Pittsburgh Senior Scouting
This was not the article I was expecting to write. My expectations for this Pittsburgh team were not particularly high after pushing through about a dozen UDFA player evals. The watches started as I expected with WR Maurice Ffrench and LB Saleem Brightwell, but the secondary was fire. Safety Damar Hamlin has arms that go to his calves without even bending over. Cornerback Dane Jackson went head to head with Clemson's receivers and held his ground. It was a delight to put draftable grades on back to back players for the first time while studying ACC teams.
It's also worth noting that I took a glance at underclassman edge rusher Rashad Weaver. He did not impress at all. Weaver is slender, raw, and just generally not an impressive player at this point in his career. I hope I can say different if he ends up declaring this December. I really hope he stays in school though, if his 2018 tape is any indication of what his 2019 tape will be like.
Now let's talk about them seniors I love so much.
Prospects are ranked from best tape grade to worst tape grade.
Dane Jackson Cornerback
Decent long speed once he gets into a stride. Almost ran down Travis Etienne. Patient and composed backpedal coming off the line. Looks like his listed size of 6’0” and 190 pounds. Gets his head back around to find the football when he is working vertically. Able to keep step for step with most guys downfield even though he isn’t a high level athlete. Active hands along the route and at the catch point. Won’t open up his hips early and put himself into a bad situation. Backpedal may need some more depth to it. Comfortable working half-turn. Reads the quarterback well and gets going immediately once he spots the release coming.
Click and close isn’t special but it’s pro caliber. Has the hand eye coordination to make an impact when the ball is in the air. Decent length. Tackling accuracy and range isn’t great. Played some nickel but his best role is likely on the outside as a pro. Held his own against Clemson’s wideouts. Ankle biter tendencies will get him in trouble in the open field. Not afraid of involving himself with the pile. Tape is likely going to be better than his testing. Questionable recovery speed. Run defense angles get rough. 6th Round Summer Grade.
Damar Hamlin Safety
Quick to get downhill when he spots the release. Decent closing speed. Has excellent length at his disposal as a tackler, but his angles put him out of the play at times. Loose hips allow him to make changes of direction without trouble. Stock is likely going to be determined by his athletic testing. Looks the part as an impressive athlete. Can shut down runners as they try to turn the corner. Good stride length allows him to cover large patches of ground if needed. Technique as a tackler can get ugly, but his wingspan is so big that it’s tough to fall off. Able to cover a lot of space working laterally; should hold up fine in coverage if he improves angles.
Has the mentality teams will want. Quick to stick his nose into the play and deliver a hit. Build-up speed can be quite stunning at times. Played a little bit of nickel at Pitt but he’s likely staying further back in the pros. Strong enough as is, but his frame could support more weight if he wanted it to. Backpedal is oddly weighted but serves its purpose. Skill set might interest teams more as a corner. Hustles to get back into the play once he’s out of it. Project that some team is going to fall in love with. 6th Round Summer Grade.
Nolan Ulizio Offensive Tackle
Only listed at 290 pounds and he looks like it on the field. Somewhat linear build may make him a liability when matching up against NFL power. Struggles to hold angles and keep guys contained with their movements. Measurables likely make him a tackle only in the pros. Adjusts his hands and fights against counters, but he doesn’t do it fast enough yet. Decent length but he isn’t great at using it. Can work in space and hit combo blocks, although that’s largely because he’s an undersized guy without a lot of weight to carry around.
Doesn’t bring much in the way of attitude as a run blocker, and rarely puts finishes on tape. Mobility in pass protection isn’t great, but he can move well enough to hold the edge against college pass rushers. Frame already seems to be maxed out as a college player. Activity as a blocker doesn’t necessarily translate into success with it. UDFA Summer Grade.
Maurice Ffrench Wide Receiver
Doesn’t have burner speed but can move quick enough to beat cushion. Disciplined eyes don’t give things away when he is setting up for the double move. Stands under 6’0” and it shows on the field. Might end up being a slot only option in the pros due to his size. Has the foot quickness to make immediate adjustments and toy with defensive backs. Has experience working both on the inside and outside. Takes shortcuts and rounds off his routes rather than making sharp cuts. Has trouble shielding the ball away at the catch point because he is a smaller guy. Has enough lateral quickness to escape press, but he can be deterred by a physical approach.
Underwhelming long speed prevents him from getting separation over the top. Natural ball tracker and won’t lost his cool with a defender on top of him, but he can’t box out and win the jump ball. Active downfield blocker even though his size can be a detriment. Catch radius is on the smaller side and he can’t make up for bad throws. Might be a design touch guy in the pros if his routes don’t get cleaned up. Keeps his chest clear off the snap. Not explosive enough to create space. UDFA Summer Grade.
Saleem Brightwell Linebacker
Clearly undersized for a linebacker at only around 6’0” and 220 pounds. Might not have the bulk to hold up at the pro level if he doesn’t convert to safety. Willing to go head to head with blockers in the run game even though he doesn’t have the mass to hold his ground. Play speed is underwhelming for a guy with his stature. Comes downhill at an acceptable pace, but he looks too slow working towards the sideline. Small arms and poor tackling radius are going to make impactful plays in run defense an unlikely result. Assignment sound guy in coverage; doesn’t stray from his job.
Lacks the lateral movement skills to hold large zones down, but he is athletic enough to get coverage reps. Can’t mirror tight ends or carry guys vertical without some discomfort. Hips don’t flip easy. Quick to react to what is in front of him and make adjustments. Doesn’t really bring anything to the table as a pass rusher. Short strides cover very little ground. Can’t detach once a blocker hooks onto him. UDFA Summer Grade.
There is a fair amount of change for the Pittsburgh offense that will likely prevent them from getting back to the ACC title game. They lost two stud backs in Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison, plus their entire offensive line is getting shuffled with a bunch of older guys graduating. If Kenny Pickett can find any kind of success they might be able to kick up a .500 record. Hamlin and Jackson will be the two clear cut stars for this team next year though.
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