2017’s QB; Upgrade,Downgrade or Draw

(This is the start of a longer series looking at our individual positions that need to be re-filled in 2017)

This time in the calendar year is when we football fans start to go stir crazy.  We are about a month removed from the Spring Game and still have 11 weeks until the beginning of Pitt’s Fall camp. Ugh.  It is still a bit early to see who is going to round out the two-deep for our offense, defense and special teams… but let’s not let that stop us from speculating.

So with an eye toward the fact that things might shuffle around due to transfers (players coming in hopefully), injuries and the peculiarities of the HC, his coordinators and position coaches we’ll jump in with a sharpened pencil and start doing just that – speculating.

I mean that is what we do as fans, yes?  So let’s cogitate on who is going to be the ‘next man up‘ in positions where there were graduations, dismissals and position switches.

What I’ll do first is look at each position, or unit, along the offense as of today and write down who I think will be the starter and why it will be that guy.  Then I’ll assign a ranking of “Upgrade” if we see an upgrade, “Downgrade’ if we see a downgrade or “Draw” if I think we’ll match last year’s player(s) in the position or unit. 

Please remember that this is in comparison to the departed player and not a grade of the new player himself.  Thus a “downgrade” from NT when Aaron Donald departed would have been assigned even if it had have been anyone college and in the NFL almost and they would still have been a loss at that position.

So here goes and let’s start with what is considered the most important position on the team.

Quarterback; Nate Peterman out and rsSR Max Browne in.

We all should understand by now that Max Browne is going to be the starter behind center this new season.  Regardless of whatever coach-speak we hear about a ‘real’ QB competition from now until the Youngstown State game practices start in the last week of August, you can rest assured that Browne was brought in because the staff didn’t feel comfortable with the extant talent at the position.

That isn’t a slam on rsFR Tom MacVitte or rsSO Ben DiNucci either, but the fact is that Narduzzi is replicating what he did in 2015 with Peterman usurping Chad Voytik and what Chryst did when he felt Voytik and Trey Anderson weren’t ready as starters and reached out for senior transfer Tom Savage in 2013.

How does the position fare at this moment? For one thing we are looking at playing yet another in a long string of Pitt QBs who will have held the reins for less than two years.  From 2012 until today we have seen five different QBs as starters – Sunseri, Savage, Voytik, Peterman and now Browne. Absolutely not the best thing for QB recruits to see when you are trying to convince one of them they can come in and take over the show for multiple years.

Our departing signal caller, Nate Peterman, was one of the best QBs Pitt has had and even if some fans don’t want to believe so that it is a fact.   His stats over his two years at Pitt are good. His 2016 season production was excellent, especially his TD to INT ratio of 27 TDs to only seven INTs. That is four TD throws to every INT. 

Taking his  2,855 yards and a 61% completion rate and especially his 8th ranked passing efficiency of 163.4 into account and you see how he was very productive.  But what really jumps out was his yards per completion of 15.4.  Voytik’s was 12.4 and big armed Tom Savage also had only 12.4 ypc in his year at Pitt and we thought that he was the big yardage passer.  Three more yards per completion is a huge leap and a hard thing to match.

Since taking over from Voytik in the 2nd quarter of the 2nd game of 2015 Peterman had a 15-10 record as a starter (60% winning percentage). That might not raise eyebrows outside of the Tri-State area but for recent Pitt history that is about as good as it gets. You have to go back to Bill Stull’s 19-12 record (61%) over the 2008 and 2009 seasons to better it.

OK – those are the statistical supports for my opinion of Peterman, but why do I feel he’s one of our best ever? It was how he performed on the biggest stages that makes me think that.  Against uber-rival Penn State Pat Narduzzi said we were going to run the ball first and foremost and we did that with 56 rushes compared to only 15 attempts passing. 

But out of those 15 attempts Peterman connected on 11 (73% completion rate) with three into the end zone for scores. He threw a TD in every 3.6 completions! To top it off in those other eight completions six went for 1st downs.  So 82% of his passes went for 1st downs or TDs.  Folks, that is the most productive passing have we seen in maybe decades.

And we all know what he did against Clemson in Pitt’s best win against our highest ranked opponent since 2007.  His 308 yards and five TDs says it all. Here is his stats line for passing in that game:

NP Clemson.png

He was directly responsible for 35 of our final 43 points in that game. That is high production under the brighest spotlight.

He was a money QB in his last season with us and that will be hard for Max Brown to replicate.  It isn’t just passing the ball that I think will be tough for Browne to match but Peterman’s decision-making at the line of scrimmage and his running with the ball after tucking it in was superb also.

So what do I expect out of his successor Max Browne this season? First off I’m not a big fan of the recruiting star system to rate high school players. Too many time we see it be either dead wrong (Bostick, Collier, Duhart, Voytik, etc.) or 50/50 at best.  Here is one year in Pitt’s recruiting history where we can only wish dreams had come true:

5 star.png

Here you see that out of six 5* and 4* kids three failed to live up to their ranks hardly at all – Saddler, Burns, and Hale.  Baldwin and Holley played up to their star ranking although I don’t think Lucas Nix played at full 4* level.

Anyway – it’s a crap shoot at best and thus the fact that over four years ago Browne was a 5* recruits doesn’t hold much water for me. So what did he do at USC? Here is his stats sheet:

Browne 2

Notice that 9.4 yards per completion rate. Not so good.

Pitt fans point to the fact that at the beginning of last season Browne played a few tough games before being benched.  Let’s say that was one tough game against Alabama, and walk-over against Utah State, then a bit over one half of play against Stanford.  Since we are comparing the two QBs I don’t see anything there that is harder than what Peterman went up against this season, do you?

I think Browne is what we see on the surface after his four years in college ball – a player who didn’t live up to a lofty ranking and had become an afterthought at his original school.  But that ain’t all bad. Nate Peterman was exactly that (albeit with one less star in his rating) then came to Pitt and did well his first year and there is nothing saying Max Browne can’t waltz in and do the same thing.

I do wonder though and the fact that Browne is about as mobile as a drugged water buffalo doesn’t make me jump for joy – especially since he’ll be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line. That is one area he doesn’t come close to Nate Peterman as Peterman was very good with his legs.

A hidden stat is what a QB does after he decides to tuck and run – that is when he purposefully decides to carry the ball past the LOS (meaning subtracting the number of sacks and sack yardage). Factoring that in Peterman purposfully carried the ball 62 times for 381 yards at a 6.1 ypc average – better than any RB on Pitt’s 2016 roster save Henderson.  We won’t see anything close to that with Max Browne as he’ll be better served throwing the ball away to avoid a sack rather than attempting a run.

Browne well may play good ball for us this season and I believe he’ll be at the least an average and (maybe more than) adequate QB.  I see something around 18 TDs and 11 INTs for him but I do not think he’s not going to match the higher level of our 2016’s QB play or production.





46 thoughts on “2017’s QB; Upgrade,Downgrade or Draw

  1. Nice piece, Reed. Browne is a good QB who is probably being judged a little harshly based on his 16 practices. The QB position reminds me of 2007 where we had no depth. I hope your boy Pickett learns quick or TMac wakes up this summer. How can PITT be so mediocre with PA QBs? It is arguably the best QB state in the country.


    1. Texas has FAR surpassed PA at the quarterback position. Seems like Ohio has also. I think the 2017 unit is far and away better than 2007’s group of passers. That group after Stull still makes me shutter.


  2. I’m looking to one area of concern this year despite the deletion of key talent across the board. That is special teams and in particular the PK position. Field position and getting points (IMO) will be key this year.


    1. Don’t worry about the place kicker, Kessman, what I saw at the Spring Game was a gigantic leg, Even if it was as slender a a 14-year old girl’s.


  3. I’ll be doing these subjects in the near future:

    Offensive Skill Positions – RB
    Offensive Skill Positions – WR
    Offensive Line (& TEs)

    Defensive Line
    Defensive Secondary

    Special Teams

    Also – I need feedback if readers/commenters want the call-in show on Tuesday or Wednesday nights (after the Pens win the Stanley Cup)


  4. Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to a player’s high school stats, but in Browne’s case they are through the roof. He has game experience that most high school players dream of. Those instincts and the gamesmanship don’t go away. I think he will get it back quickly, and become an above average QB for Pitt. My prediction: 2,900 yards, 25 TDs, 10 interceptions. Not bad..


  5. I’m with you Reed in that I feel that Browne’s inability to have the opposition fear his running the ball will allow most teams to either blitz him successfully or drop back 8 off the line and make him force the ball into coverage. Thus I’m expecting Pitt to start the season very poorly with at least 3 losses in the first 4 games. If QB #2 turns out to be DiNucci and he takes over from Browne, i’d be looking for Pitt to post a losing season this year


  6. Reed, one way to prevent going stir crazy is to follow the local hockey team as it progresses through the Stanley Cup playoffs. Too bad about your local team!

    (FWIW … your comeback is comparing both of your local baseball teams to the Pirates.)

    As far as what you wrote above, I agree with everything except for the following:

    (1) while I certainly agree that Peterman was the most effective QB, I cannot emphasize enough the advantage of having the OL he did. 4 guys who played in front of him will play in the NFL — easily the best Pitt OL since the Joe Moore days.

    (2) I disagree somewhat about what you wrote about Nix. Nix started immediately as a freshman and did very well until Todd Graham came to town, and implemented an offense that did not fit neither his or his teammates skill set. The only other Pitt OLs in recent memory to start as freshman were CJ Davis in 05 and Dorian Johnson, and both were due out of necessity. Despite some injuries in his senior year, Nix played 3 years with the Raiders, and I believe started a few games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love how Nix refused to come back late in the season and play for Graham, risking further injury before trying to play in the NFL. I cannot stress enough how unfair it was to those players to fire Wannstedt and replace him with a complete A-hole like Graham. Haywood was no saint either.

      Great job, Smiley and penny-pinching Nordy.


  7. USC has a first round NFL clinch with their QB so Browne was stuck. Peterman took 2 years of work to make himself into an NFL pick. Hopefully Browne can do it in one year.

    Back to PSU schedule, They will postpone playing us every time. PA state legislators need to step in so that Pitt, PSU and Temple play each other annually.


  8. Browne has the pedigree and enough game experience to have a slow heart rate at the LOS. Probably more than you can say about the rest of the QBs on the roster.

    It will be up to Watson to get the most out of him. A good OC would be able to IMO.


    1. A good OC can’t make a non runner into a runner. Perhaps he’ll bring a Tom Brady skill set to Pitt and be able to distribute the ball to various receivers and thus keep the opposition defense off balance. If he can get the ball into Henderson’s hands often his running skill set will make any QB look like an All American from a statistical point of few.


  9. OT: Did you folks see that James Conner signed a 4 year contract with the Steelers? So he’ll get to keep his bonus check plus his first years salary(can’t see the Steelers cutting this year). I also can’t see the Steelers placing him on the practice squad this season. The remaining 3 years pay day will certainly be based on him making the squad.


  10. Good article Reed and love this idea for off season banter.

    There will most likely be a fairly large downgrade at the QB position this coming season. Peterman was ok to good his first year and if PITT can get that or something close to that performance, everything should be alright.

    Browne has the smarts and skill set to move the PITT offense. I look for shorter quicker pass routes allowing Browne to get the ball out of his hand early enough negating his foot speed deficiency. Whats good is that PITT has the wr’s to use this kind of an offense. Hopefully this will open up the defense then throwing deeper to Weah.

    Tuesday or Wednesday’s are both fine by me, after the Pens hockey season. Again the game should be on Wednesday next week ……………ike


  11. I think Peterman had the wraps on him by the coaching staff his first year at PITT. Also, I believe he was directed to get the ball to Boyd as much as possible. The second year he really blossomed without Boyd, and the coaching staff took the wraps off of Nate. I hope they give Max more of a playbook to work with, and let him open it up a bit early to build confidence.


  12. Special K, sometimes you do more with “less” and that was the case with the wide receivers this year without Tyler Boyd.

    I had been saying for a long time that Tyler Boyd was not irreplaceable- everyone was up in arms about that – and that the offensive mindset would change with Chaney leaving and anybody else coming in who didn’t direct the ball to one receiver all the time.

    That was a mandate from Jim Chaney to Nate Peterman… to get the ball to Tyler Boyd as much as possible. And if you look at Boyd’s 2015 stats they really weren’t very good at all as he got the ball and didn’t do anything at all with it even though he had 43% of the receptions.

    Last season our receivers were way more spread out with Weah leading with only 19% of the receptions… Yet NP threw for 555 more yards and 8 more TDs.

    So when Henderson came in this year and with Weah playing better we did a whole lot better with supposedly less talent – at least according to the fans. I think we actually did more with more and that was why I was adamant we wouldn’t miss Boyd at all.


    1. in fairness, Henderson was injured in the very 1st game in ’15 vs YSU and didn’t return until the 10th game. And Weah still had the drops


  13. What we do know about Tyler Boyd leaving is, it worked out for everyone. Boyd went as high or higher than anyone expected in the NFL draft and the true Weah broke out. It can be argued Weah may not have been given the opportunity if TB had stayed.

    What we also know is that PITT had a different offensive coordinator who most probably was going to run a completely different scheme. As he did. We also know that Dontez Ford was hurt very early on leaving PITT thin at WR.

    What we don’t know is how Matt Canada would have used Boyd. It’s hard to compare what Chaney did and how Canada used his players. I will say those games when PITT needed a first down, Boyd would have come in really handy…ike


  14. The good news is there have been and will continue to be great QBs who are not good runners. I don’t recall Dan Marino doing much running when both Last Row and myself were season ticket holders in Section 4 ( I was 4 rows from the top). And Tom Brady was the same in college. So while a QB who can scramble is a good thing, it’s not a necessity for success.


    1. I agree. I like a QB who can read defenses, go through his progressions and release the ball quickly. Hopefully, Max has these qualities.


  15. Lots of loser fans love the back-up QB – their favorite player.
    What does it say about me that I’m all aboard the Pickett train?
    Fourth team…and rocketing up the depth chart.


  16. Baseball 8-17 soon enough 8-22 in ACC and will end up close to 22-29. Embarrassing.

    Lyte hires some bum from EMU. Can’t make this stuff up.


  17. Definitely a downgrade. Nate was the best since Marino who played in a different era. Danny could run if he had to. I hate to judge what I haven’t seen but I really this this will be a down year before Pitt is up to stay at 10 wins. This IMO is the changeover year to Nard’s players who need experience. Great article.


  18. Didn’t Marino play center field for the baseball team at one point? Need decent wheels for that…or is my memory getting worse? Hey Pittman4ever, I have some photos from games that capture the last 8 or 10 rows of section 4. We had the last 8 seats on the right end of section 4 (as you are facing the field) That would be wild if you are in some of these photos.


  19. Great topic, great content, great comments. To (re)state the obvious–our ability to run the ball will determine our team success and QB success this year. Our 2 biggest wins last year (PSU, Clemson) were set up by our ability to run or the threat of it. Think of Henderson gashing PSU especially early on, and Conner’s late stiff arm at Clemson (was it a pass or run?)…We were able to effectively keep PSU off the field and neutralize the great Barkley with our own offense (I hope our defense can improve), especially early. I think the offensive line will be better than many expect, although not as good as last year. We have experience and talent at RB, and All-American wing-back (?), and a WR that will only thrive with a big-armed QB. If the line can gel, and the play-calling stays aggressive and imaginative, I think our offense will be excellent (not historic like 2016).

    Now on defense. Concern. I just trust than PN will do the right things coaching and personnel wise to have an improvement. THis is the year we need to improve


  20. Also, I’d love people’s, thoughts on the greatest Pitt QBs (not necessarily the best stats) since Cavanaugh and Marino. I always don’t emphasize stats, although I don’t ignore them totally. I am going to rank a few, going on by general sense of my comfort with them in the game and our ability to win it, not necessarily their ability to post big stats…for what it’s worth (since Danny)

    NP — as time passes, Pitt history will look back and truly appreciate him more and more
    Rutherford–one of my all time favorites, his commitment stuck a dagger in PSU, and great athlete
    Darnel Dickerson–that 1988 ND fumble going into the endzone hurt
    Van Pelt– other than John Hancock bowl, can’t think of a big win (tied WVU though)
    Pistol Pete Gonzalez—he loved to throw all over the place fearlessly/wrecklessly

    The others off the top of my head in order (Stull, Priestly, Lytle, Turman–the latter 3 benefitting from Walt Harris),, I’m not bringing in Genilla, Congemi (Marino contemporaries), or Sunseri, Ryan…

    Thoughts? Hope I didn’t leave many off the list, as it was done from recollection.


  21. Gee Walt/pittdoc, I wonder who Reed’s answer is? Problem with Nate P is that he couldn’t win the bowl game in two tries.

    Rutherford did have a great senior season though. Van Pelt is right up there as well.


  22. Obviously, the QB position will be downgrade as compared to NP 2016. I suspect that Max Browne’s 2017 stats will be somewhere between T Savage 2014 and Peterman 2015. Does anyone have any insight into how Browne’s College stats compare to Savage and Peterman’s stats before arriving at Pitt.


  23. Browne only started 3 games last year. One was against Alabama. What were NP’s stats after his first 3 games (in 2015) compared to Browne’s? That’s a more accurate comparison.


  24. Knowing HCPN’s penchant for not showing the opposition what he has, I think the reason we saw hardly anything of QO and Tmac in the Spring Game is that PN is keeping their progress under wraps. I’ll be very surprised if both don’t start the season.

    In a very vanilla Spring Game against a pick-up defense, I think Max gave us a representative look of his progress (or lack of same) thus far. Disappointing, to say the least.

    BTW, I see in this morning’s paper that the Tarholes picked up Grad QB Brandon Harris of LSU.


  25. Going to be difficult to evaluate since NP had the best O-coordinator, O- line and best running back in many years. Those guys certainly enhanced NP’s game. So if Max doesn’t get good protection, creative play calling, and stellar power running, he is at somewhat of a disadvantage vs NP. Will his new Tight End be as dependable? Probably more fair to compare him with Savage or NP’s first season as a Panther.

    It will be shocking if this year’s offense is as good as last years.We need to hope that they are good enough and that the defense is good enough to make up the difference.


  26. Glad to see Malik Zaire is not going to UNC – could see him torturing us with his wheels next season. I found an article from April 25 that says that Zaire still hasn’t picked a school to finish at – supposedly he is now picking among Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and yes, Harvard. Yikes.

    He should go to Wisconsin. PC is an excellent QB teacher, and Hornibrook doesn’t appear to have a very strong arm…

    On Max Browne, his lack of wheels is a legit concern. One or two QB runs to pick up 1st downs can chance a game – we have been victimized many times by opposing QBs doing this to us… Agree that the running game is going to have to be strong — I think Moss is going to have a big year. Ollison just doesn’t have the quickness/elusiveness that I’d like to see in our No. 1 RB…

    Go Pitt


  27. Comparison between NP & MB’s first three games:

    NP = 34/51 (66%) for 428 yards; 3 TDs and 3 INTs; 12.6 ypc – QB rating 144.48

    MB = 58/93 (62%) for 507 yards; 2 TDs and 2 INTs, 8.74 ypc – QB rating 111.0

    No comparison in my mind – take Peterman any day of the week.


  28. Concerning the purpose of the article: DOWNGRADE @ QB. Peterman’s year was an “A”. Hopefully Browns will be a “B”.
    Last Row,
    Yes I should be in those pictures!!! We were on the same end of Section 4 (furthest from the goal line) and about 6 seats in from the aisle. IF my memory is correct, you and I were both very vocal and would be yelling and agreeing with each other! Pretty amazing amigo!


  29. Peterman’s first 3 games were good last year not fantastic. Browne’s competition was slightly more difficult as well. Browne’s numbers were average at best, poor at worst.


  30. Brown will be a huge step down. So the running back play must be better. And more importantly, the D must be significantly better. Because we wont be able to outscore opponents this year. I see a 7 win season. The O wont be as exciting but the D should be fun to watch.


  31. Right now, it’s a push for me. Too many question marks on the offensive line to determine what our QB will be called upon to do. Will need to see this closer to the beginning of the year. We have no clue how things will pan out. We may go to a 60-40 run game and be real successful and not need to throw the ball. Max Browne may be asked to be a game manager which is what Peterman was in year 1. Conversely, we may be a 70-30 pass team, especially if we fall behind early. At that point, we will need Browne to lead and pass accurately. At this point in time, I think he will be asked to be more than a game manager, but less than a throw it all over the place guy.

    I am also wondering if we still are pursuing Doyle. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up taking two qb’s because we will lose one to transfer this coming year.

    Also, OSU has lost a few 4 stars to transfer and I am hopeful that we are talking to those kids.


  32. Browne will be a pleasant surprise. I look for him to perform about the way he did against Stanford @ 200 yds/64%. Maybe a little better because he’ll have a much better overall set of weapons (except o line) than he did at USC–Yes, SC had more JuJu, but not the breadth of solid skilled team players Pitt has. I’ve watched Browne since he came to SC.. (My daughter graduated Yesterday!!!! Will Ferrel was really good as commencement speaker). Browne is a character guy. Steely determination. Pitt is lucky to have him. If you dial back to Peterman’s first year, I think Browne is a draw. And this is the “Brass Ring” year for Browne. Win or go home.

    One year will be hard to judge, but I see him as equal to our last two grad transfers in their first (or only) years. Kind of a Cavenaugh type…


  33. At Reed – Stats are not too reliable in the 3 game comparison. I am thinking the USC competition was a bit harder without looking at schedule. Just a hunch. In a team game, statistics don’t mean much to me. The only basketball statistic that tells the truth is….the foul shot! That is the only statistic that doesn’t bring in a particular defender, circumstance of game, teammates prowess or anything other than the player and the objective.


  34. With QBs running pro style offenses, their running success is often based on the “surprise factor” when no one expects it. I think if you look at Pederman’s runs a large number fall into that category. Therefore, speed is not as important as it is with QBs whose offense is built around the run. I think when the year is over, we will find that Browne’s slowness was not really a factor one way or the other.


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