QUARTERBACKS: The Panthers have Thomas MacVittie and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider coming in this season and Ben DiNucci will be a redshirt sophomore next year. Schneider will have to sit out this season so he will also be a redshirt sophomore next year. Verbal commit Kenny Pickett will also be added to the mix next year. With four young quarterbacks returning, the numbers won't be a problem. Many fans may want to add yet another quarterback in the 2017 class but that is unlikely. You never want to use too many scholarships on quarterbacks because only one can play at a time which means you have a lot of scholarships being used for players that won't be on the field. On the other hand, you have to make sure you have at least one that can be a quality starter.
The most likely of the group to fit the bill as a potential quality starter is MacVittie, who hasn't even started attending classes at Pitt yet. That's obviously not ideal. Unless he really shows he's ready to see time, which is unlikely for most true freshman quarterbacks, he may redshirt, which means he could be the starter next year without ever taking a snap. Schneider has some skill and appears to be the most likely competition for MacVittie, but since MacVittie has a much higher ceiling it wouldn't be ideal if he can't beat out Schneider. DiNucci is a wildcard but he didn't see the field last year and he probably won't see it this year so his future is currently very much up in the air. And of course Pickett will be a true freshman in '17 so he will likely redshirt.
Bottom line: Not to much too much pressure on him, but it's not an understatement to say that the success of the Pat Narduzzi era pretty much depends on the success of MacVittie. Of course there's always a chance that somebody else comes in out of the blue, and that someone could be either someone on the roster already, or not on the roster currently, but as of now it pretty much comes down to MacVittie. Pickett could also turn into a very good quarterback but that's at least three years down the road. Pitt's program can go far with a good quarterback but an All-American quarterback can take them to a completely different level. That's why finding a quarterback with excellent potential every year is a must, and why finding an elite talent is even better. Whether or not this staff is capable of finding that special quarterback is still left to be determined. It could be MacVittie or it could be Pickett. But it will be a constant struggle to find that special one that the program needs to become a top 20 caliber program.
RUNNING BACKS: This may be, along with the secondary, the deepest and most talented group for the near future. Returning ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison will be back for two more years after this season, and Darrin Hall, who has all-star potential, will have three years. That's good enough right there, but then Rachid Ibrahim will be back for two more years, and spring camp surprise Chawntez Moss will just be a true freshman this year. If that's not enough, highly talented Todd Sibley has verbally committed to Pitt and big time Florida athlete Bruce Judson is still a possibility. Fullback is even strong for the future as excellent blocker George Aston will have two more years after this season.
Bottom line: This unit is an embarrassment of riches for the Panthers and with running backs like this Pitt will be running the ball down the throats of opponents for many years.
WIDE RECEIVERS: There's a lot of candidates in this group, but it still remains to be seen if any of them have all-star potential, and truthfully only incoming freshman Ruben Flowers even looks like a possible No. 1 receiver. The good news is that there are some really good, if untested, possibilities as a No. 2 and slot receiver. Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah will be redshirt seniors in '17, and beyond that will be Tre Tipton, who will be a sophomore this season, and incoming freshman Aaron Mathews and '17 verbal commit Darian Street. There's some potential there, but none have produced much yet, if at all, so their future contributions are still very much up in the air. In the slot, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Quadree Henderson will have two years left after this season, and incoming freshman Maurice Ffrench, like Henderson, has speed to burn. Henderson could be very good and may get his chance to show if he's a special player starting this season. Judson, if he ends up at Pitt, could join Henderson and Ffrench to form a ridiculously fast trio in the running back/wide receiver/return man jack-of-all trades game breaker department.
Bottom line- This unit is in desperate need for an elite talent that will help the No. 2 and slot receivers succeed. Without a big time No. 1 receiver opening things up for the rest of the offense, it will be more difficult for the other receivers, and the running game, to flourish. Flowers may fit the bill, but there needs to be at least one elite receiver added in each of the '17 and '18 classes. One wildcard here may be '17 verbal commit Paris Ford, an elite talent that's been pencilled in at free safety, but has the ability to be a big time receiver too.
TIGHT ENDS: Former UCLA transfer Chris Clark is scheduled to start in '17 after sitting out this season, but behind him there isn't much. And even though Clark will only be a redshirt sophomore next season, if he shows a lot he could leave early for the NFL draft. Even if Clark stays for the '18 season there won't be much to go with him unless the staff adds two more tight ends in the '17 class.
Even with the former No. 1 high school tight end in the country on the team, which Clark was, there appears to be an opportunity for a good prospect to play right away at Pitt. For that reason, one would think that it's possible that the staff can land two good ones. And they have offered many, which is all the proof that you need that Narduzzi knows just how much two tight ends are needed. One option is big, athletic Charles Reeves who would be a huge pickup at the position because the other tight end then could be a developmental tight end with a high ceiling.
Bottom line- The numbers here are very week and if for whatever reason Clark doesn't work out things could get ugly. On the other hand, if Clark lives up to his potential and the staff lands a talent like Reeves then the unit is suddenly a strength. It's a very important time for Tim Salem's unit.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: The unit is pretty loaded at the moment but thanks to former head coach Paul Chryst most of the talent are in the upper classes. Stars Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty will be gone after this season and Jaryd Jones-Smith and Alex Officer will only have one more season after this year. Converted tight end Brian O'Neill will be a redshirt sophomore this season but he has potential to be a high draft choice so there's no guarantee that he will be at Pitt for his full eligibility. If he does stay for two more years after this season that would obviously be very helpful for the future. Alex Bookser is also a redshirt sophomore this year that has excellent potential.
The fact that Jones-Smith, Officer, O'Neill, and Bookser will be available for at least '17 means the line is not a desperate stage, but after those four, things are more up in the air and the next group has to be developed . That group will come from the likes of Aaron Reese and Carson Baker, who will both have one more year after this season, Mike Grimm, who will have two, Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina who will have three, and incoming freshmen Justin Morgan, Zach Williams, and Brandon Ford. Owen Drexel is the first to verbally commit for '17. Reese, Baker, and Grimm are veterans that haven't shown star potential and the rest are completely untested. And while the younger group have very good potential they are not considered elite prospects.
Bottom line: The unit could still be very good or maybe even excellent in '17 because Jones-Smith, O'Neill, Bookser, and Officer are very talented, but then things get a little more suspect. That's not unusual as offensive linemen develop later and you never know when someone like the lesser recruited O'Neill will turn into a star. Offensive line coach John Peterson could do an excellent job with the young players and get the most out of them, but as former elite prospects Johnson, Bisnowaty, and Bookser show it's best if the big talent is already within them. For that reason, the staff needs to add at least an elite lineman in each of the next two classes, and preferably a total of three over the next two classes, but the new staff has yet to show that they can secure that type of lineman.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: This unit was very weak until Narduzzi arrived on the scene but he strengthened it to a large degree very quickly. Even with Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyrique Jarrett moving on after this season there's plenty left. But Rori Blair, Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni, and Allen Edwards will also be gone in two years. Tennessee transfer Dwayne Hendrix has the highest upside of the bunch and if he lives up his potential he could leave after this, his redshirt sophomore season, and at the very least will likely be gone after next season. And if he's not then he didn't live up to his potential.
With eight members of the line likely moving on in the next two years there needs to be young talent to take up the slack, and thankfully for Pitt fans Narduzzi has already started that process. Converted linebacker James Folston has potential, and he also has two more years after this season, but the future mostly rests with incoming freshmen Zack Gilbert, Rashad Weaver, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Rashad Wheeler, Patrick Jones, and Bryce Hargrove. That's an excellent group and next season they should be running the show on the line. But it may not stop there as more elite prospects are interested in playing on the line for Narduzzi, including local star Donovan Jeter who appears to have the Panthers as his leader. In fact, the Panthers are involved in so many good linemen that it's pointless to list them all at this time.
Bottom line: There will be a transition period in two years when the next group will take over but it's such a talent group that it should be seamless. Despite the large group of players leaving over the next few years, this is looking like a very strong unit in the future.
LINEBACKERS: The veterans in this group are solid, but the younger bunch have much more upside. Bam Bradley, Mike Caprara, and Matt Galambos will be gone after this season, and Quintin Wirginis will be gone after next season, but waiting in the wings are Jalen Williams and converted wide receiver Elijah Zeise who are redshirt sophomores this season, and redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell. Zeise is especially intriguing if he stays at the position, and McKee can fly. The incoming freshmen group of Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, and Elias Reynolds are very good, and '17 verbal commitments Cameron Bright and Kyle Nunn are very good athletes that with development could be very good college players. But it doesn't stop there and the staff has targeted many top prospects at the position, including elite Nathan Proctor, local Kenny Robinson, and legacy Connor Heyward.
Bottom line: Zeise (if he stays at the position), Brightwell (if he gets bigger), McKee, Pugh, Pine, Reynolds, Bright, and Nunn are potentially the best group of linebackers the program has had in years, but none of them have done a thing yet so the talent needs to keep being added. Luckily for Pitt fans, Narduzzi and his staff seems to be on the case.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Terrish Webb, Reggie Mitchell, and Reggie Lewis will be gone after this season and Avonte Maddox will be gone after next season. The star of the group, Jordan Whitehead, will be a true sophomore this season and if he leaves for the NFL after his junior year than he will also need to be replaced. But top defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so there's a lot of top talent to take over.
Dennis Briggs and Phillipie Motley will have two more years after this year and Dane Jackson, Malik Henderson, and Jay Stocker will all have three years left after this season. But most of the talent will be in the superb incoming freshmen class of Damar Hamlin, George Hill, Henry Miller, Bricen Garner, Phil Campbell, and Therran Coleman. If that's not enough, the '17 verbal commitments includes Paris Ford already. But, like I said previously, defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so the staff is not done adding big time talent at the position for this class, and beyond.
Bottom line: This group is clearly flat out loaded, as was expected when Narduzzi was hired, and there's no reason to think that it won't continue.