Pitt will have at least three players represented at the 2018 NFL Combine, as graduating seniors Avonte Maddox, Jester Weah and Ryan Winslow have been selected to participate in the top opportunity to be evaluated by NFL scouts.
The Panthers could have even more combine invitees on the way, as draft-declared juniors will be invited in January, which means that wide receiver Quadree Henderson, tackle Brian O’Neill and safety Jordan Whitehead could also get invites, giving Pitt as many as six invites to the combine, which will be held March 2-5 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Pitt also had six players invited in 2017 after having just wide receiver Tyler Boyd represent the university in 2016. Five Pitt players from the Class of 2017 were drafted last spring: tackle Adam Bisnowaty, running back James Conner, guard Dorian Johnson, quarterback Nathan Peterman and defensive end Ejuan Price.
Additionally, linebacker Bam Bradley made the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. Wide receiver Dontez Ford, linebacker Matt Galambos, defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett, cornerback Ryan Lewis, tight end Scott Orndoff and defensive lineman Shakir Soto have spent time on practice squads, giving the Panthers 12 players from last season’s team that have cashed NFL paychecks this fall.
Pitt may have a hard time cracking that list with the Class of 2017, but they should get close. Maddox, Weah and offensive lineman Jaryd Jones-Smith will be playing in the 2018 East-West Shrine game, a postseason college all-star game. In the similar NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, offensive linemen Brandon Hodges and Alex Officer will participate. Quarterback Max Browne and tight end Matt Flanagan could also have NFL looks in their future, which could give the Panthers as many as 11 players heading to the pro ranks next fall.
The ability to put players in the NFL and do it consistently can be one of Pitt’s top calling cards when it comes to recruiting. In addition to the recent graduates, Pitt can point to three current Pro Bowlers in Aaron Donald, Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy along with regular contributors like T.J. Clemmings, Andy Lee, Dion Lewis, Tom Savage, Jabaal Sheard and K’Waun Williams. Pitt’s three juniors that are leaving early will certainly hurt the team in 2018, but adding to that group of NFL alumni can only help things in the long run.
“We support all those guys,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week at signing day. “It’s a dream for a lot of these guys. They see their dream right next door. They watch the success those guys have, and it doesn’t surprise me. It’s just there’s more and more of it happening, I think, and three great kids that we enjoyed coaching, but they had that aspiration to play at the next level, and it’s up here. It’s the NFL, and they’re going to have their opportunities.”
When it comes to selling Pitt to recruits as a jumping-off point for the NFL, the Panthers’ coaches should have plenty of ammunition.