Roosevelt HS, Kent, OH). Chapman is raw, but he has a strong arm, throws a great deep ball, and has good mobility and athleticism. Between him and Voytik the Panthers should find a very good quarterback. If it's one thing we know when it comes to Paul Chryst, if you give him a quarterback with good skills he can make him extremely productive. Even though Chapman doesn't have a lot of big time offers at this time, it will still be a battle to get him. As of now, Cincinnati and Northwestern are the biggest competitors.
It would be great to get Monessen's Chavas Rawlins to go with Chapman because he's too raw to be a factor immediately at quarterback (and may eventually end up at receiver), but he is sounding more and more like he would like to get away from home. For now, I think Pitt fans can write him off. Some recruiting websites list Florida quarterback Asiantii Woulard with a Pitt offer but that was made by the previous staff and the current staff has not shown any interest.
That pretty much leaves Chapman or bust right now so it's pretty obvious that Chryst has work to do at the position. The prospect camp in June could be interesting and special note should be taken to see which quarterbacks show up since it will be a golden opportunity for Chryst and Rudolph to see up close if any of them have the potential they are looking for. However, the bottom line is that with Chryst's reputation and Pitt's desperate need at the position, Chryst really has to come through with at least one excellent prospect or it will be looked at as an early failure in his tenure.
Running back: Ray Graham will be gone after this season, but Isaac Bennett continues to surprise and Rushel Shell is on the horizon. But Chryst loves a power running game so the running back corps must always be loaded. For that reason, there's room to add another quality running back, or even two.
Philadelphia's David Williams is a big time player but for whatever reason the new staff wasn't very interested. But even without Williams, the Panthers can make a major statement by landing 5'11" 200 pound Corey Clement (Glassboro (NJ) HS). Clement is very good and could challenge Shell as the future feature back. He really likes Pitt but the competition is fierce. His other offers include Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida State.
Augustus Edwards (Tottenville HS (Staten Island, NY) is not in the same class as Clement but he's still pretty good. At 6'1" and 210 pounds he's big, with a frame to get even bigger, and he has good speed. Pitt is only starting to get more involved with him now, but they have offered along with the likes of Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn, Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Indiana.
Zaire Williams (Timber Creek Regional HS (Erial, NJ) is more of a scatback at 5'11" 190, but it doesn't help that he had a Pitt offer for a month before he even knew he had it. His other offers include Iowa, UConn, Temple, and West Virginia. Small JoJo Kemp (Deland (FL) HS) is just 5'9" 185 but he appears to be headed to South Florida.
Wide receiver: This is one position that will be in a big state of flux over the next two years. Mike Shanahan and Cameron Saddler will be moving on after the season, and many of the other receivers on the roster are smallish and were brought in during the previous two regimes. Devin Street will be on the team for two more years but after him there are questions. There are some promising underclassmen like Brandon Felder and Demitrious Davis, but more depth and talent is clearly needed.
The staff have offered quite a few receivers already in this class, but most are either headed elsewhere or aren't seriously considering the Panthers. Luckily for Chryst, however, there are two excellent ones that he has a legit shot at.
Central Valley's Robert Foster has superstar potential and getting him is essential, not only for his talent, but for the message it sends to the WPIAL and beyond. I still feel that the Panthers have a good shot to land him. Clairton's Tyler Boyd is an excellent talent in his own right and the Panthers are hanging tough with him. At one point, the Panthers were a long shot but he has become very close with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and now they are right in the thick of it.
Brian Lemelle of Bishop McDevitt HS in Harrisburg is not at the same level as Foster and Boyd, but he's the only other wide receiver offered thus far that the Panthers appear to have a legit shot at. He holds offers from Penn State, Virginia, Iowa, and Rutgers also.
Bottom line, if the Panthers whiff on Foster and Boyd there could be a big drop off.
Tight end: The staff lost out on elite PA tight end Adam Breneman (Penn State) and is not seriously in the running for elite North Carolina tight end Josh McNeil. Chryst and company also were looking to land Ohio tight end Greg Hart, but the Panthers aren't currently in his top two. Sounds bleak, huh? Not so fast.
Hubie Graham is in his last season, but promising redshirt sophomores Brendan Carozzoni and Drew Carswell should only get better, and Anthony Gonzalez may end up back at the position again. If that's not good enough, true freshman J.D. Holtz has a bright future. Then of course there is Seton-LaSalle's Scott Orndoff, a personal favorite of mine who has verbally committed for 2013. He's big, fast, and athletic.
Bottom line, Chryst and Rudolph loves pass catching tight ends, and they turn them into stars. And now they have plenty of talented options to do just that.
Offensive line: Contrary to popular belief, losing Bob Bostad hurt a lot, but all is not lost. Jim Hueber is a quality coach and he, Chryst, and Rudolph together should still make the line a powerful unit in the near future.
Some promising linemen will be around for a few more years yet. Juniors Cory King (6'5" 325) and Ryan Schlieper (6'5" 305) have the size that Chryst likes, and they should only get better under the great tutelage they are about to receive. Sophomores Tom Ricketts (6'6" 285) and Matt Rotheram (6'6" 350) are in the same boat, with Rotheram particularly appealing because of his enormous size. Incoming freshman Adam Bisnotawy (6'6" 280) only needs to add weight to be very good and fellow freshman Gabe Roberts (6'4" 290) is a sleeper that Chryst and Bostad picked out personally.
That's at least six young linemen for the new staff to work on, but many more are needed, and I can see the staff taking five this year. Two are already in the fold with 6'5" 290 pound guard Dan Samuelson and 6'6" 280 pound tackle Aaron Reese. Both are the types of sleepers that Chryst and Hueber have succeeded with in the past. Both however are a few years away so it would be better if the other two or three linemen added to the class are ready quicker.
The most obvious great addition would be 6'6" 280 pound tackle Dorian Johnson, a local kid from Belle Vernon. He is the type of kid that Chryst and Hueber could turn into a star left tackle, and he's good enough to be starting in his second year at the latest. This is exactly the type of kid that Pitt has no business losing if they want to improve their football program.
After Johnson, Maryland guard Na'ty Rodgers is the biggest fish. He's only 275 pounds now but at 6'4" he has the frame to add the weight that Chryst wants. He recently visited Pitt while in town for a 7-on-7 tournament, and it went well, but the competition of USC, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, among others, is going to be very difficult to overcome.
New Jersey's Dorian Miller would be an excellent pickup at center even though at 6'2" and 290 pounds, he's smaller than Chryst usually likes. However, right now his top two are Tennessee and Rutgers.
Ohio tackle Kyle Meadows could develop nicely under Chryst and Hueber but the 6'6" 270 pounder is currently favoring Florida State. Cincinnati guard Alex Gall is big at 6'5" and 295 pounds, and has offers that include Miami, Florida State, and Louisville. He has yet to visit Pitt. Marquis Wallace, 6'5" 300, was once a West Virginia signee but didn't have the grades. He's now at Lackawanna JC in PA. His other offers include South Florida, Kansas, Houston, and East Carolina, but as of now the Panthers have a good chance. He only has two years to play two years, however, so he can't redshirt.
After that there are some intriguing projects offered, including 6'7" 290 pound tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith from Philadelphia, 6'6" 295 pound Eric Tetlow from Virginia, and 6'6" 320 pound Xzavier McAllister.