Pitt football recruiting 2014: Panthers miss opportunity to upgrade talent

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

After ranking 86th nationally in scoring this season, the Pitt coaching staff has brought in considerable talent on the offensive side of the ball for the 2014 class.

It was an up-and-down season for the Pitt Panthers in 2013. They finished the regular season with a 6-6 mark, though it seemed just about every game they played was closely contested. Part of the problem was a lacking offensive attack, which ranked 86th nationally in scoring.

Fortunately for coach Paul Chryst and his staff, the Panthers are putting together a solid recruiting class for 2014 headlined primarily by a couple of quarterbacks, some skill position guys and a handful of offensive linemen. Their current class is ranked 44th nationally, according to 24/7Sports' composite team rankings. That's good for ninth-best in the ACC, with Miami (No. 5), Florida State (No. 6) and Clemson (No. 15) well ahead of the pack.

After loading up on recruits during the summer months, things have slowed down a bit for the Panthers. They did secure their highest-profile recruit yet on Dec. 18, though, by way of four-star offensive tackle Alex Bookser. Standing at an imposing 6'6 and 295 pounds already, Bookser could come in and contribute immediately along the line as a freshman. Bookser is a local product of Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh. The only other player to come on board in the last month is safety James Folston. Folston is a two-star prospect out of Cocoa, Fla., and committed on Dec. 14. At 6'3, 200 pounds, he possesses a sturdy frame and is known as a hard hitter down south.

Other than Bookser, Chris James is probably the most heralded player committed to Pitt. A 5'10, 210 pound running back out of Illinois, James is rated as a three-star recruit by most scouting services and is the 18th-best running back in his class. Michael Grimm and Connor Hayes are the two highest-ranked offensive line prospects currently committed. Grimm, 6'7, 315 pounds, is a local product out of Bethel Park, Penn., while Hayes, 6'4, 300 pounds, hails from Michigan. Both are three-star recruits and project to play offensive tackle in college.

Coach Chryst decided to take on three quarterbacks in this class. The first to commit was Adam Bertke in mid-June. Bertke is a three-star pro style QB out of Ohio with a big frame at 6'6 and 210 pounds. About two weeks later, Wade Freebeck, another three-star pro style QB, gave his pledge to the Panthers. On Oct. 3, JaQuan Davidson, a dual threat quarterback out of Elizabeth, Penn., gave his verbal commitment to the program. Davidson is regarded as a top-500 prospect and the No. 13 dual threat QB available. It will be interesting to see if all three players remain committed as National Signing Day nears.

Still to come? -- Bud Elliott, National Recruiting Analyist

December has not been kind to the Panthers on the recruiting trail. Pitt had a chance to upgrade its talent level and to take the first step in a potential move up the ACC ranks. It did not happen.

On December 9, tremendous athlete Dravon Henry, of Aliquippa, chose West Virginia. On December 19, talented athlete Montae Nicholson, picked Michigan State over the Panthers. The next day, Shai McKenzie, of Washington (Pa.) chose Virginia Tech. Three local four-star players, deciding over a two-week span, did not choose Pitt. The Bookser news was good, but Pitt had a real chance to land four of the top five players in the state with Penn State being down, and it failed.

There are other targets for which Pitt does look good, but they are not the elite, instant-impact types.

Adonis Jennings, of Sicklerville (NJ) Timber Creek, is a four-star receiver I like a lot, and a former Rutgers commitment. Pitt seems to be in good shape there.

Even if Pitt does close with Jennings, there are not any other superstar players on the radar. The ACC has a lot more talent than what Pitt usually faces, and a recruiting class with just a handful of four-stars will not set up a program for success in the league.

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