Max Browne, USC transfer- The former No. 1 ranked high school quarterback in the country did not hold on to the starting position last season at USC when he finally got his chance, but that may not be as bad as it sounds. A slow start by the team (1-2 record, which included road games against Alabama and Stanford), compelled the Trojans to make a switch, and when they did they found freshman phenom Sam Darnold. That was the end of Browne in USC. But Browne really hasn't had the chance to be the man over an entire season. It remains to be seen how well he will do, but he's 6'5" 210 pounds, he has a strong arm, and he's a mature leader. With the NFL a possibility, he has a lot of incentive to have a big season.
Kenny Pickett, Queen Township HS (Oakhurst, NJ)- He's listed at 6'2" and 195 pounds, which is on the smallish size, and like most kids entering college football, he will need to add a lot of strength. He has a very good arm, and can make all of the throws, but it's his accuracy that's the most impressive thing about him. In my opinion, accuracy is the most essential physical trait a quarterback can have, and Pickett is exceptional. Also has excellent mobility in the pocket, and can take off and run very well. A former Temple commit that had an excellent senior year and picked up offers from the likes of North Carolina, Iowa, and Boston College. The Tar Heels made an aggressive last ditch effort to flip him, but it failed.
Summary- It's probable that Browne will be the quarterback this season, and he obviously has huge potential. Thomas MacVittie is the heir apparent, but Pickett is someone that could really be in the mix in future years. All in all, this position, potentially, is the strongest it has looked in many years.
RUNNING BACK (2)
A.J. Davis, Lakeland HS (Lakeland, FL)- The high school teammate of incoming cornerback Damarri Mathis, Davis is rated as one of the best running backs in the country. He can add a little more size to his 6'0" 205 pound frame, but he's not afraid to run between the tackles. His specialty, however, is running in space because of his excellent speed, quickness, and vision. Has very good hands, and could be used like Quadree Henderson in the slot, on jet sweeps, and on returns, or he be used as a traditional running back. Either way, he has the talent to make an instant impact. Other offers included Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Georgia, Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, West Virginia.
Todd Sibley, Archbishop Hoban HS (Akron, OH)- The former Ohio State commit is a workhorse that uses his strong 5'9" 215 pound frame to run between the tackles with aggression. He also has much more speed than he's often given credit for, and has been running an 11 second 100m, which is very good speed, especially for a bullish back. He committed to Ohio State as a sophomore, so he didn't amass many offers, but Michigan and Jim Harbaugh also offered him as a sophomore so that shows you what kind of talent he is. He also has good hands.
Summary- Both of these players are capable of being big time backs for the Panthers, and despite good returning depth at the position, I wouldn't be surprised if they both had an impact as soon as this season.
WIDE RECEIVER (3)
Dontavius Butler, American Heritage HS (Plantation, FL)- Solidly built 6'0" 205 pounder with good speed and athleticism. He also is a good route runner with good hands, and is already an excellent blocker. Being on a loaded team that runs a lot, he has been lost in recruiting a little, but he has all of the physical traits that could possibly make him a starter at the college level down the road.
Darian Street, Liberty HS (Bethlehem, PA)- The brother of former Pitt star receiver Devin Street (and he's not a fan of constantly being reminded of it), the truth is, he is very similar to his big brother. He needs to add more weight to his 6'1" 180 pound frame, but he has very good speed, runs well after the catch, and has very good hands.
Michael Smith, Vero Beach HS (Vero Beach, FL)- Came out of nowhere to have a dominating senior season. At 6'1" and 205 pounds he has the size, but he also has topnotch speed and hands. He's still a bit raw because he started playing football later than most, but that may be a good thing because he's not even close to reaching his full potential. He could develop into the big time No. 1 wide receiver that the Panthers need. Washington State, Indiana, and Georgia Tech were some of the schools that discovered him late, and Notre Dame offered him, and pursued him very hard before he committed.
Summary- It remains to be seen if Narduzzi has landed that elite wide receiver prospect yet, though Ruben Flowers last year and Smith this year have the potential to be that. And Butler and Street add to the already good, deep Panthers receiving corps.
TIGHT END (3)
Grant Carrigan, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia, PA)- Giant 6'7" 260 pounder with pretty good speed and athleticism. He hasn't played as an inline tight end much, and Pine-Richland doesn't play a tight end at all, but he did play in the slot for most of his high school career, and he showed an excellent ability to get down the field and make the catch. Initially he may be used more as a receiving tight end, but once he gets stronger, and learns proper blocking techniques, he could be an excellent all around college tight end.
Charles Reeves, Steubenville HS (Steubenville, OH)- A big time talent that's already 6'5" and 280 pounds. Amazingly, despite that size, he is an excellent deep receiving threat due to his speed and athletic ability. He also has the size and desire to be a big time blocker down the road. Should be a major contributor immediately, and has star potential. Other offers have come from the likes of Penn State, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan State, and Nebraska.
Tyler Sear, Neshannock HS (New Castle, PA)- Solidly built, tough 6'4" 245 pounder that could see time as a freshman as a blocker, but he also has the sneaky speed and athleticism to be an all around tight end in the future. LSU tried to flip him late, but he stayed with the Panthers.
Summary- It wasn't long ago that the Panthers didn't have an heir apparent to the now departed Scott Ordnoff. Now they not only have former No. 1 tight end prospect Chris Clark coming in, but they added these three very good players. The tight end position needed an influx of talent and the staff responded by recruiting the position better than any other in this recruiting cycle.
OFFENSIVE LINE (4)
Jerry Drake, Palm Beach Gardens HS (Palm Beach, FL)- Son of the former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman with the same name, he's already a proportional 6'5" and 315 pounds. He has great feet, and finishes off blocks. Has all the makings of a future left tackle. His very impressive offer list includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU, West Virginia, UCLA, Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
Owen Drexel, Montclair HS (Montclair, NJ)- Wasn't highly recruited because he was considered on the smaller side, but he worked hard to get bigger and he's now checking in at 6'3" and 270 pounds. Very smart, good technician, and plays with a nasty disposition. Don't be fooled by his lower ranking. This is the exact type of player that turns into a good player after being overlooked. He just needs to keep getting bigger.
Gabe Houy, Upper St. Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Teammate of Brandon Ford, who committed to Pitt last year. Great length at 6'6" but is very lean and needs to add a lot of weight to his current 265 pounds. Because of his wingspan and good feet he has a chance to make an impact at the college level. Offers included Louisville, Illinois, Maryland, and Wake Forest.
Carter Warren, Passaic County Tech HS (Wayne, NJ)- Massive 6'5" 325 pounder that looks like a future starting right tackle. Has a lot of natural strength, and he'll only get stronger once he gets to college. Offers include Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech.
Summary- Like the tight end unit, the offensive line unit needed an influx of talent, and also like with the tight ends, the staff succeeded to a great degree. Drake looks like a future left tackle and Warren looks like a future right tackle, and I wouldn't be surprised to see both starting in a few years. Houy and Drexel are good development prospects that maybe a little further away, but should also be in the mix in a few years.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
Deslin Alexandre, Deerfield Beach HS (Deerfield, FL)- Former NC State commit that already has a great wingspan at 6'4" and 250 pounds. He has a ton of potential because of his athleticism and toughness. Very good developmental prospect who got a head start by entering Pitt early.
Kam Carter, East Mississippi CC (Scooba, MS)- Originally from Maryland, the 6'4" 300 pound defensive tackle originally played for one season at Penn State, where he redshirted. Originally recruited as a highly coveted 260 pound defensive end, Carter was thrown out of Penn State because of an unreported violation. He ended up at East Mississippi, also known as "Last Chance U.", a school where troubled kids attempt to get their life back on track. Thanks to his (very fit) 6'5" 310 pound size, strength, and speed, he got back on the radar of many top programs, and schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Louisville, and Virginia Tech offered him. He could play at nose tackle, or the more athletic defensive tackle spot for the Panthers. He has three years of eligibility left, and he will likely be a factor immediately.
Jaylen Twyman, H.D. Woodson HS (Washington, DC)- Bull strong, tough as hell, quick 6'2" 315 pound nose tackles are highly coveted, and that's what Twyman is. An emotional leader on the field, he's had a difficult upbringing with violence and crime around him, and he's had two close family members murdered. But he's a strong willed, fun loving kid that's looking for a way out through football. I would not be surprised if he was starting very early in his career. Other offers include Michigan State, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Louisville.
Carson Van Lynn, Kilbourne HS (Worthington, OH)- Many scouting services, coaches, and even fans project him to the offensive line, but Narduzzi sees a 6'5" 240 pounder with arms for days, and good speed and strength, and dreams of him as a defensive end. That's where he will start his college career, and if he ends up being a success there, it would be huge for the defense to have such a physical specimen on the edge. Other offers included West Virginia, Kentucky, Boston College, Wake Forest, Purdue, Rutgers, and Iowa State.
Summary- The tackles, Carter and Twyman, could be starters early in their careers, and Carter will probably see the field immediately. The failure by the staff to once again add an elite end continues, though Alexandre and Van Lynn have a lot of potential. You could do a lot worse than 6'5" and 6'6" ends that can run.
Cam Bright, Park Crossing HS (Montgomery, AL)- A sleeper when the Panthers were recruiting him, mainly because his family moved around a lot in high school, and coaches kept missing him. Had a phenomenal senior year, and was a destructive force on a weekly basis. At 6'0" and 210 pounds he has wide receiver speed and is a violent player. Has star potential.
Kyle Nunn, Findlay HS (Findlay, OH)- A safety and wide receiver in high school, which shows how athletic he is. At 6'3" and 200 pounds he has the strong, athletic frame to easily add another 30-40 pounds, and Narduzzi thinks there's a chance he could grow into an end. A ballhawk and just a good, solid football player. The offers included West Virginia and Northwestern.
Albert Tucker, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)- Played for a powerhouse high school program in Florida, and he got overlooked somewhat because of it. He is a big time athlete with 4.5 speed and a 39" vertical jump. At 6'1" and 210 pounds he played cornerback, but he will play linebacker with the Panthers. Other offers included Colorado and Kentucky.
Summary- The staff did not bring in any big name linebackers in this class, but all three have high ceilings due to their excellent physical traits- mainly speed. None of the three may factor in next year, or maybe the next two years, but once they fill out, and get experience, any of the three has the potential to be a very good college player.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (3)
Paris Ford, Steel Valley HS (Munhall, PA)- One of the best safeties, and athletes, in the country. At 6'0" and 175 pounds he will need to add some weight, but his speed and athleticism are off the charts. Amazing range and hits hard. Very excitable, confident kid and a natural born leader. Can also be a huge factor on offense and returning punts and kicks. Should make a major impact in his first year. Other offers include Penn State, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Tennessee, UCLA, and North Carolina.
Damarri Mathis, Lakeland HS (Lakeland, FL)- The former South Carolina commit is a very lean and muscular 5'11" and 185 pounds, but his very long arms makes him play like he's much taller. Excellent speed and athleticism. Will need a redshirt to get more seasoning, but if it comes together for him, he could be a big time player because of his physical gifts. Other than South Carolina, other offers included Louisville, Mississippi, and Minnesota.
Jason Pinnock, Windsor HS (Windsor, CT)- Very similar to Mathis, but a little bigger at 6'0" and 190 pounds. Like Mathis he needs to get stronger, and fill out more, but also like Mathis he has long arms and big time athletic ability. Was originally a Boston College commit.
Summary- Ford is a potential superstar, and I'm sure that anybody reading this already knows that. Mathis and Pinnock are the types of players that when they are redshirt sophomores could translate their big time athletic gifts into being highly productive players.
Kirk Christodoulou, Australia- The best punters in not only college, but also in the NFL, are coming from Australia, which amazingly has become a hotbed for the position. The 6'1" 210 Christodoulou won the staff over and the Panthers are hoping that he continues the Aussie tradition. He'll take over for Ryan Winslow after he graduates next year, and it's possible that he even competes with him next season.
Alex Kessman, Clarkston HS (Clarkston, MI)- The 6'3" 180 pound placekicker was already in the program this year, but that was as a gray shirt. Now, however, he's been given a full scholarship. He has a cannon for a leg and kicked a 56-yarder as a senior. He also booms kickoffs into the end zone. He is expected to be the placekicker next season.
Summary- Chris Blewitt is graduating as a four year starter, and Ryan Winslow will do the same after next season, so the Panthers needed to find their replacements. It's hard to say how well these two will do until they are in game conditions, but the raw talent is apparent.
I'm sure that many Pitt fans will look at the "stars" or other ratings that recruiting websites use, and see that the Panthers class is probably ranked somewhere in the 30s. What does this mean? Nothing really. There have been programs that have top 10 recruiting classes on a yearly basis, then end up with a losing record, and there have been programs that finish the season in the top 10 after having recruiting classes that are annually ranked in the 50s or even 60s.
Also, a 4 or 5 star prospect means nothing if he's a bad fit. Conversely, a 3 star recruit that's a perfect fit for a system will probably be very good for that program. A good example of that is Cam Bright, who is called a 3 star prospect by Rivals, and doesn't get a lot of offers, because most consider him a tweener- specifically between linebacker and safety. For the Panthers, however, their star linebacker position is exactly that. Therefore, for the Panthers, this 3 star prospect is more like a 4 star prospect.
It also doesn't matter if you don't fill needs. Former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt had a few classes in the 20s, but those classes would not be good in certain positions. Another former Pitt head coach, Paul Chryst, did an excellent job with the offensive line, and found some hidden games like James Conner and Jester Weah, but he could't recruit a quarterback or defensive players to save his life.
With that in mind, I will now explain why I think this class is very good. Let me start by saying that, to me, recruiting classes are divided into two groups- players that can help immediately, and those that can help a few years down the road. Unfortunately when people look at this class, for instance, they will see how many 4 or 5 star prospects there are, and think that the class is not made up of impact players. Not only is that not right, but it's also shortsighted since (and this is the most important part of this whole article) most players do not make an impact in college until they are in the program for 3 or 4 years. So for most players, it doesn't matter where they are in their first year, it's where they are when they are, say, redshirt juniors. In programs with good depth, most players won't become major contributors until they are redshirt juniors anyway because they have to wait their turn.
For this particular class, I have targeted 15 players that I think project as impact players no later than than their redshirt sophomore year, at the latest. History shows that not all of these 15 will pan out in that time frame, or maybe ever, but they do have a real possibility to do so. The three most obvious impact players in the next two seasons are Max Browne, because he's a fifth year senior already, and the two kickers, Alex Kessman and Kirk Christodoulou, because they are the two scholarship kickers on the roster.
Of the other 12, starting with offense first, running backs Todd Sibley and AJ Davis, wide receiver Michael Smith, tight end Charles Reeves, and offensive tackles Jerry Drake and Carter Warren, are projected to make an impact as underclassmen, and maybe even a major impact.
There are also six on defense that project as making an impact as underclassmen, and those players are defensive tackles Kam Carter and Jaylen Twyman, linebacker Cam Bright, cornerbacks Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock, and safety Paris Ford.
The other 11 players in the class may take a few years, but of course that is hardly a sure thing. This past season, Chawntez Moss is a perfect example of a player that made an impact sooner than expected. It's not necessarily an indictment against their ability if they do take a few years. In some cases it's because they aren't physically big and strong enough yet, and in other cases it's because their position takes more time to learn. The latter would include Kenny Pickett, who has the talent to be a good quarterback some day, but like most quarterbacks he will need to learn for three years or so. Others, like offensive lineman Gabe Houy and Owen Drexel, need a few years to get bigger and stronger, as does wide receiver Darian Street. Another nice receiver, Dontavius Butler, is physically ready, and could progress sooner than expected, and the same can be said of huge tight ends Tyler Sear and Grant Carrigan, especially as blockers in the running game.
On defense, ends Dreslin Alexandre and Carson Van Lynn have huge frames, and tantalizing potential, but they need to fill out their bodies with more muscle. Linebacker Albert Tucker is a big time athlete, but he also needs to fill out, and fellow linebacker Kyle Nunn needs to add probably another 30-40 pounds over his career, but once he does, he also has a ton of potential.
Looking at the group as a whole, every single unit got an influx of talent and numbers, including the kicking game. Going down the list, starting with offense, the program added a promising quarterback, two big time running backs, three athletic receivers (including possibly an elite one), three tight ends (including a definite elite one), three giant tackles (including two that were highly coveted), and a future center. On defense, there are two very long, athletic ends, three really fast, athletic linebackers, and three more really fast, athletic defensive backs, including a potential superstar free safety that should help the secondary immediately.
Not all of these players are going to live up to their potential, of course. That's just a fact. But I can't remember a Pitt class where every single player has very good potential. Even the supposed lowest rated prospect on the list- Drexel- is strong, smart, and mean, and could easily start at center in the future.
There's speed throughout the class, not only at the skill positions and the secondary, but also at tight end, defensive end, and at linebacker. And then there's the insane size. Look at some of the heights- 6'5", 6'7", 6'5", 6'5", 6'6", 6'6", 6'6", 6'5", 6'5", and 6'6".
The staff has also shown that they have a remedy for those Pittsburgh area kids that want to leave the area. Ford was the best prospect in the region, so at least the staff landed the best one, and overall they added 5 from the state. But even more impressively, they added 8 from Florida, 4 from Ohio, 3 from New Jersey, and one each from Washington, DC, Alabama, and Connecticut. And to show that the program will get players any way they can, they also got a transfer, a junior college player, and a player from Australia.
Bottom line, I really like this class. I think they're big, I think they're fast, and I think they're good. So don't worry about stars, or ratings, or any of those things. Pat Narduzzi continues to add talent, and depth, and very soon that will add up to big things for the program.