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Pitt Football’s Top 2024 NFL Draft Prospects

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Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew.

The Pitt football program recorded a major win this weekend with its performance in the 2023 NFL Draft.

There were six Panthers selected, 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.

Getting their players drafted to the NFL is a major recruiting point for any college program and that’s something Pat Narduzzi and his staff are certainly able to sell future recruits.

With the 2023 Draft in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to 2024 and what Pitt Panthers are candidates to hear their name called during draft week.

Unlike the last few years with Calijah Kancey, Kenny Pickett, Patrick Jones, Rashad Weaver, etc., at this point, there doesn’t appear to be any Pitt player that’s a sure-fire high draft pick. That’s not to say one won’t develop into that, because that’s what the next 365 days are about. However, at this point, any players that you’d name would be pure speculation.

With that being said, here’s an early look at the top five players who we believe have the best chances of extending Pitt’s streak of getting players drafted.

QUARTERBACK PHIL JURKOVEC

Jurkovec possesses all the tools that NFL teams are looking for in terms of his physical ability combined with his work ethic and leadership skills. The only thing that’s in doubt with Jurkovec is his durability. Following his 2020 season at Boston College in which he threw for 2,558 yards and 20 combined touchdowns, Jurkovec’s name was being mentioned as an NFL quarterback.

However, injuries have slowed down that talk but 2023 will be his opportunity to rebuild his stock. At this point, aside from Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, there isn’t a ton of depth in the Class of 2024. As we saw with Kenny Pickett two years ago, it just takes one season to have your name shoot up the draft board and that’s what Jurkovec will try and do in 2023.

Player comp from 2023 NFL Draft: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (Round 3, Pick 68) Like Pickett, Hooker had a late-career resurgence that improved his draft stock. Jurkovec will have to hope that his transfer to Pitt is as productive for him as Hooker’s move to Tennessee was for him. If Hooker hadn’t suffered a major knee injury last season, he could have been a first-round pick. — Alan Saunders

CORNERBACK M.J. DEVONSHIRE

MJ Devonshire

Pitt defensive back MJ Devonshire walks out of the locker room ahead of the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Dec. 4, 2021. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

As things stand today, I’d consider Devonshire, Pitt’s top 2024 NFL Draft prospect. With his size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), speed and tape that he already has to show NFL teams, Devonshire is a prototypical NFL cornerback. Last season was MJ’s first full opportunity to show pro scouts his talent level and he didn’t disappoint, leading the Panthers with three interceptions. The other thing he’ll have going for him is the recent track record Archie Collins’ secondary has of producing NFL players with names like Damarri Mathis, Jason Pinnock, Jordan Whitehead, Dane Jackson, Damar Hamlin, Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett.

Player comp from 2023 NFL Draft: Clark Phillips III, Utah (Round 4, Pick 113) Phillips projects as an NFL slot cornerback that showed both toughness against the run and great ball skills, and that fits Devonshire perfectly. If he can top Phillips’ 4.51-second 40-yard dash — and I think he can — he can move even farther up the board. — Saunders

DEFENSIVE END DAYON HAYES

Dayton Hayes (50) during the ACC Championship Game – December 4, 2021 David Hague/PSN

Earlier, I mentioned that the next calendar year will give players on this roster the opportunity to showcase their skills and no player on the 2023 roster that pertains to more than Dayon Hayes. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive end has freakish talent and will have the chance to showcase it this coming season. No question that talent is there, the question will be consistency, doing in week in and week out. Hayes played in eight games last season (one start) and collected 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Haba Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre are gone, so Hayes will be the veteran of the group and will have the opportunity to display the talent that people have talked about for years. Like with the secondary, Pitt’s reputation of getting defensive lineman drafted under Charlie Partridge. With the increased role and scheme, Hayes will have the opportunity, will he be able to take advantage?

Player comp from 2023 NFL Draft: Keion White, Georgia Tech (Round 2, Pick 46) White transferred to Georgia Tech from Old Dominion. Hayes has been at Pitt, he was just stuck behind other great players. Either way, this is a pair of thickly built defensive ends that are solid against the run and can really get to the passer when turned loose. White broke out for 7.5 sacks in 2022 after just 3.5 in the rest of his career. Hayes had nine over his first three seasons. No one should be surprised by double digits in 2023. — Saunders

TIGHT END GAVIN BARTHOLOMEW

Pittsburgh Panthers tight end Gavin Bartholomew (86) Sept 10, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Unlike the players previously listed, Bartholomew is only a junior so he would have to declare early for the draft. I list him though because in today’s NFL, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound athlete is a what’s starring in today’s NFL offenses. Two years ago, as a freshman, Barthlomew teamed with Pickett to catch 28 passes for 326 yards (11.6 per catch) and four touchdowns. Everyone expected that to continue last season but for whatever the reason it didn’t happen. Bartholomew still caught 21 receptions for 283 yards (13.5 per catch) and two touchdowns but many teams he went invisible and unused in the offense. That will no doubt have to be something that is fixed in 2023 if the passing game looks to rebound following a season of inconsistency. If Barthlomew’s talents are allowed to be showcased, he’ll have a decision to make at the end of the season because there’s no doubt he can be effective in the NFL.

Player comp from 2023 NFL Draft: Will Mallory, Miami (Round 5, Pick 162) Mallory had 329 yards in 2020 and 347 yards in 2021 before breaking out for 538 on 42 catches in 2022 and getting drafted in the fifth round of an incredibly deep tight end class. Bartholomew had 326 yards in 2021 and 283 in 2022. If he repeats Mallory’s trajectory of nearly doubling his receiving total, with a bigger frame and better blocking, he could go even higher than Mallory in 2024. But would that be enough for him to leave early? Too soon to say. — Saunders

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAKE KRADEL

Pittsburgh Panthers offensive lineman Jake Kradel (53) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

We list Kradel because of the experience and versatility that he’ll be able to provide NFL teams. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman has started 38 games since the 2019 season and will looked upon as the anchor of Pitt’s line this coming season. Kradel has also been asked to play both offensive guard and center at Pitt and has done so at a high level. Along with winning ACC honorable mentions for his performance on the field, Kradel is an intelligent player and a team leader, something NFL teams value.

Player comp from 2023 NFL Draft: Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame (Round 6, Pick 201) The move to center makes Kradel a much more interesting draft prospect, as he’s not the physical giant that teams look for at guard. Patterson played 48 games in his collegiate career, and also brought positional versatility to the table. — Saunders

OTHER CANDIDATES: Cornerback A.J. Woods, cornerback Marques Williams, running back Rodney Hammond.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Eli
Eli
1 year ago

Marquis Williams will get drafted somewhere. Maybe not super high, ’cause of his size, but just like Pitt’s recent CB’s (Jackson, Matthis, Pinnock) he’ll go somewhere in the 4-7th rounds and make an impact.

Giovanni
Giovanni
1 year ago
Reply to  Eli

Agreed. Same with Hammond. He is a pro-style, grind-it-out, RB. Also has some Walter Peyton in him as he keeps his feet moving creating the illusion that he’s going down but doesn’t.

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