There are two kinds of recruits that you need to build a successful football team. One is the ability to find under recruited players who you can develop into talented college players. The jury is still out on whether or not Paul Chryst and his staff have done that but I think most would agree that he has added some intriguing raw prospects. The other is to add elite talent like Tyler Boyd who is already standing out as very different than the rest of the players in the program. Obviously not every elite prospect will pan out, and likewise there will be under the radar prospects who end up being stars. But more often than not your chances are much better if you land highly coveted prospects.
In the recent past the Panthers usually end up with three or four such players a year. Last year there was three with Johnson, Boyd, and Scott Orndoff. In other words, the Panthers can win with who they are recruiting but to win big they will need more elite prospects. The good news is that there are seven such players right now that the Panthers are heavily involved with. If they somehow manage to land all seven, the talent level of the program goes up sharply, not to mention that the next class will look at Pitt much differently.
If the Panthers miss on most of these players it will not be the end of the program but it will definitely make it more difficult for Chryst to win big in the coming years. While some have mentioned the many years that it took successful coaches to win big, the truth is, that was the case many years ago. Things move much quicker now. Most coaches now have a four year window to reach the level that the program desires and if you can't recruit big in your first few years than winning big in the fourth year may be a stretch. That's why Chryst and his staff can jump through the window right now, but if he doesn't the window may start to close a little.
Dravon Henry- The Aliquippa star is the best prospect in PA and the pipeline between Aliquippa is long and prosperous for both schools. Many schools competing for Henry's service, especially Penn State, have been trying to convince him to break that pipeline and to be his own man. Henry recently eliminated the Nittany Lions and realistically it appears to be a battle between Pitt and West Virginia. It's hard to imagine Pitt losing an elite WPIAL prospect to the Mountaineers, especially when that program seems to be floundering. That's why I think Pitt is the favorite at this point, even if he and his father seems to be wavering.
Henry would be the most important recruit during Chryst's tenure. Not only is he the best player in the state but he also has a chance to star immediately. And anytime that you can find a star at cornerback, you're defense immediately goes up a notch.
Montae Nicholson- At one point the Gateway star was considered a lock for Florida State by many, then those same people had him pegged for Michigan. But Michigan ran out of room for him and Florida State is considered more of a long shot. He has upcoming visits to Michigan State and Oregon, but it would be a surprise if either got him in the end. That realistically leaves Pitt and Penn State as the most likely destinations, and the Panthers are coming on strong.
The 6'3" 200 pound Nicholson is a great athlete who can make an immediate impact at either wide receiver or safety. With Devin Street and Jason Hendricks graduating, and not a lot of talent behind them, grabbing him will be essential. And now more than ever that could happen.
Shai McKenzie- The Panthers are suddenly looking promising for the future at running back thanks to the bruising duo of freshman James Conner and recent commit Qadree Ollison. But McKenzie has a better pedigree than either and adding him would mean the program has three chances for a running back to be a star.
McKenzie drives Pitt fans crazy, but I talked to him plenty and he has always really liked Pitt. He once made Florida State the favorite, then Virginia Tech, but when push comes to shove, there's still a good chance that the Panthers can land him.
Alex Bookser- Hard to believe but the future of the Panthers offensive line is very bright. Young players like Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson could be stars and there are others who are almost as promising. But you can never have too many and Bookser would be a great addition.
The 6'6" 300 pound Bookser needs work but his size/athletic combination is excellent. He's the type of lineman that Chryst can really turn into something special after three or four years in the program, max.
Pitt is considered the favorite at the moment.
Anthony Davis- This was once considered a lost cause. For some reason the Panthers staff did not recruit Davis hard initially and he decided to follow his former Gateway head coach to Temple where Terry Smith is now an assistant. But Davis attended the first game of the season at Pitt and now he appears that he could switch to the Panthers, especially since his mother reportedly wants him to be a Panther.
At 6'1" and 175 pounds, Davis has great size if he sticks at cornerback. But he also has very good speed and great athleticism. A real ballhawk who could be a star safety if he doesn't make it at the corner.
Somehow, despite offers from Penn State, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Miami, Michigan State, and North Carolina he is very underrated.
Juwann Winfree- The Panthers desperately need some more playmakers at wide receiver and this 6'2" 180 pound New Jersey native is good enough to get offers from the likes of Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska.
An added bonus is that he may be an even better safety, so if the Panthers land Nicholson and put him at wide receiver, Winfree could always move to safety if he doesn't work out on offense.
Marquese Dudley-Gordon- Pitt doesn't seem to do well with legacies but Shane Gordon's brother could easily change that. The Panthers are considered the heavy favorite for the 6'1" 190 pound Fort Lauderdale safety. A potential star thanks to his hard hitting and great range.
Dudley-Gordon has the potential to be a big time safety as you can tell by an offer list that includes Louisville, Arkansas, Michigan State, Florida State, and Wisconsin.