Installment 3 sees us go to the steel city of Pittsburgh. I've heard great things about the city, but I've never been. Mostly because I was born a Hokie and grew up a Cleveland fan. I'm wearing a Browns sweatshirt while I'm writing this. The idea of french fries on a sandwich is too much. And why would you ever want to be called a "Yinzer"? I was basically built to have disdain for the city of Pittsburgh. That being said, would still love a game at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh is in the interesting situation where they sit on a recruiting hotbed that somehow 247Sports is still yet to realize exists. Even still, They have maybe the toughest local recruiting competition of any ACC team for in state players with Penn State and Ohio State.
ACC Rank: 8
National Rank: 44
# of Signees: 21
Average Recruit Rating: 0.8607
Top Recruit: Jordan Addison, ATH, Frederick MD (0.9045)
Biggest Need: Running Back / Slot WR Hybrid
The good ole days of Pitt lining up in a one-back formation with James Conner, LeSean McCoy, Curtis Martin, or Tony Dorsett are all but over. The Panthers last season moved on to a spread, almost air-raid system. The key to this system is keeping the defense on their toes by giving the illusion that you could run on any play even though 60-70% of plays will be passes. To do that, you need a running back that can also be a pass catching threat to capitalize on man coverage matchups.
Last season, this was Maurice Ffrench. He was the guy that defenses had to key in on, which opened up matchups for Kenny Picket all over the field. When you don't have that electric guy, however, the offense becomes pretty easy to defend for an athletic defense. Ffrench was banged up for the Hokies's matchup with the panthers last season and were able to stifle Pickett in a shut-out win.
Jordan Addison played WR and DB in high school, but projects to a slot WR in college. He has many of the attributes that make Ffrench such a nightmare. He has speed, versatility, quickness, and vision. The four-star prospect can contribute in the fall for this offense.
Most Exciting Recruit: Dayon Hayes (0.8967), Edge, Pittsburgh PA
A hometown kid is always exciting. But, add in that he's a dominant d-lineman and you really have the attention of Pitt fans. Pitt has an uncanny ability to develop d-line talent. Hayes brings good frame at 6'3", 250lbs. and plays with the speed of an outside linebacker. He's a great asset to counteract the outside running games that come with the spread offense. Don't be surprised to see Hayes on an all-ACC team in a couple years. He has all the tools, and you can't coach his kind of athleticism. Pitt might have another NFL D-lineman coming to town.
Early Contributor: Israel Abanikanda (0.8847), RB, Brooklyn NY
Pitt was abysmal running the ball last year, only averaging 119 yards per game. A.J. Davis is the team's leading returning rusher at 530 yards last season, but didn't get the lion share of the carries in Pitt's bowl game against Eastern Michigan. Yes, Pitt's offensive line was very bad last year, but it will be hard to justify not giving someone else a shot in the backfield.
Israel Abanikanda is a spread back with really good speed. At 5'11" 197lbs, he's deceptively tough to bring down. He was named Gatorade New York Player of the Year last season but flew under the radar for the most part in recruiting.
Davis will most likely remain the starting running back to start the season off against Miami (OH), and rising sophomore Vincent Davis came on late in the season to take some carries. However, as the season wears on I wouldn't be shocked to see Abanikanda have a role very similar to what Tech did with Keshawn King. Limited carries but using him in ways that he's featured heavily in the offense.
I don't usually highlight this separately, but Pitt made a big splash in the transfer portal this year. The panthers picked up Arizona State transfer QB Joey Yellen, whose waiver to play this season is pending. He could be the heir to Kenny Pickett.
Pitt also grabbed Florida TE Lucas Krull, who can add depth to that position. Thirdly, Pitt brought safety John Petrishen over from the dark side (Penn State) to add to their special teams' squad, presumably.
Sam's Grade: B+
While Pitt didn't hit it off with too many top recruits, they put together a solid class and did well to land a coveted transfer QB in Joey Yellen. Israel Abanikanda can be a great steal for them out of Brooklyn.
Where the Panthers are going to struggle is in sustaining the playmakers and depth needed to run the air attack offense that they employed last season. Kenny Pickett threw the ball 469 times last season. That's over 39 attempts per game, the most in the ACC. For reference, Trevor Lawrence threw just over 27 times per game and he's basically the best NFL quarterback prospect in college football history. If Pitt is going to keep that nonsense up, they'll have to dig in on skill player recruiting.
Pitt will never recruit in the upper echelons of the ACC, and you can thank Penn State and Ohio State for that. Middle of the pack with some big hits here and there in a class is what this program should strive for. They just missed the high water mark this cycle, but an overall success for the Panthers.
Syracuse – C
Boston College – B
Pittsburgh – B+