No. 21 Pitt is in the hunt for an ACC title and perhaps more this season, and the team is in that position because of the rise of Kenny Pickett. But Pickett’s ascent to stardom was made possible by the linemen protecting him on every play, and they were recognized as the No. 4 offensive line in the nation by Pro Football Focus on Wednesday.
The list of college football’s top offensive lines was topped by Ohio State, and the top 10 was rounded out by Boston College, Louisiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Western Kentucky and Arkansas.
The analytics website also listed its grades for each lineman in every unit, and Pitt’s top contributors were Blake Zubovic, with a 75.1; Carter Warren, with a 71.0; and Marcus Minor, with a 69.8. The next-highest grades went to Jake Kradel (66.8), Gabe Houy (66.7) and Matt Goncalves (64.9). Pitt’s lowest-graded lineman was Owen Drexel, who received a 56.6.
“Playing in an offense where offensive linemen are often isolated on true pass sets and have to block for longer durations (3.19 seconds on average) isn’t easy for the big men down in the trenches,” said Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus. “This group, however, has handled it with ease in 2021.”
“No Power Five team has been utilized on a higher rate of true pass sets this season than the Panthers and yet, their offensive line has still been one of the five highest-graded pass-blocking units in the Power Five," Treash continued. "They’ve allowed only three combined sacks and hits within three seconds off the snap this season, which is the third-fewest among all FBS teams.”
The unit’s placement among the best offensive lines in the country by PFF signifies a major turnaround, as just last year the unit was ranked No. 94 out of 130 Division I offensive line units by the same source. Another notable aspect of the uptick in play is that it has been led in part by Warren. In 2020, Warren was part of a group of Pitt tackles ranked 126th by PFF. But Warren’s current grade and recent ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honor reflect significant improvement on his part.
With its vastly improved offensive line, Pitt will look to close out its best season in recent memory strong. To do so, Pitt will need to take down a dangerous North Carolina team in a primetime matchup on Thursday night and then prepare for a contest with Virginia that could crown an ACC Coastal champion. And if Pitt can avoid having its season spoiled by Syracuse the following week, it will earn a berth in the ACC championship game.