One of the biggest recruiting tools that schools can use to their advantage is a track record of getting players to the NFL. One thing that the Pitt football program has always been able to do is get players “to the next level.”
Pittsburgh Sports Now is proud to have teamed up with CBSSports.com NFL Draft expert Rob Rang (@RobRang) to get his insight on the current Pitt roster and their draft potential. Over the last few years, Rang’s analysis of NFL Draft prospects and track record is as good as anyone in the business. So we’re honored to get Rang’s insight for this story.
Here’s Rang’s opinion of Pitt’s NFL Draft prospects heading into the 2016 college football season.
Junior RB James Conner (6-2, 240, 4.67, #24)
Conner is a runaway freight train of a back, using his underrated combination of vision and burst to complement sheer power and determination. Conner attacks the hole and looks to punish would-be tacklers, using a powerful stiff-arm, leg drive and good forward lean to pick up “hidden” yardage after contact. His well-documented battle back from lymphoma (and a torn MCL) will obviously play a key role in his final draft grade but it does show his mettle. He is not a “twitchy” runner who will be able to make NFL defenders miss in tight quarters. Conner will also have to answer questions about his straight-line speed and ability to help as a receiver.
2016 Preseason grade: Day 3
Senior Guard Dorian Johnson (6-5, 300, 5.20, #53)
Highly touted prep prospect who emerged as a starter as a true freshman and hasn’t left the field since. Teams with fellow senior Adam Bisnowaty to give Pitt arguably the top left side in all of college football. Often asked to pull in this scheme and is well suited for it, showing light feet and balance leaving his stance and locating second level targets. A bit reliant on his lateral agility and balance to seal off opponents, rather than latching on and controlling that’s due to inconsistent hand placement and pad level. Intriguing athleticism and size combination but could use more glass in his diet. 2016
Preseason Grade: Day 2
Senior OT Adam Bisnowaty (6-5, 300, 5.16, #69)
Reliable college left tackle who projects best to right tackle or perhaps even guard in the NFL because he lacks elite balance and agility for pass protection against speed rushers. That said, Bisnowaty possesses impressive initial quickness off the snap for a man of his size and has sticky hands, typically controlling opponents once he latches on. He also possesses the broad shoulders and tapered frame scouts prefer on the outside. Has upper body power and also shows up in the running game, where Bisnowaty delivers a pop on contact in the running game, often driving opponents off the ball and playing through the whistle.
2016 Preseason Grade: Day 2
Senior QB Nate Peterman (6-2, 225, 4.93, #4)
Graduate transfer from Tennessee who started final 11 games for Pitt in 2015-16, completing 61.5% of his passes for 2,287 yards and 20 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Will have to build upon the momentum he created last season (and without Tyler Boyd) but possesses a legitimately intriguing skill-set for the NFL. Does not possess ideal size or a true howitzer for an arm but is passable in both important categories, showing the toughness to stand in the pocket (or run) as well as the velocity to complete the deep out to the opposite sideline. Impressive spatial awareness of defenders/sideline/first down marker given his relative inexperience (13 career starts). Throws an catchable ball with a tight spiral and is generally accurate, including when rolling to his right. Better accuracy on passes thrown on a line than with touch, at this point. Has a tendency to stare down his primary receiver. Elongated throwing motion with the ball held far back behind his head, leaving him a bit vulnerable to pass rushers ripping at it. A candidate to “break out” among senior QBs.
Preseason Grade: Day 3
Senior DE/OLB Ejuan Price (5-11, 250, 4.79, #5)
Emerged as the ACC’s most feared pass rusher in 2015 after chest/back injuries limited him to just six games over the past three years… Comes with obvious size limitations but is short (not small) with a compact, powerful frame. Possesses an explosive burst off the snap to beat tackles with his speed rush and uses his stature to escape their reach. Flexible enough to turn the corner and closes quickly, generating some explosiveness as a hitter. Quick hand slap, rip and spin moves to complement his speed. Enough balance and lateral agility to consider switching back to linebacker, where he started five games as a true freshman back in 2011. Like his QB Peterman, Price has established himself as one to watch but must build upon his success last season to earn anything close to the draft grade his eye-popping production (48 tackles, including 19.5 for loss and 11.5 sacks) and hype since suggests.
2016 Preseason Grade: Day 3
Junior CB Avonte Maddox (5-9, 170, 4.50, #14)
Fluid athlete with the light feet and swivel hips needed to change directions quickly as well as good top-end speed. Natural playmaker in part because he sneaks peeks back at the quarterback, helping him break on the ball (but also leaving him vulnerable to double-moves) by speedsters. Feisty but struggles getting off the blocks of bigger receivers and can get posted up on jump balls. Short and possesses narrow hips, likely limiting his ability to add significant muscle mass. Accomplished kick returner and defender on special teams.
2016 Preseason Grade: PFA
Sophomore S Jordan Whitehead (5-11, 185, 4.52, #9)
Celebrated prep who lived up to his hype by earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors as a true freshman, leading Pitt with 109 tackles, including six for loss. A “natural” football player whose fluid athleticism and instincts stand out on tape – whether it be in coverage, tackling or as a runner/receiver on offense. Currently possesses a frame which appears better suited to cornerback, with a tapered, athletic frame and good overall weight distribution. Very good route recognition and overall instincts, frequently breaking towards the direction of the play as it is unfolding. Loose hips to change directions easily and accelerates in a flash, allowing him to drop down and cover nickel receivers effectively. Locates the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination to contest the pass. Whitehead looks like a future early round pick but was undeniably aided last season by a rejuvenated Pitt pass rush and the experience and versatility of since-departed “star” Nicholas Grigsby.