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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Select Former Pitt DT Calijah Kancey in the First Round of the 2023 NFL Draft

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Pitt defensive lineman Calijah Kancey

Calijah Kancey is staying home in Florida as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have selected Kancey with the 19th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Kancey is Pitt’s second first round selection in as many years, following Kenny Pickett who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round last season. He is also the highest-selected Pitt player since Aaron Donald — the highest-drafted defensive lineman, of course, too — in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kancey arrived at Pitt as an undersized — and under-recruited — three-star defensive tackle out of Northwestern High in Miami, Florida in 2018. He didn’t hold an offer from hometown Miami, Florida or Florida State.

All he did his entire career at Pitt, and during the buildup to the 2023 NFL Draft, was prove people wrong. But it was never about proving anyone wrong.

“I just kinda prove myself right,” Kancey said at the NFL Combine. “I don’t play to prove anyone else wrong; I just prove myself right.”

After just three seasons at Pitt, Kancey declared for the NFL Draft — forced to miss the Sun Bowl due to minor surgery. He came out at the NFL Combine and ran a blazing 4.67 40-yard dash. It was the fastest time in two decades — even fast than Aaron Donald.

And while he didn’t run again at Pitt’s Pro Day last month, since he had no reason to do so, he showcased elite explosion and agility. A 33.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-4 broad jump were impressive, but his 6.82-second 3-cone would have been the fastest in NFL Combine history.

It was more impressive that he did it all at 6-foot-1, 282 pounds. Some people consider Kancey small, but not Pat Narduzzi. “He’s not short, he’s 6-foot-1, 280,” Narduzzi said after Pitt’s Pro Day. “So, he’s not small.” How many people are 6-foot-1, 280 pounds? And how many of those people are able to move like him?

Virtually no one. Of the 1,546 defensive tackles ranked by Relative Athletic Score since 1987, a rating system that evaluates measurables and testing numbers, Kancey ranked 64th. That’s pretty good.

Photo from ras.football.com.

He was the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American (just the 13th player in program history to earn unanimous honors in 2022) during his time at Pitt.

He racked up 31 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2022, in just 11 games, as he cemented himself as the leading interior pass rusher in college football — the No. 1 trait that attracted NFL teams in his draft cycle. His speed and quickness at 281 pounds are almost unheard of.

In his Pitt career, through just three seasons, Kancey recorded 91 tackles (52 solo), 34.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. It was a career that started fast and only got faster.

Narduzzi has watched up close for the last three seasons, watching him develop on the field, off the field and even socially. Kancey is obviously a great football player, but it’s more than that. There’s natural ability, of course, but there’s so much hard work.

“When you talk about motor and consistency, I think that might be the place he’s most improved,” Narduzzi said. “When he was a baby, he’d do a play and then take a couple off. Now it’s natural.”

Now Kancey will integrate into a veteran Buccaneers defensive line where he will be allowed to wreak havoc as an interior pass rusher. Not a bad landing spot.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Eli
Eli
1 year ago

Nice.

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