Ever since former Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft this year, there's been a lot of discussion about which receiver could step up to try to replace the void for the offense.
Obviously one player isn't going to step in and be able to adequately replace everything that Boyd brought to the table. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has already spoken about Pitt's strategy of spreading his touches around rather than trying to find one person to become the dominant guy.
ESPN recently noted the top position battles in the ACC and wide receiver was the focus for Pitt:
For quarterback Nathan Peterman to excel in the passing game, the Panthers will need several players to emerge at receiver and tight end. Tyler Boyd caught 43 percent of all passes in 2015, 65 more than second-leading receiver Dontez Ford (26 for 505 yards, 19.4 yards per catch). Zach Challingsworth and Quadree Henderson will also compete for catches, but sophomore Tre Tipton, a running quarterback and wide receiver in high school, might be best suited to replicate Boyd's all-purpose style.
The article includes tight end in the discussion here but that's a little more settled with the return of Scott Orndoff, who had a nice season there along with the graduated J.P. Holtz and looks to be firmly entrenched as 'the guy'. Wide receiver is the big focal point.
There may be some other one-on-one battles that are intriguing, and maybe even more important. For instance, will Damar Hamlin be able to unseat one of Pitt's veterans at cornerback, as is expected? What about the newcomers on the defensive line? But in terms of a unit and sorting out the depth chart, wide receiver is a huge question mark.
Last year, it was about sorting out the depth behind Tyler Boyd. This season? It's probably about the guys behind Dontez Ford. Ford looks set at one spot simply because he was a starter last season and had, by far, the most productive year of guys coming back. That's not a complete given (ideally, on a great team, I think Ford is more of a No. 2 or even No. 3 guy), but assuming he's in one starting spot, after that is where the questions start. With Elijah Zeise's expected move to defense, Zach Challingsworth and Quadree Henderson are the only other returning wide receivers to register any catches last season at all and Henderson's impact was basically non-existent (two catches for one yard).
The bad news is that Pitt doesn't have much returning in terms of experience. The good news? There are options - lots of them.
The ESPN article sort of dropped the ball without a mention of Jester Weah. Weah won the Offensive Conway Award in spring practices as the most improved offensive player. He had a 100+ yard output in the spring game and looks promising after a down 2015. There's Tre Tipton, a solid recruit from 2015 who played early as a true freshman. To a lesser degree, there's also Rafael Araujo-Lopes (who transferred to Pitt and redshirted last year) and Chris Wuestner, who last played in 2014 before sitting out last season with an injury.
None of that even addresses the numerous incoming guys - several of which are considered very good recruits. Possibly leading the way is four-star receiver Ruben Flowers, who could crack the top four on the depth chart with a big training camp. Others include Aaron Mathews, a one-time Penn State defensive recruit who sounds as if he is getting the opportunity to play receiver for Pitt, and some question marks like Maurice Ffrench. French said this year that the Panthers could play him on both sides of the ball.
The wide receiver position probably won't be sorted out anytime soon with the rookies expected to be a big factor in how things shape up. But I agree with ESPN that it's maybe the battle to watch in terms of an entire unit and sorting out the depth chart.
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.