Monday, June 20, 2016

A look at where Pitt football's roster stands and what they still need to add

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.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pitt gets to 8 commits after landing two more out of state prospects

It was a good day for Pat Narduzzi as he added two more prospects today. The first, 6'3 1/2" 275 pound Owen Drexel is a center from Montclair (NJ) HS. Drexel recently attended Pitt's camp this past weekend and did so well that he received an offer on the spot. This was after destroying people at a New Jersey camp earlier in the week. Drexel, whose other offers included Rutgers and Air Force, is extremely strong and tenacious.

Narduzzi then backed that up not long after by nabbing former Ohio State commit Todd Sibley of Archbishop Hoban HS in Akron, OH. The 5'10" 214 pound Sibley is compact and strong, and he has very good speed for a strong back and has run an 11.17 100m. Sibley committed to Ohio State long ago but the Buckeyes were in a numbers crunch and asked him to take a gray shirt. So, bottom line, he's good enough to play at Ohio State, but because they have such an embarrassment of riches they wanted to hold him off until next year when they had more space. Because Sibley was committed for so long to Ohio State he didn't get as many offers as he normally would, but Michigan was one of them.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Panthers add two more

Yesterday, the Pat Narduzzi added more speed to the defense by getting a verbal commitment from 6'1" 205 pound linebacker Cameron Bright of Park Crossing HS in Montgomery, AL. Bright, who ran a blazing 4.53 at Pitt camp this weekend played last season in Ohio and I've been told from some people close to the situation that because he was not known in the south, and he left the midwest, he kind of fell through the cracks in the recruiting world. To Pitt's credit, however, they kept up with him, and now he's a Panther. Despite his great speed, he is also strong. This is a strong developmental prospect that has the potential to be excellent if he can add the required weight.

Narduzzi followed that up by adding WR Darian Street of Liberty HS in Bethlehem, PA. The 6'1" 175 pound Street is the brother of former Panthers WR Devin Street. Street needs to add a lot of size, and he's raw, but he has good speed and athleticism, he runs well after the catch, and he's a good blocker. His other offers include UConn, Army, and Kent State.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pitt gets their QB

Pat Narduzzi was looking to add a quarterback this recruiting cycle, and he managed to get a pretty good one when 6'3" 190 pound Kenny Pickett of Ocean Township HS in Oakhurst, NJ verbally committed to the Panthers today. Pickett originally committed to Temple, but he de-committed after his star began to rise this spring due to his good performances in various camps and combines. 

Pickett is very accurate and has good mobility in the pocket. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but he should be able to make all of the necessary throws once he fills out physically. Besides Temple, Boston College, UConn, and Iowa were his biggest offers, but if he stayed on the market longer he certainly would have gotten more P5 offers.

With Pickett in the fold, the Panthers now have him, Thomas MacVittie, Ben DiNucci, and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider as young, developmental prospects. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Top 10 PA prospects in the 2017 and 2018 classes

The national and college camps are starting to go into high gear, and more kids will show that they belong at a higher level, but for now these are the top prospects going into summer.

2017

1.  D'Andre Swift, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia) RB- Solidly built at 5'10" 208, very fast, great feet and vision, and he even has very good hands. He's the total package and that's why his top five  right now is Penn State, Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, and Florida State.

2.  Lamont Wade, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) CB- At 5'9" and 185 pounds, he doesn't have ideal size for the position, but he's very strong, fast, and quick. He also has the fire necessary for the position. Ohio State and Penn State seem like the most obvious leaders, and Pitt is a bit of a sleeper.

3.  Paris Ford, Steel Valley HS (Munhall) FS- Thin, but has room to grow at 6'1" and 175 pounds. Excellent speed and athleticism. Plays with a lot of emotion. Projects just as well at wide receiver. Has committed to PITTSBURGH.

4.  David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Typical rugged western PA kid that was born to play linebacker. Good speed and athleticism. Has the range to make tackles all over the field. Committed to NOTRE DAME.

5.  Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls Area HS (Beaver Falls) DE- Big, strong, and athletic at 6'4" and 265 pounds. Shed some weight so that he can play defensive end, but he could also be just as good at defensive tackle. Pittsburgh appears to be the leader with Penn State probably second. Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame are some of his other offers.

6.  Mark Webb, Archbishop Wood Catholic HS (Warminster) WR- Good size at 6'2" and 195 pounds with the frame to add more size. Has steadily been on the rise with impressive camp performances. At one point he seemed like he was destined for Penn State, but Georgia may lead now. Alabama and North Carolina are also heavily involved.

7. C.J. Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OG- Short and stocky at 6'3" and 320 pounds, but has good feet for his size. He could also move over to DT if he doesn't pan out on offense. Has committed to PENN STATE.

8.  Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT- At 6'7" and 290 pounds he has great length, and he also moves very well. However he appears to be this year's candidate for overrated PA lineman that national recruiting services do every year. At least for now since Lugg has yet to perform at a high level. He does have great natural attributes, though, so that still may come. Has committed to NOTRE DAME.

9.  Kurt Hinish, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- Probably the biggest surprise prospect of the season because nobody expected him to get the attention that he has. But he's a solid 6'2" and 285 pounds, and he moves well for his size. Has already committed to NOTRE DAME.

10.  Kenny Robinson, University Prep HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Maybe the most under recruited prospect in the state, but that's often the case when you play in Pittsburgh's City League. At 6'3" and 205 pounds he has a strong, athletic frame to go with his good speed and quickness. When it all comes together for him he could be a special player. It's believed that Pittsburgh is the strong leader.


2018

1.  Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB- Started as a sophomore last year and already dominated. At 6'5" and 190 pounds he has the frame, and if that's not enough he's a big time athlete. Could be the national No. 1 QB in the class. Committed to NOTRE DAME.

2.  Micah Parsons, Central Dauphin HS (Harrisburg) DE- Already 6'3" and 235 pounds and he's still going to fill out a lot over the next two years. Big time rush end that could be the top DE in the country for the class. Committed to PENN STATE.

3.  Isheem Young, Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia) FS- Currently just 5'10" and 180 pounds, but he hasn't started his junior season yet so he still has a lot of time to grow. Plays like a high school version of Ed Reed with great range and hard hits. Pitt, Penn State, Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina are some of his very early offers.

4.  Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- Already 6'3" and 190 pounds so he may eventually grow into a linebacker, but wherever he ends up he has a chance to be the next great Quip thanks to his speed, athleticism, size, and toughness. Pitt has to be considered a major player because of the connection between the schools.

5.  Matthew Bauer, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie) LB- Typically tough PA linebacker that flies all over the field and makes great hits. Has the frame to add to his 6'2" and 200 pounds. He seems destined for Penn State.

6.  Zack Kuntz, Camp Hill HS (Camp Hill) TE- Very skinny at 210 pounds and because he's 6'7' that means he has a lot of weight to put on. Despite doing well as a track performer he's not highly explosive and he has to learn to be a tight end since he's more of a wide receiver now. These reasons are why I have him a little lower than others. But 6'7" is still 6'7" so if it all comes together down the road, look out.

7.  Darryle Simmons, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)- Already a very immersive 6'2" and 200 pounds with good speed and athleticism. Early offers include Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, There will be many more.

8. Kevin Doyle, Malvern Prep (Malvern) QB- Currently a solid 6'3" and 190 pounds but he needs to get stronger, including arm strength. But he has a lot to work with including accuracy and very good mobility in the pocket. Has early offers from Pitt, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Kentucky, among others.

9.  Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Harrisburg HS (Harrisburg) WR- Explosive and speedy at 6'0" and 160 pounds. Early offers include Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, and Rutgers.

10. David Green, Central Catholic (Pittsburgh) DE- Already a very solid 6'2" and 250 pounds so he may grow into a defensive tackle. Very athletic and tough. Has the potential to move way up in the rankings. West Virginia and Iowa State are his first two big offers.