Pitt released its first depth chart of the 2020 season on Monday in advance of the team’s season opener against Austin Peay on Saturday, and there were some surprises as young players have elevated themselves in the eyes of the coaching staff.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Pitt’s first depth chart of 2020.
Starter: Kenny Pickett
Backup: Davis Beville or Joey Yellen
Analysis: Pickett being the starter is the least surprising thing on the entire depth chart. Yellen being included as a backup, with his pedigree and experience, is not too shocking. Beville being ahead of 2019 backup Nick Patti is a bit of a surprise, but Narduzzi said Patti has been banged up through training camp.
Starter: A.J. Davis
Backup: Israel Abanikanda or Daniel Carter or Vincent Davis or Todd Sibley
Analysis: The number of or designations is not particularly a surprise, as any of Pitt’s five running backs are probably just as likely to lead the team in rushing this season. This will be a “hot hand” situation all season and all are likely to get some level of playing time.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Abanikanda emerge as a change-of-pace back like V’Lique Carter has been used the last few seasons, Carter to work in short-yardage situations and Sibley to be a third-down specialist, with Davis and Davis battling out early-down situations, at least to start out the season.
Starter: None listed
Analysis: The lack of a fullback on the depth chart shouldn’t be a total surprise, as Rashad Wheeler was not used often in that role in 2019 and did not return. Both Carter and Sibley have experience working as upbacks in two-back sets and can fill the role as required.
X WIDE RECEIVER
Starter: Shocky Jacques-Louis
Backup: Tre Tipton or DJ Turner
Analysis: Jacques-Louis was not all that healthy in 2019 and was not used nearly as much as he could have been as a result. He seems primed for a breakout year. Tipton and Turner are vastly different players, but both bring lots of experience and can also both play in the slot.
Z WIDE RECEIVER
Starter: Taysir Mack or Jared Wayne
Backup: None listed
Analysis: It’s somewhat surprising that both of Pitt’s leading returning receivers are playing the same position. Mack was definitely banged up a ton last year, leading to more playing time for Wayne than he was probably expecting as a true freshman, but he played well in an expanded role. If Mack can keep Wayne off the field, that’s probably a very, very good thing for Pitt.
SLOT WIDE RECEIVER
Starter: Jordan Addison
Backup: John Vardzel
Analysis: Pat Narduzzi talked up Addison all training camp and the freshman ended up at the top of the depth chart for Week 1. Not only does he stand alone without an “or” designation, but the most experienced potential backups, Tipton and Turner, are listed at X instead of behind him at slot, with just converted walk-on Vardzel providing depth. That is a sign Pitt is serious about Addison playing a big role this season.
Starter: Lucas Krull
Backup: Daniel Moraga or Kyi Wright
Analysis: Krull was a no-brainer starter as a graduate transfer from Florida, but the super-athletic Wright pushing junior college transfer Moraga for the backup spot is something to watch. Wright played quarterback and linebacker in high school and spent 2019 adapting to his new position. Apparently, it’s going well.
Starter: Carter Warren
Backup: Carson Van Lynn
Analysis: Two experienced upperclassmen, right where they were last season.
Starter: Bryce Hargrove
Backup: Matt Goncalves
Analysis: Hargrove is another veteran returning starter. Goncalves grabbing a second-team spot over some more experienced players is notable.
Starter: Jimmy Morrissey
Backup: Owen Drexel
Analysis: Same story as left tackle.
Starter: Jake Kradel
Backup: Blake Zubovic
Analysis: Kradel retains the starting right guard spot that he assumed mid-season in 2019, taking over for Gabe Houy. Zubovic is being groomed as another future starter at guard, perhaps as soon as 2021 if Hargrove moves on after his redshirt senior year.
Starter: Gabe Houy
Backup: Keldrick Wilson
Analysis: Houy made the move from guard back to tackle, recovered from offseason surgery and beat out Wilson, a graduate transfer from Hampton.
Starter: Patrick Jones II
Backup: Desline Alexandre or John Morgan
Analysis: Jones is an all-conference player and Alexandre and Morgan got a ton of experience in 2019. Should make for a solid rotation.
Starter: Rashad Weaver
Backup: Habakkuk Baldonado
Analysis: Weaver returns from injury and Baldonado provides an explosive pass rush as rotational player.
Starter: Keyshon Camp
Backup: David Green
Analysis: Camp is the best of Pitt’s five defensive tackles, if he can stay healthy. Green is a capable backup.
Starter: Devin Danielson
Backup: Tyler Bentley or Calijah Kancey
Analysis: Danielson earned the right to fill Jaylen Twyman’s shoes in training camp. He’s a stout run stuffer, if not quite as explosive of a pass rusher as Twyman. Kancey played just once as a true freshman last year, but is a potential future starter.
MONEY OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Starter: Phil Campbell III
Backup: SirVocea Dennis
Analysis: No surprises here. Campbell made the move from Star to Money to replace graduated Kylan Johnson and Dennis played extensively on special teams in 2019, priming him for a larger role this season. Chase Pine could also see time here.
Starter: Wendell Davis
Backup: Chase Pine, Brandon George
Analysis: The biggest shocker of the first depth chart, as the young Davis has unseated redshirt senior Pine. Davis is an intelligent player and very steady, something that Narduzzi’s defense needs from a middle backer. If Pine is not starting, he will probably still play a lot, as he is one of Pitt’s best pass-rushing linebackers. He could work in rotationally with either Davis or Campbell, as he has played both spots in the past.
STAR OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Starter: Cam Bright
Backup: John Petrishen
Analysis: Bright steps up to be a full-time starter after sharing the role with Campbell in 2019. Petrishen moves in from safety as very experienced depth with plus coverage skills.
Starter: Paris Ford
Backup: Brandon Hill
Analysis: Hill has come on as a redshirt freshman and is probably the starter in 2021. That’s because Ford is on a head-long collision with the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Pitt would be wise to find some playing time from the youngster without detracting from Ford’s resume.
Starter: Damar Hamlin
Backup: Erick Hallett
Analysis: Hamlin will be a three-year starter for Pitt at safety after getting a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Hallett can play safety and corner and is likely the future starter here.
Starter: Jason Pinnock
Backup: Rashad Battle
Analysis: Pinnock moves up to a full-time starter after working in a rotation with Damarri Mathis last year. He played almost exclusively boundary last season, working against bigger, more physical receivers. Battle might be the most game-ready of Pitt’s defensive freshmen — he’s the lone representative of the Class of 2020 on the two-deep.
Starter: Marquis Williams
Backup: A.J. Woods
Analysis: Williams beat out Woods in the race to replace Mathis, who will miss the season with an injury. He’s not as big as Mathis or Woods, but he hits with an intensity that belies his size and has more experience than Woods. Like Avonte Maddox as an undersized corner that came before him, defending the fade against taller receivers in this defense will have a learning curve.
Starter: Alex Kessman
Backup: Sam Scarton or Ben Sauls
Analysis: Kessman is a fifth-year senior with a huge leg. Sauls enters on scholarship as the heir apparent.
Starter: Kirk Christodoulou
Backup: Cam Guess
Analysis: Christodoulou’s up and down 2019 caused Narduzzi to bench him at one point. Guess is a highly rated freshman from Belle Vernon that could give him a push, if needed.
Starter: Cal Adomitis
Backup: Byron Floyd
Analysis: Adomitis enters his fourth year as the starting long snapper. Floyd is a highly rated freshman that could take over someday, but not this year and maybe not next year with a blanket waiver giving all 2020 seniors another shot if they want it.
Starter: Jordan Addison or A.J. Woods
Backup: Vincent Davis. DJ Turner
Analysis: Woods might be the fastest player on the team. Addison will have plenty else on his plate as a true freshman, so his inclusion here is eye-opening. Woods (five returns), Davis (one) and Turner (one) all have some experience, but none as a regular.
Starter: Jordan Addison
Backup: DJ Turner, Jaylon Barden
Analysis: Turner had three returns for Maryland last season, which is the only experience in this group that will attempt to replace graduated Maurice Ffrench. Barden is another quick young receiver that could use some special teams work while he waits his turn on offense.