Well, the 2016 recruiting class is in the books and it was one that we will not soon forget. As almost all of you know by now, this was a successful haul for the Panthers and Pat Narduzzi in more ways than one. This recruiting cycle got the fan base excited, got on the nerves of a rival fan base, gain some national recognition, and even landed some nice 2017 recruits (hi, Paris Ford!). Without further delay, let's take a look at some of my personal predictions.
THE STARS - This one is usually pretty easy to nail and I've been pretty successful in the past...again, not that hard though. When Narduzzi came to Pitt, he brought in a pedigree that is difficult to match in building talent in the secondary. Last year, he proved it with Jordan Whitehead finding early success. Next season, he'll try and do it again with Central Catholic's Damar Hamlin. Hamlin could play safety early or slide right in at cornerback. Name the college and Hamlin probably had an offer from them. His height, physicality, and especially his aggressiveness are all traits of a prototypical Narduzzi defensive back. This class was not a one trick pony though, as you can toss in 4-star recruits George Hill from Hubbard High in Ohio, Aliquippa's Kaezon Pugh, and Chicago, IL native Amir Watts, who brings in some serious talent to the interior defensive line.
PLAYERS WITH THE BEST CHANCE TO PLAY EARLY - Don't look any further than Hamlin here. As anyone that watched Pitt can tell you, they needed more athletes and studs on defense. This was extremely evident against top tier talent, like North Carolina and Notre Dame. Hamlin will help here immediately. They may make him earn it as Whitehead had to do last season, but he'll get on the field quickly. Really, the back seven on defense is where Pitt fans could see a few true freshmen see the field. That includes other impressive recruits from the 2016 recruiting class such as Therran Coleman from Brashear and Phil Campbell from South Brunswick in New Jersey, who I feel were overlooked this recruiting cycle. The linebackers could use some help, as well, and that is where Pugh could make some noise, as well as linebacker commit Chase Pine from Virginia.
SLEEPER PICKS - I just mentioned DBs Coleman and Campbell and I'll do it again here. Campbell seems to be a highly intelligent player, while Coleman is interesting. There are fair amount of Pittsburgh City School players that are always overlooked and I feel Coleman falls into that category. Then, there is a player that just gets results on the field, but somehow was not highly recruited. Pitt's recruiting class had a lot of players who were sought after by the big boys. Wide receiver Maurice Ffrench was not one of those players. Penn State made a late run at him, but other than that, his hometown school of Rutgers was reportedly the only other major offer he had. Yet, in his senior year, every single week, Ffrench was running rampant over the competition. Plain and simple: He just kept making plays in every game.
WORTH THE WAIT PLAYERS - When the Panthers recruited Thomas MacVittie at quarterback, many questioned why, since he was not the starter at Archbishop Moeller, in Cincinnati until his senior year. One reason for that was that Moeller is a national power. MacVittie's team played one of the tougher schedules in the country he shined. Despite his inexperience, the talent is undeniable. He can throw on the run, seems to find the open man, is accurate, and has good speed as well. The speed is even more impressive when you consider his size of being 6'4 and 213 pounds. Once he fills out, MacVittie should also be tough to bring down in the pocket. He's going to be a lot of fun to watch for Pitt fans.
The next player I'll point out is defensive end Rashad Weaver. The former Michigan commit choose the Panthers over Penn State and Temple in the end. The Cooper City, FL senior has great length and size for a defensive end. At 6'5" and 245 pounds, he can get up to bat down passes and is pretty fast around the end. He's raw, though, and it's worth pointing out that he seemed to run upright a lot and use his raw talent to gain advantage in Florida. When Narduzzi and defensive coordinator Josh Conklin get their hands on him for a year or two, he could have Panther fans salivating.
FAN FAVORITE - We've had WPIAL players that Pitt fans love, such as Tyler Boyd and Jordan Whitehead, while the fans like the emotional Panthers, such as James Conner. Hamlin should be showered with love from fans and The Panther Pitt early on due to his local ties and overall ability. The second player is more of the James Conner type. Late defensive tackle commit, Keyshon Camp loves to play at a high emotional level. The Lakeland, FL product has an explosive first step for such a big guy (6'3" and 275 pounds) and is athletic. He's got a motor that doesn't stop and the fact that he was gaining a ton of big-school attention at the end of the recruiting cycle shows that the talent is there. It may take a year or two for him to get on the field, but once he does, Panther fans are going to love him clogging up the middle.
That's my predictions for the class of 2016 and if I'm wrong, I'll blame the fact that I had Superbad on the television while I was writing this article. Either that or I'll just say it was because I was on cloud nine after Pitt made the Nittany Lions fan base so angry this recruiting cycle instead of the other way around.