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Ludwig: Pitt’s Breakout, Sleeper, Deep Sleeper and Impact Freshman This Season

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I thought about how Pitt doesn’t have any preseason All-ACC members, as voted upon by the conference media, and I was surprised. But I wasn’t shocked.

Yeah, Jake Kradel and Matt Goncalves should’ve been considerations the offensive line, and Marquis Williams and M.J. Devonshire provide perhaps the best cornerback duo in the conference, but I think Pitt’s strength in 2023 lies in its ability to produce depth across basically every position. And those same players have the potential to create All-ACC members in bunches by the time December rolls around.

The preseason hype doesn’t matter. A sixth-place ranking and zero first-team All-ACC members is August mean absolutely nothing. It’s what happens in the season that matters obviously.

But it’s always fun to speculate what happens before it happens, especially when it comes to sports, and when a rather fun opportunity arose, it was a perfect chance to highlight some Pitt players who deserve some recognition.

ESPN’s David Hale asked for his Twitter followers to name their team’s breakout player, sleeper, deep sleeper and biggest freshman contributor ahead of the 2023 season. And that’s where it gets interesting. Pitt has options all across the board.

So, let’s take a look at my list:

Breakout: Konata Mumpfield

Sleeper: Javon McIntyre

Deep sleeper: Solomon DeShields

Freshman impact: Kenny Johnson

I had a tough time making my decisions here. There are so many options.

I really like Konata Mumpfield, and I have since he arrived from Akron last year. This choice could’ve gone to Shayne Simon or Bangally Kamara defensively, I think, but I like Mumpfield’s potential in the offense.

Mumpfield is my breakout candidate because I think he can be the Zay Flowers-like target for Phil Jurkovec. I think that Gavin Bartholomew can be a Hunter Long-like target, too, though…

I wouldn’t say that Mumpfield has Flowers’ nearly elastic agility, but he’s easily the best route runner on the roster. And I don’t know if it’s very close right now. If Jurkovec can get the ball to Mumpfield, as Kedon Slovis could not, I think we’re going to see an intermediate monster. After a sub-10.0 yards per reception season in 2022, hammer the over in 2023.

Mumpfield is just such a smooth, effortless mover. He’s a guy who should thrive off of Jurkovec’s off-platform throws, consistently able to create separation from mismatched corners. Even if it wasn’t shown statistically last season.

I think Means and Bartholomew and a certain freshman wideout could have strong seasons, but I’m going to say Mumpfield finally emerges as that No. 1 wideout.

There were a lot of sleeper picks to choose from, but I think Javon McIntyre’s emergence as Pitt’s next star safety will survive the rough patches that come with it. It’s only natural for a first-year defensive back starter in Narduzzi’s defense.

McIntyre played through growing pains of his own at the tail end of the 2022 season, recording interceptions against both Miami and UCLA while also blowing an assignment due to his inexperience — making Erick Hallett look bad in the Sun Bowl. But McIntyre has had an excellent spring and even better summer.

He’s — easily — the top safety on the roster, serving as the new defensive play caller at safety (with the likes of Williams and Devonshire looking to him now). And he’s a safe bet to flash with his instinctual play in the secondary — making use of his advanced knowledge and physical tools in a 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame.

The safeties have had trouble matching up with Pitt’s explosive passing attack this summer, adjusting to a rotation of young, inexperienced safeties, but I think McIntyre is just the player to lead the new era of Pitt’s safeties.

It was a tough choice between McIntyre and Hayes, and while I think Hayes is well within reach of the 10 tackles for loss, 10 sack season that he’s hoping to produce, I feel like McIntyre is just a bit more of a sleeper. I still expect a breakout from Hayes nonetheless.

The deep sleeper was my hardest choice. There are a lot of options here. I thought about C’Bo Flemister, Karter Johnson and Deandre Jules, among others, but I don’t think enough people are talking about Solomon DeShields. He just fits here.

He flashed in limited snaps last season, racking up five tackles for loss and four sacks as a reserve Money linebacker behind Shayne Simon, and I love his potential lining up as an outside ‘backer with Bangally Kamara (who was probably my second choice as a breakout option behind Mumpfield) on the outside.

As DeShields establishes himself at Money linebacker, growing into more than just a Delta blitzer, he should flash his ability to make splash plays. He’s huge, listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and looking every bit of it, and I think he’s going to be a very big piece defensively this season.

I really, really like Jordan Bass, and I think he may be Pitt’s best 2023 commit by the time all is said and done. But I don’t think his impact in 2023 will be greater than some other true freshmen.

By virtue of opportunity and snap distribution, Bass’ impact may be greatest on special teams initially. I like BJ Williams a lot. Isaiah Neal is a guy who could be a team captain in a few seasons. Cruce Brookins may be the next WPIAL safety to star at Pitt. But it comes down to one of the four wide receivers.

All four have the potential to make a real impact in 2023, but I think it’s clear that Kenny Johnson is the guy right now — although Zion Fowler-El isn’t all that far behind.

He’s a fast, explosive athlete at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds who is able to make contested catches. The coaching staff loves him, his teammates respect him, and I think Johnson will be a legitimate playmaker in 2023.

Narduzzi, Frank Cignetti Jr. and Tiquan Underwood have raved about Johnson, as has basically every teammate that I’ve listened to over the course of the summer (and all four freshmen wideouts have received major praise), but Johnson and Zion Fowler-El have emerged. And I think Johnson is just one step ahead.

He isn’t gonna have a Jordan Addison freshman impact, but he should be a step above what Jaden Bradley did as a freshman.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Evan
Evan
10 months ago

Anybody know what happens on the play that’s in this article’s picture with Mumpfield? Did it hit him in the helmet?

Katsura cassells
Katsura cassells
10 months ago

Mumphield needs to put his foot in the ground and run vertically when he catches the ball. He left a lot of yards on the field last season. The safties have the most to prove this season. Deshields is probably the best combination of strength and speed at l.b. and Simon is definitely the most polished l.b.. With a q.b. like Jurkovic, who is a guy that can move in the pocket, a receiver that can adjust his routes will thrive. I don’t think that guy is Mumphield. It will likely be Means.

John Smith
John Smith
10 months ago

Steph Hall the deep sleeper in opinion!

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