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Pitt running back A.J. Davis enters NCAA transfer portal

The former four-star recruit saw his role diminish this year amid the rise of Israel Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt running back A.J. Davis entered the transfer portal on Tuesday, following a six-game stretch without a rush or reception in Pitt’s offense. The timing of the move was unfortunate for Pitt, which may be in need of depth this weekend, as Israel Abanikanda suffered a concussion on Saturday.

Abanikanda’s injury may see him sidelined for Pitt’s upcoming tilt with Miami, and that likely would have created an opportunity for Davis to see the field for the first time in weeks. But with Davis’ entry into the portal, it seems Pitt will have to lean heavily on Vincent Davis and Rodney Hammond for backfield production.

Davis’ exit also comes one day after Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said, “We got really three backs, might have two this week, that we really have a lot of trust in,” which was apparently in reference to Abanikanda, Hammond and Vincent Davis. And as Narduzzi’s comment alluded to, it seemed Davis fell out of favor with the Pitt staff this season, as Abanikanda, Davis and Hammond all stepped up to address a glaring hole in the Panthers offense.

In 2020, the backfield was led by Vincent Davis, who ran for 632 yards and six touchdowns on 143 attempts. A.J. Davis was the clear No. 2 back, as he had 266 yards and one touchdown on 61 carries, which was down from 530 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. The situation left much to be desired, as Vincent Davis lacked the size to score in goal-line situations, forcing Kenny Pickett to run in touchdowns and risk injury on a frequent basis. And with A.J. Davis struggling to find consistency, there were no great solutions to Pitt’s backfield issues.

However, that has changed this season, as Abanikanda and Hammond have shown flashes of brilliance, while Vincent Davis has been a serviceable change-of-pace back at times. Specifically, Hammond amassed 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Pitt’s 77-7 blowout of New Hampshire, and Abanikanda accrued a total of 140 rushing yards in Pitt’s 28-7 rout of Virginia Tech.

But even after both backs proved they could carry the workload on their own, they continued to work cooperatively, splitting snaps with each other and with Vincent Davis. The result has been 917 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from the trio in seven games and a balanced attack that has benefited Pickett and the Pitt offense as a whole this season.

Of course, the emergence of multiple reliable running backs at Pitt was always going to spell trouble for A.J. Davis after he failed to seize the starting role from Vincent Davis last year. And with A.J. Davis apparently unwilling to serve in a depth role at Pitt moving forward, he opted to move on and pursue other options. What those options will include is unclear at this point, but the former four-star running back once held 29 offers, including 26 from Power Five programs and one from UCF, which is about 70 miles from his hometown.