Haba Baldonado carried the torch for Pitt at the East-West Shrine Bowl earlier this year, spending a few days out in Las Vegas before the NFL Combine, and there’s a good chance a few more Pitt Panthers carry the torch forward.
The Shrine Bowl released a list of its 1,000 players to watch in college football next season, using the approximately 1,000 college players that are drafted, signed after the draft or attend minicamps each season as a reference, and there were four Pitt Panthers on the list.
The Shrine Bowl said it scouted all four levels of college football and consulted with NFL and collegiate personnel to ensure the no players slipped through the cracks.
The list included Phil Jurkovec, Jake Kradel, Matt Goncalves and M.J. Devonshire.
It’s Jurkovec’s first season at Pitt and final season of college football.
He started at Notre Dame, playing sparingly, before transferring to Boston College in 2019.
In three seasons at Boston College, Jurkovec completed 404-of-679 passing attempts (59.5%) for 5,183 yards with 35 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. And he added 429 yards and nine touchdowns on 195 attempts.
His debut season at Boston College, with Frank Cignetti Jr. as his offensive coordinator, Jurkovec completed 61% of his pass attempts for 2,558 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions — adding 150 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
After a poor 2022 season, Jurkovec can re-establish himself as a legitimate prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft with Frank Cignetti Jr. and a better offensive line before him.
It’s hard to find five season starters along the offensive line, but that’s just what Kradel offers.
It almost doesn’t feel like it’s true but with another full season, he’ll have started five seasons on Pitt’s offensive line — at guard and center. He slid from left guard to center last season, earning All-ACC honors at both spots.
Kradel started all 13 games for Pitt in 2022, beginning the season at right guard before sliding into the injured Owen Drexel’s spot at center.
In his Pitt career, he’s played in 43 games — making 38 snaps at right guard and center. His final season appears to be set at center, where he provided a steadying presence for Pitt’s offense.
Kradel recorded 874 offensive snaps in 2022 (600 at center, 265 at right guard and seven as an inline tight end), and he’s a big returner on the offensive line.
Matt Goncalves has flashed his potential at Pitt since he first arrived in 2019, but the 2023 season is finally his time to shine.
Goncalves earned third-team All-ACC honors last season, taking 830 snaps last season, which only trailed Jake Kradel, and he’s once again back as Pitt’s starting right tackle.
He’s played in 35 games (making 21 starts dating back to 2020), and his size (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) and versatility (able to play on the left and right side of the line) should entice scouts.
Devonshire might be the fastest player on Pitt’s roster, scoring three touchdowns last season defensively and on special teams.
The 2022 season was a breakout campaign for Devonshire as he slid into the starting role alongside Marquis Williams. And his biggest goal over the offseason was to get stronger and more physical ahead of this season.
Devonshire possesses an elite physical trait. Speed. He’s very, very fast, and that’s always a calling card for NFL defenses. He was productive as a cornerback and a punt returner last season, and he should put together a strong 2023 campaign.
He recorded 34 tackles (23 solo), three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and broke up eight passes. According to PFF, when opposing quarterbacks targeted Devonshire (or he was assigned as the nearest defender), he allowed 33 receptions on 62 targets (just 53% completion) for 407 yards.
Here’s a Shrine Bowl descriptor:
“The East-West Shrine Bowl is a best-in-class all-star event that will take place at the Dallas Cowboys Facility in Frisco, TX on February 1, 2024. Our players will be coached by NFL coaches, in an NFL facility, and will have access to NFL-level resources, facilities, player-friendly schedules, and opportunities at the highest level. For more information about the 2024 game, you can visit this link.”