As we anticipate the start of the 2016 Pitt season, plenty of questions exist like: What will the starting secondary be? Will James Conner be the starting running back? Will any young linebackers break into the starting lineup?
Another question is who are some “under the radar” players that will emerge for Pat Narduzzi this season? Last year, players like Jordan Whitehead, Quadree Ollison and Ejuan Price stepped up to become stars for Pitt. What players could surprise some people and step into the spotlight and play a bigger role for Pitt in 2016?
Here are 5 Panthers that I’m predicting will be key contributors come September 3rd vs. Villanova:
1) James Folston, Redshirt Sophomore, DL (6-3, 245) – Folston played in 5 games last season after the coaches moved him from linebacker to defensive end. Could turn into a pass rushing specialist for DC Josh Conklin.
2) Damar Hamlin, Freshman, CB (6-1, 170) – Hamlin was the jewel of Pitt’s 2016 recruiting class and no doubt a lot will be expected from him. Will he be able to have the impact that Central Valley’s Jordan Whitehead had last year? That’s probably too much to ask but I’d be surprised if he eventually makes his way into the starting lineup.
3) Amir Watts, Freshman, DT (6-3, 275) – The one name that I keep hearing to keep an eye on is Watts. This 4-star recruit from Chicago will definitely have a chance to earn snaps with the defensive tackle rotation. My guess is that he’ll have as much impact as any Pitt freshman this season.
4) Rafael Araujo-Lopes, Redshirt Sophomore, WR (5-9, 185) – Araujo-Lopes redshirted last season after arriving from Reedley (California) College where he starred in his only season, catching 74 passes for 1,229 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 games. Since he didn’t play last year, Araujo-Lopes has become somewhat of a forgotten figure, but I believe that will change this year. Look for him to become a key figure in Matt Canada’s offense.
5) Chawntez Moss, Freshman, RB (5-11, 210) – with a backfield depth chart that consists of James Conner, Quadree Ollison, Darrin Hall and Rachib Ibrahim, you might be surprised that I listed Moss — but you shouldn’t be. This early enrollee has been someone that Narduzzi has regularly mentioned as a player that’s impressed him. Look for that to continue and despite the names ahead of him, look for him to get carries and make an impact.