Quarterbacks: Nathan Peterman was a good, but not an excellent quarterback. He simply couldn't win a game when called upon and that's something every football team needs. The staff wants, and expects, redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie to be the starter next year. MacVittie only played quarterback for one season in high school, but he was excellent against one of the most brutal schedules in the country. Physically, he's 6'5" and the staff wants to add muscle on him to get him to 230 pounds for the season. He's also been timed in the 4.5s. Clearly, the raw physical skills are there. But it takes more than that to be a special quarterback. Intangibles and all of the little nuances that makes an excellent quarterback are something you can't tell until the time arrives. We'll find out soon enough if MacVittie shows those traits, but it should be noted that offense coordinator Matt Canada is very high on him. He also is a perfect fit for Canada's offense because of his mobility.
My guess on the second string quarterback will be Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider. The 6'3" 225 pound redshirt sophomore started as a true freshman for a terrible UCF team. He could be solid as a backup, but doesn't have the high upside to be an ideal starter. He's also more of a pocket passer, which is not the perfect fit in Canada's system.
Ben DiNucci has not progressed much and doesn't appear to a factor at the position. Incoming freshman Kenny Pickett has good potential due to his good mobility, brains, and accurate arm. His accuracy is particularly outstanding, and that's maybe the best trait a quarterback can have. For that reason, he has a chance to be a good player in the future.
The big quarterback target in the 2018 class is Kevin Doyle. He has the potential to be a truly special quarterback, and his dad told me recently that he loves Canada and his system, as well as Pat Narduzzi. Landing him would be huge. Pitt won't reach a high level without a top quarterback, and between MacVittie, Pickett, and Doyle, the chances are that one of the three will be special.
Beyond 2017: Pickett could end up being a good player, and if the Panthers land Doyle he has an even better chance of being excellent, but if either of them turn into a star it will still be a few years down the road. On the other hand, if MacVittie is a success next year the position will be set for two or three years.
Running Backs: James Conner has one more year of eligibility left, but it's so unlikely that he'll be back that I'm not even going to consider him in the mix. That leaves 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Qadree Ollison, 5'11" 225 pound junior Darrin Hall, 5'11" 210 pound sophomore Chawntez Moss, and 5'10" 215 pound true freshman Todd Sibley.
Hall was expected to be a bigger part of the running game this season, but he did not grab the bull by the horns. He is very talented, but he needs to get it together or he will continue to get passed over. I hate to speculate like this, but one has to wonder if he will look elsewhere where he could get a fresh start. Especially since Moss and Sibley will be hard to beat out.
Moss was a revelation as a true freshman. When he signed he was written down as a redshirt by everybody. Instead he impressed the coaches enough to be second team for most of the season. He is quick and he runs hard on every play. With those two traits he could pile up a lot of yards in his college career. Sibley runs hard, has very good speed, and has the perfect build for a running back (short, athletic, and strong). Youth matters little when it comes to the running back position, since it's pretty much raw skill that gets it done there, and Moss and Sibley could be a dynamic duo if they both live up to their expectations next year (and are the top duo, of course).
Ollison is strong, runs hard, and has good straight line speed, but quickness at the position in this system is what is needed, and his style really doesn't fit. He's more of a fullback in this system, except that he can't block. But Ollison has been counted out before, and even though I don't see him as a major contributor next year I would never count him out. He's been counted out before and people were wrong.
At fullback, 6'0" 245 pound redshirt junior George Aston has already become a legend. He can block, he can run, he can catch. Generally, he can be awesome.
Beyond 2017: With Moss and Sibley around for a long time, and Aston around for two more years, this position should continue to be a strength for a long time. And any team that can run a lot will have a much better chance of winning games so this bodes well for the future.
Wide Receivers: Coming into this season, this group was considered a weakness, or at least a question mark. They didn't do enough to change the group into a strength, but at least there are signs of life. Junior Quadree Henderson is only 5'8" which hinders him as a down the field receiver, but he's turned into a big threat as a runner on the jet sweep, and is a possible All-American as a kick returner. Kudos to Canada for playing to Henderson's strengths.
Many scoffed at the future of 6'3" 210 pound redshirt senior Jester Weah, but his hands and route running improved, and with his blazing speed he's become a plus player. This season he's leading the team in receiving yards and is on pace for over 800 yards.
Two locals- Tre Tipton and Aaron Mathews- got on the field this year and have bright futures. The 6'0" 180 pound Tipton is a redshirt sophomore that can do a little bit of everything and is just scratching the surface of what he can become. The same goes for true sophomore Mathews, who at 6'4" and 190 pounds has the potential to develop into a top big target. But it's still unknown just how high their ceilings are.
True freshman Maurice French was another player that many assumed would redshirt, but he got on the field and showed some promise in his few snaps. At 5'11" and 185 pounds he has very good speed and elusiveness.
After that, there's a lot of question marks. Much was expected from incoming freshman Ruben Flowers, who at 6'3" 190 pounds has the size, the speed, and athleticism to develop, but he redshirted out of the gate so he's still an unknown. Redshirt junior Rafael Araujo-Lopes saw some action, and had some moments, but he's another smaller receiver at 5'9" and 185 pounds. He does have quickness, though.
Incoming freshmen Montavious Butler and Darian Street are at the same level as the receivers that played this season so they'll probably redshirt.
Beyond 2017: The unit should continue to get better because of added experience, but it still remains to be seen if a star will emerge. The coaching staff has to do a better job of adding, or developing, a big time No. 1 wide receiver.
Tight ends: Scott Orndoff had a fine year, but he's gone, as is Jaymar Parrish. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Devon Edwards and Zach Poker not coming back for a fifth year. For that reason, the staff needed to add tight ends, and they did by adding UCLA transfer Chris Clark in the last class, and adding three more freshmen in this class.
The 6'6" 255 pound Clark had a leg injury that kept him from practicing during this season, though because he transferred he couldn't play anyway. The redshirt sophomore was the former No. 1 tight end in the country so, needless to say, if he lives up to his potential, he could be a big time player. MacVittie loved to throw to the tight end in high school, and with the receivers not a strength yet, Clark could have a big season if it all comes together for him both physically and mentally.
His backup should be true freshman Charles Reeves, a 6'5" 265 beast with great receiving skills. His blocking is something he will need to work on, but he's so good as a receiver that that's what he'll be doing for most of his career at Pitt. I wouldn't be surprised to see both Clark and Reeves on the field together a lot.
Two local freshmen are coming in, and they will be used more for their blocking, at least initially. Both are huge already. Grant Carrigan is 6'7" and 250 pounds, and Tyler Sear is 6'5" and 255 pounds. If either can show right away that they can block they could see time as a freshman doing the dirty business.
I know many people expect either Carrigan or Sear to move to a different position in the future, and maybe that will happen, but they are needed at tight end now.
Beyond 2017: Clark is eligible for the NFL draft after next season, and he could leave even if he doesn't have a big year. He could decide that on raw talent alone he could get drafted. If he leaves, the group should still be strong with Reeves and the big locals. The staff is also looking at other big time tight ends in the 2018 class. If Clark decides to stay, then the unit will be even stronger. Either way, this should be a good group for many years.
Offensive Linemen: Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson are gone, but the cupboard is far from bare. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Brian O'Neill could go to the NFL after this season, but even though he will eventually be a high round draft choice, that seems unlikely. But I also find it very unlikely that he will be back for his senior year, though it's always possible that I am wrong about his draft stock (doubtful).
Redshirt senior Jaryd Jones-Smith will finally get his chance in the limelight replacing Bisnowaty next year. At 6'7" and 330 pounds, there may not be much of a drop off, especially since Jones-Smith has something to prove. Redshirt senior center Alex Officer is huge at 6'4" and 335 pounds, and he returns as a starter. It's always possible that he moves to guard if a quality center is found. Otherwise, he'll stay at center. At guard, 6'6" 315 pound redshirt junior Alex Booker is back as a starter and I expect him to take his game up to an all-star level.
Redshirt senior tackle Aaron Reese, redshirt senior guard Carson Baker, and redshirt junior center Connor Dintino were all listed as backups this season, so any could move up to being a starter. Many others will try to move into position for playing time including redshirt juniors Mike Grimm, redshirt sophomores Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina, and redshirt freshmen Brandon Ford, Bryce Hargrove, and Justin Morgan. Your guess is as good as mine as far as this bunch goes. True freshmen center Owen Drexel, and offensive tackles Carter Warren and Gabe Houy, all have promise, but few true freshmen offensive linemen can see the field. Major tackle target Thayer Mumford is someone that, if the Panthers land him, could possibly be good enough to see time as a true freshman as a backup.
Beyond 2017: The unit will try to make a smooth transition from the veterans of this year and the younger group that includes Warren, Ford, Houy, Drexel, Morgan, and possibly Mumford. It's anybody's guess what will happen here because offensive linemen are the most difficult to predict, but as far as potential there is at least a lot of it.