Here is a well-researched article by Brian Ferrari, aka “notrocketscience”, and it should give some good food for thought as we head into spring ball in the next couple of weeks.
We have much discussion about Pitt recruiting on the POV. This year’s class is considered too low in rank by almost everyone. Some believe all of Narduzzi’s classes were ranked too low. I am not one of those people. I feel all of the classes, with the exception of this year, were on par for what Pitt can accomplish with their football budget. I also feel Pitt football can reach a level of success we all expect with those classes. For me, that is eight to nine wins per year with occasional ten win seasons. Top 25 rankings should happen.
Let’s forget where Pitt’s classes have been ranked by Rivals. After all, it has zero impact on how the players are ultimately developed by the coaches. An eighteen year old kid changes a lot in four to five years. Instead, let’s look at the players on the current roster that contributed last year and are poised to contribute more this coming year. How good are they? Has Pitt developed them? Do we see potential NFL draft picks?
In my opinion, there is better talent on this team than there has been in some time. Narduzzi has been holding players back that clearly have the potential to be better than some of the upper class leftovers. In doing so, he is building depth at each position and slowly developing the players. The defense has fallen into place, the offense is behind because of the attrition of upper class OL /TEs as well as lack of WR/QB development under Sean Watson’s 1930s offense. The norm under Narduzzi will be that most kids do not start until their RS SO, JR, RS JR year after they have developed. They slowly get more playing time as they get older. It is an old school mentality. Obviously there will be exceptions for super talented players. It is not a negative reflection of recruiting if the team does not have FR or RS FR starting. It is actually the opposite, it shows the team has built depth.
Some will argue Narduzzi’s best players so far were Chryst recruits. Well, daah! Some stayed long after Chryst left, of course they ended up being starters eventually and good players. They were a big part of the roster, but now the Narduzzi recruits are coming into their own.
Because of the above mentioned attrition, the current roster has only nine SR and RS SRs that were recruits. The rest are transfers and walk-ons. Compare that to the eighteen JR and RS JRs. Again, most of that loss was on offense.
So out of the small senior class (not all listed below), we have four that have excelled and three that are big contributors.
Maurice Ffrench 3 star – Yes QH was an incredible returner but Ffrench is a better all-around offensive weapon. Look as his improvement over the years and that is under Watson’s offense for God’s sake.
Damar Hamlin 4 star – Unlike Whitehead’s descending stats as he got older, Hamlin’s are on the rise in a great way. If he stays healthy, he ends his career better than Whitehead.
Amir Watts 4 star – Pitt’s DL has slowly become better with the influx of Narduzzi recruits. It is hard to measure them all by stats because they rotate so much but all have become better.
Dane Jackson 2 star – Three year starter. Pitt’s best cover guy in those three years. He was better than Maddox when Maddox played opposite him.
Others: Brightwell, Stocker
Out of all the recruiting classes, the junior classes has impacted the defense the most. I think this is where the development of players is starting to shine through. This year will be even bigger because the younger LBs will now be starters and will be better than Zeise and Idowu. On offense, the impact will be on OL and RB. Remember, these kids have two years to play still. The players I listed as ‘Others’ still could become excellent players at Pitt. Like Pickett, Brandon Ford, Phil Campbell and Mathis.
Jason Pinnock 3 star: Played good for his first year starting. Had 2 INTs. He will end up a three year starter at Pitt.
AJ Davis 4 star: I know, I know, he hasn’t been a regular yet but he will be the feature back this year and next. No real stats to post here. Has been limited to 32 carries but averages 4.2 yards per carry. Watch for him and Sibley to take off this year. Again, he waited his turn behind two one thousand yard rushers. That doesn’t take away from his talent. It happens at most programs. (Editor’s Note, I included AJ Davis’ stats even tough the author did not. I’ve also added Darrin Hall’s stats for comparison. At this stage, Hall was the better back, but not by much. Notice the breakout in year three.)
Others: Pickett, Mathis
Keyshon Camp 3 star: Pitt’s best DT. He was sorely missed after his injury. Shared time as Pitt rotates the DLs. I think it is safe to assume he would have bettered his FR stats if he stayed healthy.
Rashard Weaver 2 star: Pitt’s best DL and sure NFL draft pick. Two star recruit? Really?
Editor’s Note: for comparison purposes I’ve added Jabaal Sheard’s college stats below. He played for Dave Wannstadt, and was the 37th overall pick in 2007. It could be argued that Weaver had a better sophomore campaign against stiffer competition.
Patrick Jones 2 star: 7 TFLs and 3.5 sacks as a backup. He will be the other excellent DE opposite Weaver that Hendrix never became.
Rashad Wheeler 3 star
Elias Reynolds 2 star
Chase Pine 3 star
Others: Hargrove 3 star, Morrissey walk on, Mack transfer, Coleman, Campbell, Garner, Kessman, Brandon Ford
The sophomores are hard to evaluate. It is just too early to tell because most have only played a little. If they move into starting roles on offense as the juniors did on defense last year, then Pitt will be in good shape. This group will have the biggest impact on the OL in years to come. I can see one of them starting this year at OT and/or OG. WR will be very interesting this year being that three guys below got their feet wet this past year and they obviously have talent.
Shockey Jacques-Louis, V’Lique Carter
Paris Ford, Sibley, Cam Bright, Jaylen Twyman, Carrigan, Van Lynn, Christodoulou, Bulter-Jenkins, Deslin Alexandre and six OL.
So what are your thoughts? So far, has Narduzzi and staff developed the 2 and 3 star recruits to a point where they are quality ACC players? Did Pitt find diamonds in the rough with 2 star players Jackson, Jones, Weaver and Reynolds or did Pitt do a great job of developing them? Maybe a little of both. Maybe the star ranking are often BS.
One thing that stands out to me is that we are just getting into Narduzzi’s recruits becoming the core of the team. Notice the slow increase in games played for most. That is how you develop players and when their time comes they are ready to step in. The junior list, with two years to play is impressive to me. I believe there is more than enough talent mentioned above for Pitt to be good in the upcoming years. The key will be players on offense emerging as they did on defense. That HAS to happen this year. I think Narduzzi made a mistake last year not starting at least one of the younger OL. Although Hargrove, Carrigan TE, Van Lynn and Ford saw playing time.
You may think I am bat-crap crazy but I see NFL draft picks in Hamlin, Jackson, Ffrench, Weaver, Camp, Jones and more. Only time will tell if that pans out, but Pitt can easily match the average amount of players they have had drafted in recent years. So to me, at a minimum, their talent level is the same or better and the players are developing nicely. College football is all about player development and I think Pitt is doing quite well. Time may prove me wrong.