Pitt is a program that’s going to have difficulty attracting top talent.
That’s not a slam or a dig or a belittlement of the coaching staff or the athletic department. It just is what is.
Pitt has been a middling football program for the last 30 years, and it gets a deserving level of fan and financial support as a result. Between the lack of winning and lack of support, it makes luring top talent to Pitt a pretty tough job.
Since Pat Narduzzi arrived in 2015, he’s recruited a number of four-star players to join the Panthers. In his first three full classes, 15 Pitt recruits were rated as four-star players by at least one service.
DT Keyshon Camp
WR Ruben Flowers
DB Damar Hamlin
RB George Hill
QB Thomas MacVittie
LB Kaezon Pugh
DT Amir Watts
RB A.J. Davis
OL Jerry Drake
S Paris Ford
TE Charles Reeves
RB Todd Sibley
DT Jaylen Twyman
OL Carter Warren
RB Mychale Salahuddin
That’s not a lot when it comes to trying to compete at the top of the ACC, but it’s also not an insignificant number. It’s roughly in line with or maybe slightly better than what his predecessors were able to achieve.
But what’s happened after that has not necessarily gone to plan. Of those 15 players, one was ruled medically ineligible and five have transferred out of the program.
Of the nine that remained, basically none have been or are in line to become four-year contributors.
Narduzzi wasted Damar Hamlin’s freshman year, playing him at corner — which he wasn’t physically healthy enough to play — and got just two games out of him instead of preserving an injury redshirt.
Similarly, Watts played just two games as a true freshman in 2016, wasting his redshirt year before the new four-game rule was enacted.
Paris Ford redshirted and then spent another season in purgatory at the wrong position before becoming an All-ACC performer in his first season given a real opportunity at safety.
Jaylen Twyman redshirted and was a rotational player in 2018 before becoming an All-ACC starter in 2019.
Both Ford and Twyman seem near locks to leave for the NFL after their redshirt junior years, if not before, meaning that Pitt will get at most two full years out of production out of them.
A.J. Davis and Carter Warren took three years to break in as starters and did not receive the kinds of accolades the others did after up-and-down first seasons. Todd Sibley has yet to break into a starting role.
Keyshon Camp has battled injuries and played just seven games over the last two seasons.
Injuries happen and are a part of the game. But for Pitt to have 15 four-star players, and not get a full four-year career out of any of them is a problem.
And it’s not all that the NFL comes calling early for good players. Transfers and wasting seasons of eligibility with obviously talented players either redshirting or playing minimally have been more pervasive issues.
Four-star running back Mychale Salahuddin told Pittsburgh Sports Now on Tuesday that he didn’t feel he was given the opportunities to show what he could do early in his career at Pitt.
“I just felt that Pitt was not allowing me the opportunities to present myself on Saturdays that I know I can,” he said. “I felt as though waiting it out would just be wasting time.
Is that characterization fully accurate? It’s hard to say. With limited viewing of practices, I can’t say for sure that Salahuddin was or was not a better option than guys like Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison.
But the five transfers — a full one-third of Pitt’s most talented recruits — certainly seems to suggest that Salahuddin is not the only player that felt that way in his time at Pitt.
Similarly, I can’t say for sure that Ford and Twyman should have played more, earlier in their time at Pitt, even if that appears to be the case now.
At some point, though, the proof should be in the pudding. Pitt has gotten successful careers out of less talented players.
The Panthers are likely going to be sending former three-star recruit Dane Jackson to the NFL after spending three years as a starter. Patrick Jones II will likely have to make a decision about whether he wants to leave early after his redshirt junior year. Maurice Ffrench and Bryce Hargrove were similarly unheralded. Jimmy Morrissey was a walk-on. All have become All-ACC players.
But for Pitt to be able to develop that many less-talented players into stars and at the same time be unable to get the most out of its most-talented players is definitely a problem, and one that Narduzzi ought to address.