One week from today, the 2021 NFL Draft will begin as college players throughout the country will wait to hear if their name is called by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
While nothing is ever guaranteed, this looks like it will be a very successful season for the Pitt football program as a handful of players have a real possibility of becoming NFL Draft picks. One of the many things that the Pitt coaching staff sells to high school players while recruiting them is the history of the Panthers program putting players in the NFL and that should continue this season.
Over the last two NFL Drafts, Pitt has only had two players drafted with cornerback Dane Jackson going to Buffalo in the 7th round (2020 Draft) and running back Qadree Ollison being selected by Atlanta in the 5th round (2019 Draft).
Things are shaping up for this to be the most productive draft for Pitt players since 2017, when five Panthers were drafted: James Conner (3rd Round/Pittsburgh Steelers), Dorian Johnson (4th Round/Arizona Cardinals), Nate Peterman (5th Round/Buffalo Bills), Adam Bisnowaty (6th Round/NY Giants) and Ejuan Price (7th Round/LA Rams).
With just seven days until NFL Draft Day, the question is will Pitt match that number of five drafted players or possibly exceed it? Since the NFL Draft got reduced to seven rounds in 1994, the most players that the Pitt program has had selected in a single draft was six. In the 2004 Draft, Larry Fitzgerald went to Arizona (1st Round), Shawntae Spencer to San Francisco (2nd Round), Kris Wilson to Kansas City (2nd Round), Claude Harriott to Chicago (5th Round), Andy Lee to San Francisco (6th Round) and Brandon Miree to Denver (7th Round).
How many Panthers will hear their name called in 2021?
DE Rashad Weaver: In this case, it’s not a matter of if but when. Weaver was a productive player for Pat Narduzzi’s program from Day One and finished his college career being named an All-American. Following the season, initial mock drafts had Weaver going anywhere from the 1st to 2nd Round but now he’s being forecasted to go late 2nd Round or somewhere in the 3rd.
DE Patrick Jones: Everything that I mentioned about Weaver can also be said about Jones. This pass-rushing defense end will get drafted likely on day two. After being talked about as a 1st Round selection, the majority of mock drafts have Jones going in the 3rd Round or later. Regardless of where they get selected, prospective teams will not only be getting talented players but good people as well with both Weaver and Jones.
S Damar Hamlin: In terms of players that improved their draft stock the most following the season it’s been Hamlin. During the Senior Bowl, Hamlin opened up the eyes of many NFL executives with his on-field performance along with his knowledge of the game and overall character. Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl and ESPN NFL draft analyst tweeted this about Hamlin on Wednesday: “This year’s safety class isn’t getting much attention but there’s a group of prospects in Round 3-5 that will be solid NFL starters. One under-radar guy many teams really like is Damar Hamlin. Legit cover skills and has impressed coaches on Zooms with his high football IQ.” After battling through adversity during his time at Pitt, it appears Hamlin will be rewarded by becoming an NFL Draft pick.
DT Jaylen Twyman: The biggest mystery is will Twyman hear his name called before the end of the draft? His plummeting draft stock is surprising to anyone that watched him play at Pitt. Despite being a dominant player from game one of his freshman season and putting up numbers that are comparable or in some cases exceeding what Aaron Donald did, some are questioning whether Twyman will get drafted. Twyman was one of the players that opted out of the 2020 college season and didn’t impress many people at Pitt’s NFL Pro Day. It’s still likely Twyman will get drafted but nowhere near where many people forecasted him to go a year ago.
S Paris Ford: A year ago, if you would’ve suggested that Paris Ford wouldn’t get drafted, people would have looked at you funny but that could be the case. Ford decided to opt out of the season early to focus on the draft but since then is getting questioned because of his underwhelming performance at Pitt Pro Day. The latest CBS Mock Draft had Ford being selected with the final pick in the 7th Round.
CB Jason Pinnock: This is where things turn into speculation for Pitt players and will depend on the personal evaluation of each team. Like Hamlin, Pinnock impressed many NFL evaluators with postseason performances and workouts. Skilled cornerbacks are needed in the NFL and with Pinnock’s frame, physicality and coverage skills, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear his name called on Day 3.
The two other Panthers that have a chance of becoming draft picks are wide receiver DJ Turner and center Jimmy Morrissey. Turner is a player with speed that could be used in the slot as well as being a contributor on special teams. Morrissey is someone that could have a long NFL career even if he’s not drafted. He could provide a team versatility playing both center and guard, along with bringing character to an organization.