The ashes haven’t even cooled from the finale of Pitt’s 2017 football season, but it’s never too early to take a look at what the Panthers have returning for 2018.
Actually, it’s way too early.
Pitt has a couple players that could potentially leave early to enter the NFL, several more that could transfer out, and then of course, the coaching staff is still out recruiting, with a recent focus on junior college players that will be eligible and should be ready to play in 2018.
But a big part of the story of the 2017 Pitt team was that they had so much youth to build from. Pitt graduated just 10 seniors out of 85 scholarship players, meaning there is a whole lot coming back next season.
So let’s take a look at a way-too-early Pitt 2018 depth chart. We’ll start with the offense today before moving on to the defense tomorrow.
1: Kenny Pickett OR Ben DiNucci
Look, everyone, right down to former Pitt head coach Walt Harris, was enthused by Pickett’s performance in Pitt’s win over Miami last Friday.
But don’t expect him to be handed the starting job that easily. Pickett still has just one start under his belt and Narduzzi said that there were some things the team saw in his brief action against NC State that gave them pause going forward.
Of course, there’s no need to make the same evaluation after the Miami game because Pitt doesn’t play another game for nine months. But there will certainly be more that Pickett is expected to learn over the winter, spring and summer, and DiNucci — or perhaps Thomas MacVittie if he stays — will be there to push Pickett along.
2: Nick Patti
Pitt went back to the well with its second straight quarterback out of Northern New Jersey, and by all accounts, they’ve got a good one coming in Patti. The St. Joseph Regional star will play for a state title on Saturday at noon in his last action before suiting up with the Panthers. Patti won’t be expected to play much of a role in 2018, but Pickett wasn’t expected to this year, either. Anything can happen.
1: Darrin Hall OR Qadree Ollison
Pitt’s two most experienced returning backs will both be seniors in 2018, giving the Panthers a 1-2 punch in the running game. Hall is coming off his best season, with a 4.9 yards per carry average and 10 total touchdowns. Ollison averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had seven touchdowns.
2: Chawntez Moss OR A.J. Davis OR Todd Sibley
Moss’ future is in doubt after a four-game suspension in 2017 and minimal playing time thereafter, but he remains one of Pitt’s most talented backs.
In Davis and Sibley, the Panthers have another dynamic duo waiting in the wings to replace Hall and Ollison. Sibley is smaller and quicker, while Davis is bigger and more physical. Their playing time will likely be determined by what shakes out ahead of them.
1: George Aston
Fullback isn’t a glamorous spot, but Pitt fans have always had a soft spot for their lead blockers and Aston, a former walk-on linebacker, is no exception. It took Pitt a long time to get their running game going in 2017 while Aston missed most of the year with a pair of right leg injuries.
If Aston can get back to full health, it should be a boon for Pitt’s other backs, as well as the team’s overall goal line productivity. Aston had 10 touchdowns of his own in 2016.
1: Chris Clark
Clark got his first taste of starting down the stretch of 2017, as he replaced the injured Matt Flanagan in the starting lineup. The results weren’t perfect, but the experience should go a long way toward solidifying his role for 2018
2: Tyler Sear OR Charles Reeves
Sear got to play as a true freshman in mostly a blocking role and should reprise that in 2018. Reeves, on the other hand, is an intriguing receiving prospect with a big body and impressive athleticism.
3. Grant Carrigan OR Matt Alaimo
Carrigan may or may not stay at tight end. The big athlete has the ability to be a contributor at a number of positions. Alaimo is Patti’s preferred target in high school and is coming along for the ride at Pitt. He’ll probably redshirt, but has a chance to find a role.
1: Aaron Mathews and Quadree Henderson
Mathews should replace Jester Weah in the starting lineup with Henderson reprising his role as a slot threat. Mathews doesn’t quite have the speed Weah does, but he’s more physical. Mathews missed time in training camp in 2017 and didn’t have the kind of big season he was expecting, but he has the potential to be a star in a bigger role.
Henderson’s numbers had a down year, probably in part thanks to Pitt’s revolving door at the quarterback position. But the all-purpose threat would do well to improve his route-running to become a more consistent target in the passing game.
2: Rafael Araujo Lopes and Maurice Ffrench OR Tre Tipton
When Pitt goes to three wide receivers, Shawn Watson will have plenty of options, with Araujo-Lopes leading the way with 531 yards in 2017.
Tipton’s absence was felt, particularly on third downs, where the possession receiver has a knack for finding space and getting to the yardsticks.
Ffrench had a promising sophomore season on offense after playing both ways as a true freshman.
3: Ruben Flowers and Dontavius Butler-Jenkins
Flowers was a four-star prospect that got some early playing time in 2017, then was moved mostly into a special teams role. Butler-Jenkins was the talk of training camp before an injury ended any chance of him playing as a true freshmen. Both players could be surprise contributors in 2018.
1: Brian O’Neill and Chase Brown OR Tony Pilato
O’Neill had an all-conference type season as the stalwart of an offensive line that struggled at times. Though he could turn pro, the guess here is that he returns for a senior season.
Pilato was O’Neill’s primary backup in 2017, but that was a thankless job, as O’Neill played nearly every snap. Pilato is the most experienced of Pitt’s returning tackles, and will probably get the opportunity to challenge junior college transfer Chase Brown for a starting spot.
If neither of those two work out, Alex Bookser could slide from guard to tackle, where he started his career and played some in 2017.
2: Jerry Drake and Bryce Hargrove
Neither player has much of any experience, but Drake, who will be a redshirt freshman and Hargrove, a redshirt sophomore, probably have the best pedigree of any of Pitt’s other options at tackle. Carter Warren could have a shot here, as well.
1: Alex Bookser and Mike Herndon
Bookser and Herndon are the only two returning players that saw Pitt’s two-deep at guard in 2017, so they will probably get every chance to stay there. But Bookser could be used at tackle and Herndon also played as a reserve defensive tackle.
2: Brandon Ford and Justin Morgan
There are plenty of young offensive linemen that could step at guard. Ford and Morgan will be redshirt sophomores and would probably get the first crack, but separation at this level is hard to find and someone like Gabe Houy could step up.
1: Jimmy Morrissey
Morrissey, a former walk-on, held off Connor Dintino throughout most of the year and should be expected to start again in 2018.
2: Connor Dintino OR Owen Drexel
Dintino has also played defensive tackle and fullback, so if he stays at Pitt, there’s no guarantee he sticks at center behind Morrissey. Guard could be an option, as well. Drexel would be the next man up if Dintino vacates this spot.
1: Cal Adomitis (LS), Alex Kessman (PK) and Kirk Christodoulou (P)
Adomitis and Kessman return after mostly successful 2017 season. Christodoulou will be a redshirt freshman after serving as Ryan Winslow’s understudy.