Pittsburgh is an epicenter of talent in all areas of the sports world. With so much talent abound in this city, there must be a constant watch for the next big thing from the steel city. Pittsburgh has a few guys who could be trending towards stardom past and present, both Tyler Boyd and James Conner have shown the ability to be productive players who excel at stressing defenses with nuance and physicality . They have produced an All-Pro in DT Aaron Donald, and a budding Tackle in TJ Clemmings. The 2016 roster appears to be set up to produce some more solid draftable players starting with Redshirt Senior Ejuan Price.
Ejuan Price, at 5’10 and 250 pounds, is a guy who was one of the most productive pass rushers in the ACC in 2015. Price Registered 19.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks last year. While he may not possess prototypical size, he makes up for it with his aggressiveness, motor, and instincts. His game vs.Louisville really opened my eyes to his tenacity, he amassed 10 total tackles and 6 for loss. 5 of which were sacks, keep in mind he sacked Louisville’s Lamar Jackson 3 of those 5 who happens to be one of the most athletic qbs in all of college football. If Ejuan is able to stay healthy and build off of last season he could be getting comparisons to another tenacious pass rusher in the Steel City James Harrison or a former ACC terror Elvis Dumervil.
Joining Price on the edge is Redshirt sophomore DE Dewayne Hendrix, a former Tennessee volunteer. He was a top 100 player in the 2014 cycle and top 10 at his DE position. While he has yet to do much at the collegiate level a small view of his high school tape shows a kid with tremendous speed and length to win from the edge. So, if he can combine a pass rush repertoire with that raw athleticism, Pitt could be wrecking game plans with Hendrix and Ejuan Price on the edge.
Mark Herzlich was an excellent player considered the best defensive player in the ACC in 2009 but his cancer diagnosis changrawall that. His comeback story is one of a kind, but he can relate to the struggle of Pitt RB James Conner. James Conner is a wrecking ball on the field, he possesses enough speed to break off chunks of yardage and his willingness to run through potential tacklers takes a toll on opposing defenses. He has yet to play a snap after being cancer free, but he has a work ethic like no other and I believe he can return to form. An immediate return to form may be a little overzealous but I believe by the conclusion of the season in a deep group of draft eligible running backs he could be ascending past a few notable names like Royce freeman, Jalen Hurd, and Wayne Gallman , barring a solid return season. While Conner may not be considered a home run hitter he’s a well-built tough running back with good balance who has yet to register a single career fumble and i’m sure he will have many opportunities to continue his streak in 2016. The arrow is pointing up for the offense because Pitt is also returning the 2015 ACC-offensive rookie of the year who rushed for 1,000 yards ,in redshirt sophomore RB Qadree Ollison. At 6’2 and 230 pounds, he is another bruising back who has a knack for breaking tackles and finishing runs. This tandem of big backs can really challenge defenses with their physicality and will be no easy test on game days.
Pitt also boasts some returning talent in the secondary with Junior cornerback Avonte Maddox who lead the panthers in interceptions/pass deflections last year and sophomore safety Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead is an emerging player in the secondary as a freshman he was a consensus All-American and logged snaps at Safety and RB. While he had a small sample size at RB, he has explosive ability with the ball in his hand. He is an impressive athlete with good quickness and vision while he maybe a little small he consistently puts himself in winning situations facing ball carriers and tacklers.
Offenses and Defenses better be aware this team is loaded with talent and shouldn’t be overlooked lest they become prey to the panthers.