Thomas MacVittie, Moeller HS (Cincinatti, OH)- Like most players entering college he needs to fill out a lot but at 6'5" and 225 pounds he has the frame to do it. All of the other physical aspects needed to be a successful college quarterback are also present. He has a strong arm and he's a big time athlete that can really run. He played for one of the best programs in the country so he didn't get to start until his senior year. He lived up to his promise, however, and had a great year against one of the most difficult schedules in the country. He needs some tweaking on his mechanics and get physically stronger, but he has a lot of the traits needed to be a big time college quarterback. LSU came after him strong a month before signing day, but he stuck with the Panthers. 4-star (Ratings are my own)
Where the position stands: Barring the unforeseen, Nathan Peterman will start again next season, and despite ending on a sour note, he had a good year. Almost all quarterbacks, despite their age, will struggle as a first year starter, but they should get continually better. That's the hope for Peterman, and the hope that Matt Canada's fresh approach will help also. Canada also has an excellent track record for quarterbacks so I'd be surprised if Peterman doesn't improve. He probably won't be a star, but if he merely improves one level he will be a very good quarterback.
After Peterman things get more suspect thanks to the transfer of Chad Voytik. Not many programs have a good backup quarterback so the Panthers can't complain too much, but not having that luxury makes things a little more worrisome.
Because he's been around the longest, 6'6" 235 pound redshirt sophomore Adam Bertke will be looked at first. He's obviously huge, and he has a big arm, but he's also athletic enough to play on special teams this past season. He hasn't shown enough to see the field as a quarterback yet, but the raw physical ability is there. Now it's time to see if he actually knows how to play quarterback.
Another option as a backup will be 6'2" 200 pound redshirt freshman Ben DiNucci, who had a legendary career in the WPIAL, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to the college game. He has a good arm and good mobility.
It's very possible that MacVittie will redshirt and build up his body, but if he shows enough in practices he could be the backup this year so that he gets some experience. He's the favorite to take over in 2017 whether he redshirts or not this season.
RUNNING BACK (1)
Chawntez Moss, Bedford HS (Bedford, OH)- At 5'11" and 195 pounds, he's not a big back, but he runs tough between the tackles, has good speed, great vision, good hands, and is an excellent blocker. Because he can do a little bit of everything, he could eventually see time on the field when games are close, though that's unlikely this year. He runs an 11.58 100m, which is good, but not great speed, so he will never be a speed demon, but he has a lot of good traits that should be beneficial in college. Indiana, Iowa, Cincinnati, and virtually all of the MAC offered him. 3-star
Where the position stands: The Panthers obviously wanted to land local star Miles Sanders here, and they looked into he always mercurial Robert Washington, but they couldn't add the big time talent they aimed for. That's not necessarily bad, as long as they add a big time back next season. Luckily for Pitt, it's a position where a highly talented freshman could step right in if need be.
Redshirt sophomore Qadree Ollison was the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and he plowed his way to over 1,100 yards in his first year after James Conner went down in the first game. He's not a game breaker by any stretch, but he moves the chains more often than not.
Adding a big time back this year became less urgent when it was found out that Conner would be back for another year. As any Pitt fan knows, Conner is only back because he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs had the same diagnosis and returned to become the best safety on the NFL this year. And he did it in the same amount of time it would take Conner to return. I'm not a doctor, but obviously with that to go on, it's quite possible that Conner can return and be very effective. How effective remains to be seen, but barring the unforeseen, it seems that Conner and Ollison will be two very good backs to lean on.
Behind them, 5'11" 215 pound true sophomore Darrin Hall returns. He showed flashes as a freshman, and he should improve in 2016. He probably won't see a lot of action if Conner returns even close to his old form, but he's a nice backup option.
Also coming back is 6'1" 195 pound redshirt junior Rachid Ibrahim, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury. He was sneaky good in his first two seasons. He's slippery and he has great hands. If he returns to form, he will help a lot because when he had the ball in his hands, something good usually happened.
WIDE RECEIVER (3)
Ruben Flowers, Lima Senior HS (Lima, OH)- He has to fill out but at 6'3" 185 pounds he has great length. More athletic than blazing fast. While he has good speed, it's his athleticism, hands, and length that makes him an elite prospect. Knows how to use his body to block out the defender. Athleticism and size make him a good runner after the catch. Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, and Cincinnati are some of his offers. He would have had more but he committed relatively early. 4-star
Maurice Ffrench, New Brunswick HS (New Brunswick, NJ)- A 5'11" 185 pound speedster that would be perfect in the slot. Game breaker that is fantastic after the catch. Runs an 11.04 100m, which is faster than anything Robert Foster ran in high school just to give you some perspective. Also an excellent kick and punt returner. He also has the potential to be a cornerback. 3-star
Aaron Mathews, Clairton HS (Clairton, PA)- The former Penn State commit wanted to play wide receiver, and when the Panthers finally gave him the chance, he changed his commitment. Doesn't have great speed, but with his long strides he doesn't seem to get caught often. Very skinny, but great height at 6'4". Officially listed at 190 pounds, though that appears to be at least 10 pounds too generous. Great hands and very good athleticism. Knows how to use his size to block out defenders. If he doesn't work out at wide receiver he become a deadly tight end in a few years if he can gain about 50 pounds. But that's easier said than done. 3-star
Where the position stands: Tyler Boyd has moved on, and while there's some talent, there's also a lot of questions. Starter Dontez Ford returns, and quietly had a good season last year. But it's unlikely that he could become an all-conference level of receiver. The redshirt senior is solidly built at 6'2" and 215 pounds and he makes plays when called upon. You have to assume he will be able to hold on to his starting spot. Returnees Zach Challingsworth and Quadree Henderson should improve with one more year under their belt. Challingsworth, a 6'2" 200 pound redshirt junior, was solid as a third down receiver at times, but Henderson, a 5'8" 180 pound sophomore, is a player that needs to get on the field more. New offensive coordinator Canada likes to use jet sweeps and the extremely fast and elusive Henderson will be perfect for that. Ffrench, Henderson, and Challingsworth will probably battle it out for the slot, though Challingsworth has a chance to start opposite Ford. But those three won't be the only ones battling. Local favorite Tre Tipton is also returning and the 6'0"180 pound sophomore looks to rebound from an injury that cost him most of the season. He's very athletic. Redshirt sophomore Elijah Zeise and redshirt junior Jester Weah both saw action last year, and Zeise should be right in the mix again this year. Both do have the size and speed, but Zeise is much more polished. Two players that redshirted last season, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Gentry Ivery, may still find it difficult to get on the field again this year, but you never know who improves from year to year.
If I had to guess, I think the realistic top six options are Ford, Flowers, Henderson, Challingsworth, Zeise, and Tipton, but there are always a player or two that surprises. But the question remains, can any of them be an all-conference caliber player this year?
TIGHT END (1)
Chris Clark, UCLA transfer- Ranked the top tight end prospect in the country two years ago. He took a much discussed circuitous route to get to the Panthers, and he got a lot of bad publicity because of it. But I've talked to him a lot and he is hellbent on proving everybody wrong. That's good news for the Panthers because the 6'6" 250 pounder has everything it takes to be an All-American. He reminds me a lot of Jason Witten in that he has great size, great hands, and can catch and block equally well. He had mononucleosis at UCLA, which cost him his freshman year, but unfortunately despite barely playing las season, it looks like he will have to sit out this season. 5-star
Where the position stands: J.P. Holtz has graduated, Clark won't be on the field until next season, and the staff failed to bring in another tight end this year for depth. That means this year will finally be the year for 6'5" 265 pound Scott Orndoff. I once predicted stardom for him, but Paul Chryst never found a way to use him, and constant injuries didn't help. He lost out to Holtz and then stayed behind him for the next three years. But he has size, hands, and mobility to be a high draft pick. He just needs to have it all come together for him. He caught just 13 passes as a junior, but 8 went for touchdowns and he showed his big play ability by averaging 18.8 yards a catch.
If Orndoff stays healthy and lives up to his potential this position could be a team strength. But it could also go the other way because behind him are 6'2" 270 pound senior Jaymar Parrish, 6'4" 270 pound redshirt junior Devon Edwards, and 6'4" 245 redshirt junior Zach Poker. Parrish was an excellent fullback when Chryst was at Pitt, but he got moved to tight end last year and virtually disappeared. Edwards is not fast or athletic enough to be much more than a blocking tight end. And Poker was moved from defensive end in the offseason.
If the Panthers can get past this season, things will get great in 2017 with Clark getting back on the field. He has such potential that it's always possible that he could only be at Pitt for one season before leaving for the NFL draft. For that reason, two tight ends are needed next season, and ideally at least one of them has to be at an elite level that is capable of starting immediately.
OFFENSIVE LINE (3)
Brandon Ford, Upper St. Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Tough mauler with 6'5" 295 pound size. Decent feet and quickness, but mostly he's the type of lineman that wears defenders down with his strength and toughness over the duration of a game. Could possibly play at left tackle with a little more quickness, but guard or right tackle looks to be an ideal spot for him. 3-star
Justin Morgan, Poly Prep HS (Brooklyn, NY)- Ginormous 6'6" 365 pound tackle that has surprising agility and feet for such a big kid. He needs to shape up his body and gain more functional strength, but he's only been playing football for two years and he's really just scratching the surface of what he could become. In fact, when I saw his junior tape I was wondering what Pitt saw in him. When I saw his senior tape, I knew exactly what they saw. The difference of one more year of experience made a huge difference, and he should only improve with college coaching. Could play either left tackle, because of his size and feet, or right tackle. Previously committed to Rutgers. 3-star
Zack Williams, North Marion HS (Citra, FL)- Highly athletic at 6'5" and 275 pounds. Clearly he needs to add weight when he gets to Pitt, but he is so athletic that he played tight end at North Marion. With his quickness, great feet, and length he has the possibility of being a big time left tackle down the road. 3-star
Where the position stands: Barring injury, this could be a fantastic unit this year. Starting tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Brian O'Neil return. Bisnowaty, a 6'6" 300 pound redshirt senior received all-conference honors last year. O'Neil, a 6'6" 300 pound redshirt sophomore, stepped in when an injury cost Jaryd Jones-Smith the entire season. The converted tight end proved to be a quick study and he is starting to have the look of a possible future first round draft pick. That means the redshirt junior Jones-Smith, all 6'7" 335 pounds of him, will probably be a very talented backup this season.
At guard, 6'5" 300 pound senior Dorian Johnson is also looking like a possible high draft pick. He should be joined in the starting lineup by 6'6" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Alex Booker, who, you guessed it, could be yet another high draft choice.
At center, 6'4" 335 pound redshirt junior Alex Officer slides back over from guard to replace the graduated Artie Rowell, and to be honest it's an upgrade.
The top six linemen are the most talented bunch I've seen at Pitt in many decades. All six could end up going in the first four rounds in the draft. and the best news is that only Bisnowaty and Johnson will be gone after next year.
The three freshmen will probably redshirt and I expect the staff to hit the position hard in the '17 class.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Keyshon Camp, Lake Gibson HS (Lakeland, FL)- To say that landing the former USC commit late will be a major coup is an understatement. At 6'4" and 275 pounds he is quick as a cat, strong, and volatile, or basically every thing you want in a big time tackle. His other offers are all you need to know about the level of talent. Other than USC, his offers included Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Oregon, South Carolina, Louisville, and UCLA. 4-star
Zack Gilbert, South Mecklenburg HS (Charlotte, NC)- At 6'1" and 240 pounds, he's a little shorter than normal for an end, but the same could be said for Juan Price. The son of former Pitt great Sean Gilbert, he has excellent strength, quickness, explosion, and athleticism for such a big physical specimen. As an added benefit he could also add 30 pounds in the future and move inside. Had offers from the likes of Virginia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina. 4-star
Bryce Hargrove, Coventry HS (Akron, OH)- A bit of a sleeper which Pitt lists as 6'4" and 260 pounds. That's much different than the 6'6" that he was listed it in recruiting circles, and it makes more sense as to why Pitt looks at him as a 4-3 tackle. He is very mobile and active, and has the frame to add much more to his 260 pounds. He's just very big naturally. He could always move to offensive line down the line. 3-star
Patrick Jones, Grassfield HS (Chesapeake, VA)- At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is officially listed as much bigger than he was in high school. He is long, quick, and athletic. He has the potential to be very good down the road. He has enrolled early. Other offers included Virginia Tech, Duke, NC State, and Virginia. 3-star
Amir Watts, Phillips Academy (Chicago, IL)- At 6'3" and 270 pounds, he is explosive, quick, and very strong. He was very under recruited this year because he was a virtual unknown coming into the season. He originally committed to Western Michigan but de-committed in the summer. He had a great senior season and then was a major force in the Semper Fidelis practices. He ended up getting offers from the likes of Penn State, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Kentucky. 4-star
Rashad Weaver, Cooper City HS (Copper City, FL)- The former Michigan de-commit has great size at 6'5" and 255 pounds. Not explosive for an end so he could move inside to defensive tackle or even move to tight end or offensive line in the future. Big frame. Chose Pitt over Penn State after de-committing from Michigan. 3-star
Rashad Wheeler, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Athletic enough in high school to play tight end at 6'3" and 280 pounds, but he will be a defensive tackle at Pitt. Strong and mobile. Other offers included Penn State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers, and Boston College. 3-star
Where the position stands: This position was alarmingly weak before Narduzzi arrived, but it will already be a strength this season. At end, Juan Price will be back for a sixth year after being one of the best pass rushers in the ACC last season. The other starting end will be 6'4" 275 pound Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix, who has star potential. Like Clark, he may only be at Pitt for one year if he lives up to his potential this season. In reserve, former starter Rori Blair, 6'4" 245 pound junior, disappointed this past season, so he will have to improve to still see the field. Senior Shakir Soto has great size at 6'3" and 265 pounds, but he will have to battle to see the field also, especially since 6'4" 245 pound redshirt junior Allen Edwards may demand time because of his pass rushing potential. Former linebacker James Folston, a redshirt sophomore at 6'3" 240 pounds, will remain at end, and will also try to get in the mix. Luckily for the Panthers, they can afford to redshirt Gilbert and Jones. Both should be major factors in the future. Weaver will surely redshirt.
At tackle, 6'3" 335 pound senior Tyrique Jarrett returns. The local behemoth started off strong, but seemed to fade. He will have to be more consistent this year. After that, things get interesting. Returnees include 6'3" 280 pound redshirt junior Justin Moody, 6'2" 300 pound redshirt junior Jeremiah Taleni, and 6'3" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Connor Dintino. But all three will really have to battle to beat out Watts, Camp, and even Wheeler. In fact, I will be surprised if Watts and Camp aren't in the top four tackles with Jarrett. Hargrove will probably redshirt.
Chase Pine, Lafayette HS (Williamsburg, VA)- Raw boned at 6'4" and 225 pounds, he is athletic, fast, and explosive. He can play against the pass and the run, but currently he excels the most at rushing the passer. He could end up at defensive end if he keeps growing, and he does have the frame to add a lot of weight still. He does have the ability to play immediately. Other offers included West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and California. 4-star
Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)- He's currently at about 6'1" and 210 pounds, but he's naturally big and strong, and will get bigger. He played defensive end on defense in high school, but he was a star on offense as a running back. Transition to linebacker should not be a problem. He seems best suited for the middle, but he is athletic enough to play outside, too. Other offers included West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Missouri, Arizona, and Maryland. 4-star
Elias Reynolds, Poly Prep HS (Brooklyn, NY)- Strong run stuffer at a solid 6'2" and 225 pounds. Not bad against the pass, but he's a strong tackler against the run. Was a former Rutgers commit, but flipped. UConn, Illinois, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Wake Forest were among his other offers. 3-star
Where the position stands: Three players return that have starting experience, and there are four experienced players returning overall, so this is a unit that clearly needs more talented players.
In the middle, 6'2" 240 pound Matt Galambos returns to start again. Personally, I think 6'2" 240 pound junior Quintin Wirginis is more of a playmaker, but the staff likes Galambos' toughness and smarts. They should combine to get almost all of the snaps, though it's always possible that they move Wirginis outside to get him on the field more.
On the outside, 6'2' 230 pound redshirt senior Mike Caprara shared timed last season with fellow 6'2" 230 pound redshirt senior Bam Bradley, so they are the favorites to start at the two outside spots, though Bradley has had offseason shoulder surgery that could set him back some. Both will get plenty of competition from redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell. Both entered the program last year at 200 pounds so they need to add more size, but both are also fast and athletic. Pine and Pugh are also capable of playing, or even starting, right away, and with such little quality depth, they probably will play.
There is a big difference between the veterans, who aren't all-star caliber, and players like McKee, Brightwell, Pine, and Pugh that are very talented. How well the young group develops will go a long way in determining what the defense does next season.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (6)
Phil Campbell, South Brunswick HS (Monmouth Junction, NJ)- Strongly built at 6'0" and 185 pounds. Very good speed and athleticism. Hard hitter with great range and explosiveness. Also very good with the ball in his hands so he could find himself on offense someday. Former Rutgers commit. 3-star
Therran Coleman, Brashear HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Excellent 6'0" height for a corner. Right now he's a lithe 190 pounds but I expect eventually he will top out at a solid 200 pounds. Very good speed and excellent athleticism. Really works hard on his game, both physically and mentally. Very high ceiling. Other offers include West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and Arizona State. 4-star
Bricen Garner, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- A skinny 6'1" and 175 pounds right now, but he has the frame to get to over 200 pounds in the future if he works hard for it. Not a speed demon, but athletic and instinctive. Makes a lot of plays with his smarts and always seems to be around the ball. 3-star
Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh)- Needs to gain weight, as most freshmen do, but at 6'1" and 175 pounds, he has great length and a nice frame to work with. Very good speed with great feet, hips, and hands. Will come up and hit you despite thin frame. Could play free safety down the road, if necessary. Already knows how to play the position. Will definitely play a lot early, and may even be the favorite to start. Other offers included Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Clemson, Auburn, Stanford, and UCLA. 4-star
George Hill, Hubbard HS (Hubbard, OH)- Already great size at 6'0" and 200 pounds, but needs to get a little stronger. Elite speed and runs a blazing fast 10.75 100m. Concentrated on offense and safety in high school, so he has to learn how to play cornerback. Could move to offense if he doesn't pan out on defense. On offense he relies mostly on his speed. Also can return kicks. Former Ohio State commit, and also had offers from the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska, and West Virginia. 4-star
Henry Miller, Gateway HS (Kissimmee, FL)- Fantastic 6'3" 205 pound size with very good speed and even better athleticism. Has enough physical traits to be a be a shutdown corner, but could also move on to safety or even linebacker with another 20-30 pounds. Other offers included Miami, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Louisville, and North Carolina. 4-star
Where the position stands: This was a position that was badly in need of talent and numbers, and man, did Pitt come through. There's a real chance that Hamlin will start opposite 5'9" 170 pound junior Avonte Maddox. The fast, but small Maddox got some heat last year from fans, but most criticism was unwarranted. He was the only defensive back on the team last year that could cover at all so he was put in spots that he wasn't ready for. Not many NFL players could defend Notre Dame's Will Fuller one on one but Pitt called on Maddox to do it. With more elite physical talent, and experience, in the secondary, Maddox won't be exposed as much. Bottom line, he's a good cornerback, and I think he'll get even better this season.
At strong safety, 5'11" 195 pound sophomore Jordan Whitehead returns as the starter, and he's an All-American candidate. I won't go on anymore about him, because we are all well aware of how good he is. At free safety, 6'0" 190 pound redshirt senior Reggie Mitchell, and 5'11" 190 pound redshirt senior Terrish Webb, both have starting experience, and both return. You have to assume they won't get beat out by a freshman.
Also competing at cornerback are returnees such as 5'10" 190 pound redshirt sophomore Dennis Briggs, 6'0" 185 pound sophomore Malik Henderson, 6'0" 175 pound redshirt freshman Dane Jackson, and 5'10" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Phillipie Motley. But they may have a hard time keeping Coleman, Hill, and Miller at bay.
At safety, 6'2" 195 pound redshirt freshman Jay Stocker has a lot of talent, and could be in the mix. Campbell and Garner will try to see the field as freshmen.