Adam Bertke, Marion Local HS (Maria Stein, OH)- Very tall at 6'6" and possibly growing even more. Historically there seems to some evidence that extremely tall quarterbacks don't do well so that's something worth watching for. He also has to add more weight as he is around 200 pounds right now. Needs some work on his mechanics but doesn't have any major flaws in his delivery. Has had some injury problems. Otherwise he has a stronger than average arm and decent mobility for his size. Also a good student and good leadership ability. Played at a small division but his particular conference has been known to develop major college quarterbacks, like Bobby Hoying. Was offered by Illinois and a handful of MAC schools.
Unit Synopsis: I had to assume that Wade Freebeck was still committed to the Panthers when I originally wrote this, and I had a long explanation as to why I thought the staff failed in recruiting topnotch quarterbacks. I thought I would have to argue my point because there would be many fans who wouldn't agree with me. Now I don't think anybody would disagree with me. How a guy with Paul Chryst's reputation with quarterbacks can't land a nationally recruited quarterback, especially with practically no quarterbacks on the roster, is mind boggling. In fact the only such quarterback that the staff even offered was Chryst's nephew, Keller, who decided to stay home and play at Stanford.
I just don't get it. I don't know why the staff is looking for projects at quarterback instead of looking for legitimate big time talent. I love the idea of adding a developmental quarterback in every class because you never know, but only developmental quarterbacks- when you desperately need a big time quarterback? Then to lose Freebeck to Vanderbilt, who has been recruiting him for just two weeks, is almost epically bad. That's not to suggest that Bertke won't be good someday. He may be the next Ben Roethlisberger for all I know. But it's still a head scratcher why they wouldn't at least try to land more of a sure thing. At least try.
Dennis Briggs, Shady Side Academy (Pittsburgh, PA)- Maybe the biggest surprise offer by many in this class. Not big, but solidly built and muscular at 5'10" and 195 pounds. Decent speed, but not a speed burner. Was not highly productive at the high school level. Was offered when he impressed the coaches at their camp. Could end up on defense. Doesn't jump out at you physically but he's a hard worker who continually tries to improve. Only other offer was Toledo.
Chris James, Notre Dame HS (Niles, IL)- Muscular and powerful at 5'9" and 210 pounds. Runs hard through the tackles. A workout warrior that is a solid block of muscle. Doesn't have breakaway speed but has better than average speed and quickness. Good hands out of the backfield. Very productive at the high school level. Almost committed to Michigan State, then Wisconsin, but both moved on when other targets committed first. Their loss is Pitt's gain because he has the potential to play as a freshman, and even to star in the future. Arizona State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Tennessee were some of his other offers.
Qadree Ollison, Canisius HS (Buffalo, NY)- Strong between the tackles runner at a healthy 6'1" and 225 pounds. Doesn't have great speed or quickness, but both are a good level for his size. Dominated a small classification at the high school level. Could also end up at H-Back if he doesn't pan out at running back. Some pretty impressive offers, including Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Boston College, Maryland, and Rutgers.
Unit Synopsis: The big target at this position was local running back Shai McKenzie, who the Panthers had a strong chance to land until they landed James. In the long run, it may turn out very well since James has star potential. Ollison is big and runs hard so he may turn into a good player also. The recruiting for this unit has to be considered a success because of James.
Jaquan Davidson, Elizabeth Forward HS (Elizabeth, PA)- High school quarterback who will be given a shot at wide receiver even though he actually has a strong arm and could probably play quarterback at a lower division. Tall, lanky, and skinny at 6'3" and 170 pounds. Has to put on a lot of weight but he's a long strider that can get from point A to point B in a hurry. Glides when he runs and often had his way at the high school level. Has the ability to end up at safety if he doesn't make it at receiver. Other offers included West Virginia, UConn, Temple, and Illinois. A real sleeper.
Adonis Jennings, Timber Creek HS (Sicklerville, NJ)- The former Rutgers commit changed his mind and committed to Pitt late in the recruiting cycle. That's good news for the Panthers because he may be the best player in the class. Long, athletic build at 6'3" and 190 pounds, and he has the frame to easily add more size. Speed is good, but not great when timed with the stopwatch, but in games nobody seems to ever catch him. Dynamic runner with the ball in his hands. Has star potential. Other offers included Clemson, Virginia Tech, Arizona, Iowa, Boston College, and Arkansas.
Elijah Zeise, North Allegheny HS (Wexford, PA)- Solidly built at 6'2" and 185 pounds with a frame that could add a lot more weight. Physically he does not have one trait that stands out at an elite level, but he is good to very good in size, speed, athleticism, and hands. A good football player that could also project at safety or even linebacker some day. Other offers came from West Virginia, Arizona, and Temple.
Unit Synopsis: The more I think about this group the more I like it. At the moment Jennings may be the best actual player in the whole class. He could see a lot of time this season. And Davidson and Zeise have potential at the position, with the potential to move to another position if need be.
Brian O'Neill, Salesianum School (Wilmington, DE)- Tight ends usually get a lot of offers and therefore they get a little overrated. That's why it's baffling as to why the Panthers are his only major offer. At 6'6" and 235 pounds the frame is there to be a weapon. Especially since he can also get down the field in a hurry with his long strides. On the downside, he goes down too easy for a player his size, and because he operated like a receiver he has little experience with blocking.
Unit Synopsis: The Panthers have some nice young tight ends on the roster already so the staff was not making this unit a priority for this recruiting cycle. But even so, O'Neill is a good developmental prospect.
Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon, HS (Pittsburgh)- Land the top offensive lineman in the state known for great offensive linemen? Check. Already a fit 6'6" and 300 pounds, and he can get bigger. Very quick feet which could make him an ideal left tackle candidate down the road. Like most freshmen linemen he will need to get stronger, so he'll very likely redshirt. But in a few years, if he lives up to his potential, he can be a big time left tackle. And if he doesn't? He very possibly could be an all-star defensive tackle since at the moment he's actually a better defensive player. A lot of big time offers included Penn State, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Nebraska, and Georgia.
Mike Grimm, Bethel Park HS (Bethel Park, PA)- A giant 6'6" 325 pound monster who despite the size is not fat. Both parents are fitness professionals and he is also a workout warrior. Already stronger than most college linemen. Feet are better than he's given credit for, but not good enough to be a left tackle. That's fine because at right tackle or guard he could develop into one of those linemen that leans on his opponent all day until they eventually give up. Committed early but still picked up offers from West Virginia, Wisconsin, Baylor, Boston College, Arizona, and Virginia.
Connor Hayes, Traverse City West HS (Traverse City, MI)- Strong, bulldozer type at a solid 6'4" and 290 pounds. Tough as hell. Will probably line up at guard but he could play center, too. Committed early but still had offers from programs like Syracuse, Indiana, and Duke.
Unit Synopsis: A potential all-star left tackle and two tough as nails maulers. What's not to like? Back to back excellent offensive line recruiting classes. This unit is getting better in a hurry.
Rori Blair, Upper St Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Recovered two years ago from a stroke and so far has made a great recovery. Very skinny at 6'3" at a listed 220 pounds, and he looks skinnier than that. But he has the frame to get bigger. Needs a lot more strength. Right now he gets overpowered too often. Good straight line speed and athleticism. Could potentially be an outside linebacker if he can't put on enough weight. An interesting project for many reasons. He's come a long way but he still has a long way to go.
Connor Dintino, Choate Rosemary Hall (Wallingford, CT)- Who knew kids from Connecticut boarding schools could be so big and tough? Dintino was being recruited by most schools for offense but the Panthers liked his combination of size and quickness for defensive tackle. At 6'4" and 300 pounds, Dintino is built like a house- or maybe an apartment complex. An accomplished wrestler, which has helped him with learning about leverage. Quicker than you'd expect when you see his size. UConn and Buffalo also offered. A real sleeper.
Mike Herndon, Riverheads HS (Staunton, VA)- It's not often that you see a 6'4" 325 pound middle linebacker (okay, never), but that's what he played in high school. He'll move to defensive tackle for the Panthers. With his big size and the ability to move well, he could turn into a solid player. Virginia Tech offered at one time, and he had some smaller offers.
Shane Roy, Reading Community HS (Cincinnati, OH)- Lanky and aggressive end with the frame to add much more to his 6'4" 220 pound frame. Plays hard. Good quickness. Other offers included Boston College, Illinois, and Toledo.
Hez Trahan, Roman Catholic HS (Philadelphia, PA)- Solidly built at 6'4" and 250 pounds. Not explosive or quick so he may move to defensive tackle down the line. Other offers were UMass and Coastal Carolina.
Unit Synopsis: The Panthers desperately needed an influx of talent and numbers on the defensive line and five linemen means they got numbers. But unfortunately none of the five screams of star potential. That doesn't mean they can't be at least solid, of course. They have enough talent to help down the road. I especially like Dintino the more I watch him. But the staff seems to have trouble targeting and landing highly talented linemen on the defensive side of the ball, especially at end. That's a problem.
Jamal Davis, McKinley HS (Canton, OH)- Looks smaller than his listed 6'2" and 220 pounds. Needs to add strength. More straight line fast than quick or explosive which is why his offer list wasn't better. Those offers did include Louisville, Indiana, Minnesota, and a host of MAC schools.
James Folston, Jr., Cocoa HS (Cocoa, FL)- This kid is growing on me the more tape I watch of him. The son of a former NFL linebacker (with the same name obviously), and a former high school wide receiver and safety. Way too thin right now at 6'3" and 200 pounds but the frame is there to add a lot of weight. Has some speed and more importantly some good quickness and explosiveness. Has a chance to develop into a good college linebacker. Other offers came from South Florida and Minnesota.
Quintin Wirginis, Fox Chapel HS (Fox Chapel, PA)- My biggest sleeper of this class. At 6'2" and 225 pounds he is solidly built and he can get bigger. Aggressive and flies all over the field. Can play in the middle or on the outside. Good speed and athleticism. Got lost in recruiting because he had a late growth spurt then missed all of senior season with an injury.
Unit Synopsis: This is another unit that needs a desperate influx of talent. This is a decent bunch with some promise but it's going to take a lot of development for any of them to emerge as elite college players, and that's something the Panthers defense desperately needs.
Patrick Amara, West Catholic HS (Philadelphia, PA)- A fan favorite already because he talks so lovingly of Pitt on twitter, but he's also good enough to be a fan favorite on the field. Long frame at 6'2" and 175 pounds. Not a blazer on the stopwatch but he plays much faster on the field because of his smarts, anticipation, and quickness. Could turn out to be a very good college player. Other offers included California, Georgia Tech, and Central Florida. His biggest offers came late after a very impressive senior season.
Avonte Maddox, Martin Luther King HS (Detroit, MI)- Small at 5'9" and 160 pounds, but he can flat out fly. Probably the most electrifying player in Michigan this season and that's saying something. Would be a big time slot receiver in some offenses, but at Pitt he will be at cornerback. Could be a star return man. Good student and leader.
Phillipie Motley, Hilliard Davidson HS (Hilliard, OH)- Another player that is faster in a straight line than is quick or explosive, but he runs in the 4.4s and that's really good. Needs to add weight like most freshman, and at 5'10" and 170 pounds he's not really big. A very willing tackler which isn't always the case with cover corners.
Jalen Williams, Newburgh Free Academy (Newburgh, NY)- Nice sized safety at 6'1" and 175 pounds. He has to get bigger but he has a great, long frame for the position. Moves well. Very underrated prospect. Reminds me a lot of Jason Hendricks.
Unit Synopsis: I like all four of these recruits but when you lose two elite defensive backs in your own backyard, like Pitt did with Dravon Henry and Montae Nicholson, then it's a bit of a letdown. But I can foresee both Amara and Williams having nice careers at Pitt. And Maddox and Motley, while both small, at least have excellent speed. And if Maddox lives up to his potential as a return man, that alone makes him an excellent addition.
With the roster depleted in the next few years, a big influx of talent in every unit was needed. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I like what the staff did at running back, because of Chris James, and at wide receiver and the offensive line. James, Adonis Jennings, Alex Bookser, and Michael Grimm are the best of the bunch and the prospects with the most upside.
After that things start to drop quite a bit. I didn't like the quarterback recruiting to begin with, as I stated above, and now that Freebeck was lost, the quarterback recruiting was even worse. And very inexplicable, to say the least.
On defense there's some good developmental prospects but not one- not one- is an elite prospect. That's twelve recruits, on a defense that's easy for any top prospect to get immediate playing time, and not one is a big time prospect. That doesn't mean that I don't like some of these defensive players. Connor Dintino is intriguing. The linebackers may turn out to be good, and the secondary has a lot of potential. But when you have twelve prospects and all twelve are developmental guys, then you need to recruit better. The truth is, I'm not sure if any of these players on defense can be in the two deep this season.
But the most troubling thing is that the staff clearly looks for developmental prospects almost exclusively. They offer some big time prospects very early, just like have this year, then usually are out of the running before they even get around to hard selling. In the meantime, they start offering very under the radar players, and getting commitments from them, very early, instead of using them as a back up plan. It's as if the plan is to look so hard for under the radar types that the staff doesn't spend as much time wooing the more elite prospects.
Don't get me wrong. Getting under the radar types is a skill, and the staff may prove to be excellent at it. But you can only get so far with a team loaded with developmental projects.
The running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line recruiting for Chryst's staff has been excellent, so we know they have it in them. But quarterback and defense recruiting needs to be much better. That's two extremely important facets of a football team, needless to say. Failing to recruit impressively in every unit is what eventually limited Dave Wannstedt. Chryst must improve his recruiting, maybe even a lot, or is he's going to put an awful lot of stress on an inexperienced coaching staff to get the most out of talent that's simply okay.