The start of any sports season brings optimism for most teams in any sport and that’s the case with Pat Narduzzi’s 2021 Pitt Panthers.
The exciting part is that this optimism for the season is legitimate and not manufactured. While in past seasons, Pitt may have had bigger names on their roster, but I believe this is the best collection of talent that Narduzzi has coached at Pitt since starting in 2016. One of the things that is necessary to being a really good team and program is depth and this Panther team has just that.
Thanks to a number of successful overall recruiting classes over the last few years, the Pitt program has gotten to the point where they’ve been able to stockpile plenty of young talent. In the past, some of these younger players might be gotten on the field before they were ready which not only uses up a year of eligibility but also hurts their development and confidence. Pitt has remained patient and stuck with their plan and they’ll soon be rewarded for that.
Players such as Matt Goncalves, Rashad Battle, Buddy Mack, Branson Taylor, Aydin Henningham, Jahvante Royal, Dayon Hayes, Solomon DeShields, Bangally Kamara, Jaylon Barden, and Sam Williams, to name a few, haven’t been rushed onto the field but their time is coming (possibly this year), which is exciting news for the future of the program. True freshmen like defensive back Phillip O’Brien, defensive back Tamarion Crumpley, linebacker Naquan Brown, defensive tackle Elliot Donald, defensive back Khalil Anderson, defensive back Noah Biglow and running back Rodney Hammond are already opening some eyes in their first camp; giving Narduzzi and his staff plenty to think about.
Kenny Pickett, Jordan Addison, Lucas Krull, Cam Bright, Sirvocea Dennis and Calijah Kancey are players getting plenty of preseason attention and reasons that some feel good about the upcoming season. However, this team has plenty of depth and other names that could and I believe will breakout in 2021. Here are five players that I’m really excited to watch and believe they’ll be bigtime performers.
5 Panther Breakout Candidates
John Morgan: It’s not breaking news to mention that Charlie Partridge is one of the top assistant coaches in the country. Year after year, he recruits talented players into the Pitt program and develops his defensive lineman into above average players that have a chance to play at the next level. The most recent examples of that are Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver. The next player that I believe that has a chance to do that is defensive end John Morgan. After waiting patiently the last couple of seasons, Morgan will have a chance to shine in 2021 and I believe he’ll do just that. I expect Morgan to lead Pitt in sacks and remind a lot of people of former star pass rusher Ejuan Price.
Jaylon Barden: As he showed in limited time last season, Barden has every quality to be a star wide receiver. Fellow freshman Jordan Addison received most of the spotlight last season but people in the Pitt program realize what they have in Barden and how good he will be. It can be argued that Barden has the most speed and best hands of anyone on the Pitt wide receiver depth chart. Brennan Marion has a talented group of players like Addison, Taysir Mack, Jared Wayne, Tre Tipton and Shocky Jacques-Louis but my money is on Jaylon Barden as the next Pitt star wide receiver.
Rashad Battle and Khalil Anderson: As we have reported on the last few years, much emphasis has been placed on recruiting Georgia. Rashad Battle and Khalil Anderson will join Barden as gems that Archie Collins was able to pull from that talent rich state. The Pitt program is quietly becoming a nice pipeline for NFL teams to draft defensive back talent and Battle and Anderson are two players with a ton of upside. Battle will see plenty of action this season as he currently is competing for a starting role. It remains to be seen as to the role for Anderson because of a few veterans ahead of him, but his time is coming soon which has the defensive coaches at Pitt real excited. Damar Hamlin, Jason Pinnock and Paris Ford were the trio last season but get ready for the names Battle and Anderson.
Gavin Bartholomew: This is a name that might not make his full impact this year, it’s definitely someone to remember for the future. Gavin Bartholomew didn’t get any headlines when committing to Pitt last year but he should be making some in the future. The 6-foot-5 freshman tight end is having a tremendous camp and has impressed a bunch of fellow players and coaches. More than one person has mentioned him when talking about “sleeper” talent. Tight end has been a down position for Pitt over the last few years but with Bartholomew, Krull, Kyi Wright and Cole Mitchell, that could be changing.
I know getting excited is something that Pitt fans are hesitant to do because of the countless times in the past that they’ve been let down, but allow yourself to do it in 2021 because of these players and many others.
This Panther team is legit and will start proving that in nine days against UMass.