Pitt came into the day with 22 verbal commits for the 2017 football recruiting class. All got in by 10:00 a.m. and in relatively short order. Unlike past years, there was no sweating it out for any of the known committed guys. In fact, the most angst was for two kids that Pitt was hoping to get - defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman and four-star running back A.J. Davis. Those both went the Panthers' way, too, as Twyman committed first and was followed by Davis earlier this afternoon.
Both of those kids were big gets.
Davis is listed as Rivals' 14th best running back and had a slew of huge offers from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and countless others. That Pitt was able to get a kid like that from Florida over all of those schools is nothing short of incredible, despite the potential help from teammate and fellow commit Demarri Mathis, as Jim alluded to in his writeup earlier today.
Twyman, too, had a ton of offers, including some big time schools such as Florida, Louisville, Michigan State, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
In all, the class isn't spectacular by any means. There are three four-star players and zero five-stars, while ranking 33rd by Rivals. But there's also plenty be excited about here. Here's why, overall, I'm pretty happy with the class. Note that, obviously, some of these players might project elsewhere. For the sake of this article, I used Rivals' current position projections.
I've long said that I don't particularly care where Pitt gets its talent from as long as they get it. That remains true. But it also behooves the program to be able to branch out as much as possible and pluck kids from areas away from Pennsylvania. The Panthers used to have a pretty decent connection to Florida kids and this year got nearly 1/3 of their entire class from the state, headlined by Davis. Seven Florida kids signed and the Panthers also got Cameron Bright from Alabama and Kam Carter from JUCO in Mississippi.
Again, I don't think Pitt has to get guys from Florida, etc. But the more they are able to branch out and increase awareness of the brand, the better. Only five kids came in from Pennsylvania and when you struggle like Pitt did with some of the bigger in-state talent, it's imperative to be able to go elsewhere. I maintain that getting western Pennsylvania/Ohio-area players is very important because that is simply where Pitt will continually have its best shot at getting four- and five-star players. But when that falls through, as it did last year, you need to be able to go outside of the state and have success.
Running Back Depth
One area Pat Narduzzi shouldn't be hurting in the next few years is at running back. The Panthers already have a pretty strong group slated to come back next season in Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall, and Qadree Ollison. Now, add two four-star guys to the mix in Davis and Todd Sibley. Even all of the veterans don't return, Pitt should be set at running back for at least the next three seasons.
All five guys won't be dynamite and we already sort of know what we have with Hall and Ollison. But someone will emerge out of Moss, Davis, and Sibley and the Panthers' backfield has a ton of potential if guys stay healthy.
Restocking the Offensive Line
Pitt didn't get a big name guy as they have in the past with guys like Dorian Johnson, Alex Bookser, and Adam Bisnowaty, but that they added five offensive linemen was great to see. And while there aren't any four-five star guys among the group of Jerry Drake, Gabe Huoy, Carson Van Lynn, Owen Drexel, and Carter Warren, don't forget, Pitt has been able to develop some guys in the past. T.J. Clemmings, one of the Panthers' best tackles in recent memory, was a converted defensive lineman. Brian O'Neill, one of the team's starters, was a converted tight end.
Plus, some of the offers held by this group were very impressive. Drake was wanted by Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma, and numerous others. Louisville was after Huoy. West Virginia and many others offered Van Lynn. Michigan, Penn State, and plenty of others offered Warren. These guys collectively were pretty desired players.
The Panthers' five offensive linemen are among the most they've taken in the past 15 years or so and are the most since 2013 when they also took five.
Lack of Two-Star Players
Plenty of two-star players turn out to be capable contributors for teams. We all know that. But you also don't want a class consisting of a bunch of them, which Pitt has sometimes had in the past. I'll have a separate article coming on this later, but without giving too much of that away, the Panthers have generally had 3-4 in each class. This year? Aside from Australian kicker Kirk Christodoulou, they had only one (according to Rivals) in Drexel. And even in that case, Pitt recruited four other offensive linemen so they are well-stocked there, anyway.
Pitt is still trying to find a way to lure more four-star and five-star guys. And there's no doubt that head coach Pat Narduzzi has work to do in that regard. But the Panthers are also not taking nearly as many flyers on lower-level guys, and that's a good thing.
Focus on Defensive Backs
There's no doubt that the secondary was Pitt's biggest weakness this season. Aside from offensive line, where Pitt brought in five players, the Panthers' four scholarships at defensive back were the most of any unit. Kyle Nunn is also capable of playing safety but his position is unknown right now. That could give the program five players in the secondary if he winds up there.
The group is, of course, led by top recruit Paris Ford. And while there aren't any players that look like sure things after him (the other three, Mathis, Jason Pinnock, and Albert Tucker, are all three-star guys), all Pitt really should need is a couple to develop into strong starters. Even a couple of misses among that group shouldn't kill Pitt as long as they can get Hamlin to develop and add a player or two in other classes.
Tight End Depth
Beyond emerging star Jester Weah, Pitt still has questions at wide receiver. But the Panthers shouldn't have many questions at tight end going forward. The team has former No. 1 tight end recruit Chris Clark ready to get onto the field in 2017. Along with him, they added three more tight ends to the roster in four-star recruit Charles Reeves, Tyler Sear, and Grant Carrigan. Reeves, in particular, was a huge get as he had offers from Alabama, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and plenty of others.
With so much depth, it isn't inconceivable to see someone change positions. But even if someone does, the position looks to be in great hands for the next three years at the very least.
No Cold Feet
One thing that shouldn't be underrated is that the Panthers' also didn't lose any committed guys. That's something that's never a given and Pitt has had their fair share of guys backing out on or just before National Signing Day. But the Panthers kept guys committed despite lots of attempts from other schools to try to pluck them at the last minute. As I said earlier, Pitt was not only able to keep everyone but added a couple of previously unknown commits and that's a big deal.
As I said, this isn't a top ten class with huge names. But I like quite a bit of what Pitt did here and some of these offers several guys got were flat out incredible. Pitt was able to build a stronger class consisting more of three-star players than ones that were only rated as two-star players and the recruiting is, in general, heading in the right direction. Narduzzi very quietly put together a pretty strong class, in my opinion.