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Handful of Pitt Panthers Named to Preseason All-ACC Team

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Pitt mascot before the football team faces Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now.)

The expectations for Pitt entering the 2024 season aren’t very high, but if some of the players projected to break out can reach their potential, those low expectations could be easily cleared.

Legendary college football writer Phil Steele believes a handful of Pitt Panthers could be All-Conference players. He releases a magazine before every season that covers everything about college football. Of course, it touches upon Pitt and the ACC. And Steele projected four Panthers to earn All-ACC honors in 2024.

He named Donovan McMillon a first-team safety, Kenny Johnson a third-team kick returner, Konata Mumpfield a third-team wide receiver and Branson Taylor a third-team offensive tackle.

McMillon recorded 105 tackles (54 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one pass breakup last season as he stepped into the starting lineup in Week 3 against West Virginia.

He had a low missed tackle rate (8.1%, according to PFF) as one of the top run-stoppers on the roster. He tied for the team lead with 32 run stops. He was the first Pitt defender to hit the 100-tackle mark since Jordan Whitehead in 2015, and the only thing holding him back was his lack of “impact” plays.

He’s a big (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), physical defensive back with plenty to give. He’s a hard hitter. But, if the multitude of “takeaway” stickers on his helmet this spring is any indication, he found a way to make a legitimate difference. Turnovers are king.

If McMillon can combine a sturdy run defense with the ability to force turnovers, he could certainly emerge as one of the best safeties in the ACC.

Johnson is coming off an All-ACC season as a kick returner, but his impact was felt across the field at times last season.

He carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards, caught 15 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown and returned 15 kickoffs for 347 yards (23.1 yards per return) and a touchdown — a 100-yard return against North Carolina.

After a slow start to the season, Johnson broke out in the North Carolina loss and began regularly earning double-digit snaps as a wideout — even starting a couple of contests. He received 222 snaps last season and that number should rise exponentially in 2024. Johnson may play his way out of serving as a kick returner if he’s able to hit his offensive potential.

I thought Mumpfield was going to break out in 2023, but maybe with more consistent quarterback and a new, dynamic offense, I was just a year early in my prediction.

I don’t know if it’s subpar quarterback play or what, but Mumpfield hasn’t been able to tap into the full potential he’s flashed throughout his career. He’s slim, listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but he’s always open. And if the spring season is any indication, Mumpfield is primed for a new role in the offense — lining up out wide.

He’s sure handed (one drop in 74 targets in 2023) and consistently creates separation. It may be a case of simply having a quarterback who can get him the football. I’ve been high on Mumpfield since he arrived in Pittsburgh, and that’s not going to stop now.

Mumpfield gets open. Kade Bell has preached all offseason that he gets his wide receivers open. Mumpfield should be open quite a bit this season.

Taylor is listed at the same size as now former teammate Matt Goncalves, who the Indianapolis Colts just drafted. He has optimal size himself when it comes to an NFL offensive tackle, and with the adoption of an up-tempo offense, he should leave Pitt as a plus athlete.

It wasn’t an easy season for the Pitt offensive line, and Taylor was forced to bounce around from right to left, but he was easily the best tackle on the roster. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 11 pressures, eight hurries and two sacks in 341 pass-blocking opportunities.

He’s played quite a bit over the last two seasons, well over 1,000 offensive snaps, and he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. But if he’s able to provide a steady presence at either tackle spot this season, he should wind up as one of the better tackles in the ACC.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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