Where the position stands now:
Longtime starters K'Waun Williams and Jason Hendricks are gone, but that's not the only changes here. After a disappointing season by the secondary, there's a new leader of the unit. New defensive backs coach Troy Douglas has been around for a long time and is well respected, but he may really have his work cut out for him with this bunch.
At cornerback, junior Lafayette Pitts had a poor second season after a very impressive freshman season. It's safe to say that he will be Douglas' pet project next season because his return to form is essential. Battling Pitts for a starting spot are sophomores Trenton Coles and Titus Howard. Both, like Tyler Boyd, are former Clairton Bears, and both are long, athletic, and fast. Coles is 6'3", an incredible height for a corner, and he can fly. Howard is 6'1" and is highly athletic. Douglas has to be excited about such potential for both, but they both need to add strength and weight so that they can remain healthy.
Also in the mix at corner are redshirt sophomore Jahmahl Pardner, and true freshmen Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley. Both Motley and Maddox are small, but both can fly. Maddox may get some playing time if he ends up returning punts and burns a redshirt.
At safety, it's pretty apparent how the Panthers have failed to recruit well at the position, because both starters may be transfers. Often maligned senior Ray Vinopal was a train wreck in the first half of the season, but in the second half he started making some big plays. He still has to improve even more, though. At the other safety, redshirt sophomore Reggie Mitchell transferred from Wisconsin and he is currently pencilled in as the probable starter.
Two other returnees who will compete at safety are redshirt sophomore Ryan Lewis and sophomore Terrish Webb, while Patrick Amara and Jalen Williams are incoming freshmen.
The unit needs a lot of talent and depth added, and it didn't help that the Panthers missed out on top local defensive backs Dravon Henry and Montae Nicholson. There are some excellent defensive backs that the staff has a chance with, and they really need to land more than one of them.
First the players that were offered that Pitt has no chance with. Minkah Fitzpatrick of St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, NY) may be the best cornerback prospect in the country, but he's not going to end up at Pitt. Neither are Marcus Lewis of Gonzaga College HS (Washington, DC), John Reid of St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia, PA), Rashard Causey of St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Fort Lauderdale, FL), Jay Stocker of Coatesville (PA) HS, Jordan Cronkrite of Westminster Christian HS (Palmetto Bay, FL), and Jalen Christian of Damascus (MD) HS.
That's a lot of big misses but there's still some very good players left. The obvious one is 5'10" 165 pound cornerback Jordan Whitehead of Central Valley HS (Monaca, PA). I would't consider Pitt a favorite for him, however, and the lack of recruiting in Beaver Valley may continue to kill the program. Also locally, but one step down, is 5'10" 165 pound cornerback Kareem Gibson of Johnstown (PA) HS. He's a very athletic cover corner and would be a good addition. A cornerback possibility at the same level as Whitehead is 5'11" 175 pound Kareem Ali of Timber Creek HS (Sicklerville). Normally Pitt wouldn't be in the running for such a highly coveted cornerback but he's best friends with recently signed wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who also played at Timber Creek, and he has since expressed interest in the Panthers. A sleeper who is becoming less of a sleeper by the week is 5'11" 170 pound Nick Coleman of Archbishop Alter HS (Kettering, OH), a speedster who is teammates with major defensive tackle target Kraig Howe.
At safety, the major target is 6'3" 200 pound Daiquan Kelly of Union City (NJ) HS. His size and athletic ability are exactly what the Panthers need at the position. If he committed today it would probably be to Pitt, but with more offers, things obviously could change. And he's an excellent talent so he will get more major offers. Also offered is under the radar 5'11" 175 pound Ronnie James of Glassboro (HS) NJ. He's teammates with Pitt's top wide receiver target Juwan Johnson.
Like I said to start, this unit needs a lot of help. The Clairton kids, all three of them, should not have seen the field yet. They fared well considering their youth, but right now they are pretty much just raw athleticism. The same goes for freshmen like Amara, Maddox, and Motley. But they aren't elite prospects and they will take some time to develop. As far as the safeties, even the starters aren't difference makers. The program is being hurt by a lack of quality recruiting over a few year period. The staff can't let this happen again which is why adding players like Whitehead, Ali, and Kelly are essential.