The top 10 Pitt football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
RB James Conner, Jr.
Until his doctors say otherwise, Conner is planning on returning to the field this fall. Conner is Pitt’s best player, but he’s attempting to overcome a one-two medical punch of an MCL tear suffered last September and a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis in December. The 6-2, 240-pound feature back practiced without contact in the spring, hoping to recapture his earlier form. In 2014, Conner powered for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries to earn ACC Player of the Year.
SS Jordan Whitehead, Soph.
Whitehead was one of the top performing rookies in the country a year ago, earning consensus Freshman All-America and ACC Rookie of the Year. Advanced well beyond his years, he led Pitt with 109 tackles, broke up six passes and even rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-11, 185-pound Whitehead is a dynamite all-around athlete. But even more important are the smarts, instincts and maturity that he brings to the Panther D.
DE Ejuan Price, Sr.
At long last, Price was healthy in 2015. Bad news for offensive tackles on the Pitt schedule. With absolutely no warning, the 6-0, 250-pound journeyman shredded opposing blockers for 48 tackles, 19.5 stops for minus yards and a league-best 11.5 sacks to be named First Team All-ACC. Against Louisville alone, he piled up five sacks to fall one shy of the national record. Price gets upfield in a flash and has the upper body strength to fight through the blocks of bigger players.
OT Adam Bisnowaty, Sr.
Bisnowaty is going to play in the NFL. This fall, he’s out to improve his 2017 draft grade. The former blue-chip recruit has really begun to blossom into one of the league’s—and country’s—premier tackles. Bisnowaty is an assertive run blocker and the lineman you want protecting your prized quarterback’s blindside. At 6-6 and 300 pounds, he has the right length for the position, and he uses his hands and feet very well.
OG Dorian Johnson, Sr.
A model of consistency and durability, Johnson has now started 27 consecutive games dating back to his freshman year. And he’s continuously improving, elevating to the All-ACC Second Team as a junior. Johnson has ideal size, 6-5 and 300 pounds, and the footwork of a future pro. While there’s room for improvement on north-south plays, he went the entire 2015 campaign without allowing a quarterback sack.
QB Nathan Peterman, Sr.
No, it wasn’t the second coming of Dan Marino or even Tyler Palko for that matter. But Peterman brought much-needed stability to the quarterback position in his first season since transferring from Tennessee. The Panthers didn’t ask the 6-2, 225-pound game manager to carry the team, and he responded by completing 193-of-314 passes for 2,287 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight picks. It’ll be interesting to see if Peterman can continue growing without his best weapon, WR Tyler Boyd.
LB Matt Galambos, Sr.
Galambos is a blue-collar worker who isn’t going to win the day at next year’s NFL Combine. But his production, especially as a junior, is above the criticism. The veteran of 25 career starts at middle linebacker registered a career-high 88 stops, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions in 2015. The 6-2, 240-pound Galambos closed the season with momentum, a personal-best 19 tackles in the Military Bowl.
CB Avonte Maddox, Jr.
Maddox took a step toward becoming one of the league’s better cornerbacks in 2015, earning honorable mention All-ACC in just his first season as a full-timer. A starter in every game, he was extremely active in all phases. Despite being only 5-9 and 170 pounds, Maddox still ranked third on the squad with 75 tackles and first with three interceptions and a dozen pass breakups. He’s the kind of DB who’ll make the opposition earn every yard and catch it makes.
RB Qadree Ollison, Soph.
When an early-season injury struck the team’s star, Ollison stepped up to perform his best James Conner impersonation. With Conner out, Ollison proceeded to run like a 6-2, 230-pound battering ram. He motored for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns on 212 carries to earn ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team. If Conner is unable to return this season, Ollison will be even better prepared to shoulder the load on the ground.
NT Tyrique Jarrett, Sr.
Jarrett is one of those linemen who rarely shows prominently in the box score, but always seems to be impacting the Pitt run defense. He’s a massive and powerful tackle, 6-3 and 335 pounds, who’s immovable, even when absorbing multiple blockers. And even at his considerable girth, Jarrett is surprisingly agile, as evidenced by last season’s seven stops for loss and pair of sacks among his 20 tackles.