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Pitt Leads ACC, Fifth Nationally, With Six Selections in 2023 NFL Draft



There’s usually something to be said when it comes to producing NFL talent but not being able to win on the field with that talent.

Whatever it is, it cannot be said about Pitt football.

There were six Pitt Panthers selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, which is tied for the most in the ACC, tied for fifth best in college football, and over the last three drafts, no ACC team has produced more NFL talent than Pitt.

Dating back to Trevor Lawrence being selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Pitt has had 14 players selected. That’s No. 1 in the ACC over that span, one more than Clemson and North Carolina.

And it’s coincided with a stretch of football that includes an ACC championship in 2021 and a historic number of wins over the last two seasons (the most since the 1980s).

When it comes to the draft this year, there were six selections. And all six were, obviously, key contributors on Pitt’s ACC title run.

Calijah Kancey was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round, 19th overall, and he became Pitt’s highest-drafted player since Aaron Donald in 2014.

Aside from being a conference Defensive Player of the Year and the 15th unanimous All-American in program history, he racked up two tackles and a tackle for loss against Wake Forest in the title game.

His first-round selection, when combined with Kenny Pickett being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of last year’s draft, also ensured back-to-back first round draft picks for the first time since 2007 and 2008.

“Our entire program is bursting with pride right now for Calijah,” Pat Narduzzi said in Pitt’s release. “This young man has absolutely earned all that comes with this night. Here’s a Miami kid who didn’t receive an in-state Power 5 offer, comes up to Pitt and ends up being a Unanimous All-American and first-round NFL Draft pick. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting a great player and even better person.”

Pitt somewhat surprisingly didn’t have a Day 2 selection, but it was a very active Day 3.

Carter Warren was selected by the New York Jets in the fourth round, 120th overall. It’s a 15-minute drive to the Meadowlands from Carter’s hometown of Paterson, New Jersey — a drive he knows well.

“We are thrilled Carter gets to live out his NFL dream by returning home to play for the New York Jets,” Pat Narduzzi said. “Coach Robert Saleh is not only getting a great offensive lineman but also a leader. There’s a reason Carter was a captain for us, and I know he will do the same, on and off the field, for the Jets.”

And Warren wasn’t alone in being drafted by the Jets either, as Israel Abanikanda was selected by the Jets in the fifth round — 143rd overall.

“What an awesome moment for a Brooklyn kid to go and play for the hometown New York Jets,” Narduzzi said. “Izzy is an absolute steal for them. He is going to give the Jets home run speed in the backfield and can help them in the return game, too.”

Abanikanda ran for 55 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries against Wake Forest, the season before he broke out as one of the best running backs in college football.

And it wasn’t just Warren and Abanikanda who were reunited in New York either. When the Buccaneers selected SirVocea Dennis in the fifth round (153rd overall), he joined Kancey in Tampa.

“SirVocea is going to be a tremendous addition in Tampa for Coach Bowles, who certainly knows what it takes to build great defenses,” Narduzzi said. “SirVocea might just be the most intelligent player I’ve ever coached. A ‘Green Dot Guy’ if there ever was one. We are thrilled SirVocea and Calijah will be continuing their football journey together.”

Dennis was a leading factor in Pitt’s win over Wake Forest, racking up 12 tackles (five solo), two tackles for loss and two sacks — a sign of things to come in 2022.

And while Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill weren’t reunited on the same team, the former starting safety duo both achieved their dreams of being drafted into the NFL.

Hallett, after flying under the radar throughout much of the draft cycle, was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round (208th overall), continuing the legacy of Pitt defensive backs in the NFL.

“Erik Hallett was so vital to our defense during his career,” Narduzzi said. “He’s such a smart, instinctive and athletic player. Erik is everything you want in a safety, and I know he will be a really big asset in Jacksonville.”

And Hill wasn’t much further behind, with the Houston Texans selecting him in the seventh round (248th overall).

“The Texans are getting both speed and an aggressive hitter in Brandon Hill,” Narduzzi said. “He has the ability to not only compete at safety but also be a real difference-maker on special teams. Coach DeMeco Ryans and his staff got a real gem in a later round. I know Brandon will be ready to get to work upon arrival.”

Hallett was the ACC championship game MVP, recording two tackles and two interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), and Hill — lined up across from him — recorded three tackles.

Pitt had a running back, an offensive lineman, a defensive tackle, a linebacker and a couple of defensive backs — of course — selected over the last few days. And that doesn’t account for a handful more that have signed priority free agent deals upon the draft ending.

It’s been an excellent weekend for Pitt football.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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