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Dayon Hayes is Playing Better Than His Numbers Indicate This Season



Pitt defensive end Dayon Hayes.

Life under Charlie Partridge’s watchful eye has led to more sacks and tackles for loss than just about any other team in college football over the last few seasons.

There have been some elite players, All-Americans and first round NFL Draft picks to come through Pitt during that time, but if the 2023 season has shown anything, it’s that the unit hasn’t quite been up to its usual standard.

It’s been a solid season, ranking 21st in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss in the NCAA this season, but it still isn’t the standard expected of a Pitt defense. It may be unfair to expect to be ranked in the top three every season, but that’s the expectation that Pitt shoulders.

Dayon Hayes was expected to be the guy this season after Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and John Morgan and Calijah Kancey left, and he hasn’t matched that production himself.

Hayes doesn’t have the numbers, just two sacks this season, but even if the numbers don’t actually show it, he’s been one of the better pass-rushing defensive ends in college football this season.

According to PFF, Hayes is 22nd in the FBS with 35 total pressures, 14th with 25 hurries and 14th with eight quarterback hits. It’s only actual sacks — just two — that rank way, way down in the FBS — tied for fourth on the Pitt defense alone.

And obviously, those sacks are what’s most important. But there is tangible evidence that Hayes is due for a breakout.

A 13.1 win rate is good for 50th in the FBS, coming off a 22.2 win rate against Florida State, and his PRP — a formula used to combine sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many times a player rushes the passer — is a 9.3. And that’s good for 15th in the FBS.

This isn’t to excuse a lack of production, just to show that despite the number of sacks, Hayes is making an impact. It’s about finishing those plays now, turning the near-misses into sacks and tackles for loss.

According to PFF, Hayes has missed eight tackles this season — six of which came against Virginia Tech. He’s been in the backfield, he’s making contact but he isn’t finishing those plays. There’s room for more — much more. And Charlie Partridge sees it, too.

“You know, Dayon has come to work,” Partridge said last month. “He’s really grown up in front of my eyes. My dream, my goal for him is that you guys see that from a production standpoint. But all the really good ones that I’ve coached, there’s always a plateau in see-able production, but I am seeing a rise in execution and technique. And that will pay off in time. To his credit, he’s coming to work every day.”

If you project Hayes’ pass-rushing stats through nine games this season over a 12-game sample size (the typical season), here’s how he’d compare to a few of Pitt’s elite pass rushers over the last few seasons.

Games Total Pressures Hurries QB Hits Sacks Win Rate PRP
Dayon Hayes (23) 12 47 33 11 3 13.1 9.3
Calijah Kancey (22) 11 47 30 9 7.5 19.6 10.6
Habakkuk Baldonado (21) 14 48 28 14 9 10.5 7.6
Rashad Weaver (20) 9 48 32 6 7.5 17.6 10.2
Pat Jones (20) 11 37 23 5 9 10.1 6.9
Pat Jones (19) 13 62 44 8 8.5 13.6 9.3

The only thing that stands out to me, besides the fact that Hayes is amongst some elite company, is that it’s just the sacks that are lagging behind. Production is important, getting home is the difference between a quarterback standing in the pocket and completing a pass under pressure and an 8-yard loss.

But Hayes is overwhelmingly the most effective pass rusher for the Panthers this season. The next most pressures come from Shayne Simon (15), Solomon DeShields (11) and Bangally Kamara (10). All linebackers.

Samuel Okunlola has shown flashes this season, but he’s just truly entered the lineup over the last few weeks. Nate Temple and Bam Brima are more of run-stopping ends than anything, offering little in terms of getting after opposing quarterbacks.

It’s nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Hayes doesn’t return next season for his fifth season, and it will come with some younger ends likely lining up with him, but there are still three games this season.

And it starts with a Syracuse team that has allowed 27 sacks this season, good for the third most in the ACC this season. Hayes has the opportunity to finish his season — and the Pitt season — on a high note. Partridge is expecting to see it at some point.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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