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Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline Values Pitt DL Calijah Kancey As Fifth Round Pick

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Calijah Kancey needed just one arm to claim the ACC Defensive Player of the Year trophy this weekend in Charlotte — fitting considering his other arm was in a sling.

He’s not playing in Pitt’s bowl game due to injury, his superb junior season now over, but he’s also not voiced his intention on a next step. He can return to Pitt for his senior season or make the jump to the NFL.

It’s highly likely that Kancey has concluded his Pitt career, and while he’s been touted as a top defensive line prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, his common status as a Day 1 or 2 pick isn’t universally shared.

Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, who wrote that he’s heard Kancey is 50/50 on returning to Pitt next season, currently evaluates Kancey as a Day 3 draft pick.

“I’m not as high on him as some of the people I’ve spoken with,” Pauline told PSN Saturday. “He’s an undersized, three-technique tackle, and he’s a scheme-specific player in the sense that he’s not gonna fit every single scheme because of size limitations. Is he even gonna touch 6 feet on the measuring tape? So, what happens with those types of guys, their value goes down when it comes to the NFL Draft.”

Kancey is listed at 6-foot, 280 pounds, and it certainly hasn’t held him back in a brief Pitt career. In 33 games, Kancey has recorded 91 tackles (52 solo), 34.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, a forced fumble and three pass breakups.

That’s over a tackle for loss and more than half a sack per game, as an interior defensive lineman no less. It’s impressive production, and it’s garnered Nagurski and Outland Trophy finalist, All-American and conference player of the year honors.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) Sept 10, 2022 David Hague/PSN

But while Pauline said he thinks Kancey is very good at what he does, he doesn’t think the size limitations will go away.

“I’ve heard some guys tell me second round, somebody told me three or four weeks ago he’s a poor man’s version of Aaron Donald,” Pauline said. “He has been very productive the past two seasons, and someone I spoke with earlier today said, after he released that thing that he wasn’t gonna play because of the injury, they said his draft stock is never gonna be any higher because he’s not gonna grow three inches taller and be able to put on 30 pounds, which is very true.”

The Donald-Kancey comparison is obvious, considering the alma mater. But it goes way beyond just wearing the same jersey. Donald was listed at 6-foot, 285 as a senior at Pitt. Kancey is listed at 6-foot, 280 this season.

Kancey is the first Pitt defender to win ACC DPoY since Donald in 2013, and he can become the first Pitt defender since Donald to win the Nagurski and Outland Trophies later this year. Kancey hasn’t been quite as productive as Donald during his Pitt career, but Pat Narduzzi has said that when it comes to defensive linemen during his time at Pitt, Kancey is the clear No. 1.

When Pauline evaluates Kancey, however, he said his mind immediately jumps to former Iowa State defensive lineman James Reed.

Reed was a standout at Iowa State in the late 1990s before he was drafted by the New York Jets in the seventh round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Reed put together a seven-year career, racking up 230 tackles (162 solo), 19 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four fumble recoveries and four pass breakups.

He was listed at 6-foot, 286 pounds during his NFL career, and Pauline said he saw a similar level of explosion in an undersized frame. He also said that Kancey’s NFL fit would need to be in a four-man front that utilizes three technique defensive linemen.

“I have him as a fifth-round pick right now, there’s some people that have him as a second day pick,” Pauline said. “I don’t know that going back and having a great year will move him into the first round because of the fact that he has size limitations, and he’s gonna be limited in the type of schemes he can play.

“He’s gotta find a scheme to play in, he’s probably gonna be — from my point of view — a rotational guy and also gonna have to play on special teams.”

It’s one of the harshest evaluations of Kancey by a draftnik. Pro Football Focus’s most recent 2023 Big Board rated Kancey as the 45th prospect in the class. Kancey’s draft stock tends to hover around a second or third grade at this point, as opposed to the fifth round. But as Pauline said, he’s just one voice.

When it comes to Kancey’s jump to the next level, Pauline said that it comes down to what Kancey wants to do.

“If he really enjoys college football and enjoys college experience, and I don’t know where he is as far as educational concerned, it makes sense for him to go back,” Pauline said. “If he’s ready to move on with the next level of his career, then he should go to the draft. The NFL — the curve in every single way is so much steeper. Not just the earning curve, but the competition curve, the conditioning curve, everything is so much steeper, and you gotta be able to handle it.”

Kancey, if he wanted to, could return for two more seasons at Pitt. He won’t, of course, but he’s already cemented his legacy as one of Pitt’s best defensive linemen in program history. The postseason accolades are very, very likely to follow in the weeks to come.

Pauline may not view Kancey as a top draft pick in 2023, but his body of work is undeniable.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Jane
Jane
2 months ago

His a football player and a good one…Unfortunately the NFL rate you on how you do in shorts and how you measure… but his quickness is what’s gonna get him where he needs to be!!

T Vax
T Vax
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane

why would someone vote this true statement down?

a poor man’s AD is still great imo, my main regret is he couldn’t finish the UNC game which was a big factor in the L

On Campus Stadium Please
On Campus Stadium Please
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane

They are all good in the NFL. Can he do the same things he does to ACC players vs. Kelce or other NFL centers? 3-5 round seems about right, where he lands will be based on need of NFL team and what they run.

Justin Dietrich
Justin Dietrich
2 months ago

Nobody besides AD can beat Kelce 1 on 1…

kevin
kevin
2 months ago

Too bad he can’t get NIL $$$ and come back for one more year to dominate. Some players are making more NIL money than NFL contracts! Hopefully that happens for Pitt!

H2P

Wlat 910 Radio and the Big Beat!
Wlat 910 Radio and the Big Beat!
2 months ago

My guess is he goes to NFL for the upcoming draft, best of luck to him

Andy
Andy
2 months ago

This is the same guy that started all the “Kenny Pickett has small hands” bs.
Everybody has an opinion

SRS
SRS
2 months ago

If it was Todd McShay maybe you value the analysis, he played the game.

Take Mel Kiper and Adam Schefter plus Tony Pauline analysis put it right beside Mark Madden, Charlie Weis, Todd Haley. Flush it after you wipe with it.

Value your Coach’s analysis he played College ball, Narduzzi.

Hopefully Kancey ends up with 4-3 team that Draft near the end of 1st regardless of what round he actually goes. Too many great ones end up on crap teams like Hugh Green and LaVar Arrington. Diminishes their perceived NFL greatness.

Giovanni
Giovanni
2 months ago

I don’t get it… If Kancey is the same height as Donald and just 5lbs lighter, why does this so-called draft expert have such little confidence in Kancey?? He can easily put on 5-additional pounds. He should be a low first or 2nd rounder. That said, I hope he does return to Pitt for one more year. I also disagree with the statement that an even more dominant performance in college for an additional year won’t help Kancey’s draft stock.

Michael
Michael
2 months ago
Reply to  Giovanni

There are some NFL people who go purely off of numbers and workouts. There is a reason why the same teams finish near the bottom of the league every year. AD fell in the draft because of perceived limitations due to size. I am sure the same will be true with Kancey. But if he gets to the league and puts up numbers, the same people who bashed him for his size will praise his intangibles as they jump on his bandwagon. I think he will go 3rd round and be the steal of the draft.

Justin Dietrich
Justin Dietrich
2 months ago

Most have him 2nd-3rd round. Pauline is a hack

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