PITTSBURGH – If there’s one position where Pitt football is deep, it’s wide receiver. The Panthers have seven returning players at the position, six of whom have starting experience; they added two promising freshman and a transfer from Hawaii, and sophomore Jordan Addison has all the tools to become the program's next star receiver.
Addison burst onto the scene in 2020 as a true freshman and quickly made an impact for the Panthers. Addison led Pitt with 60 receptions, 666 yards, and four touchdowns in 10 games last season. His efforts earned him the runner-up spot for ACC Rookie of the Year.
The spark Addison provided was much needed as Taysir Mack struggled last season. Mack led Pitt in receiving yards in 2018, with 557 yards on just 25 catches for an average of 22.3 yards per reception. In 2019, he ranked second on the team with 736 yards on 63 receptions. Last year was a different story as Mack posted just 305 yards as injuries caught up to him, forcing him to undergo two surgeries.
“Obviously, I didn't perform the way I wanted to, where my talents obviously showed the previous year,” Mack said this spring.
Mack didn’t miss a snap during spring drills and if he stays healthy, his big play ability could go a long way for the Pitt offense.
“It’s important anytime you got more than one go-to guy,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of Mack remaining healthy this fall. “Kenny (Pickett) feels comfortable throwing to Taysir, he always has, and then you got Jordan on the other side…it’s a good problem to have.”
In addition to Addison and Mack, Shocky Jacques-Louis returns. The senior started 16 games over the past two seasons and averaged 13.8 yards per reception during that stretch.
Junior Jared Wayne has started seven games for the Panthers over the last two seasons; in 2020, he caught 21 balls for 326 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Tre Tipton and junior John Vardzel provide depth at the position. Tipton has been beset by injuries but has played in 39 games, starting five, over the course of his Pitt career.
Speedy sophomore Jaylon Barden is worth keeping an eye on. In his college football debut against Austin Peay last season, Barden had a 68-yard catch that set up a touchdown on the next play. In the home finale against Virginia Tech, Barden notched five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Barden’s ability to stretch the field could add another wrinkle to Pitt’s offense.
The receiving corps will feature three new faces this year. Freshmen Myles Alston and Jadon Bradley are joined by transfer Melquise Stovall, who signed with Pitt in April. Stovall spent 2020 playing under new wide receivers coach Brennan Marion in Hawaii. In two years at Hawaii, Stovall caught 49 passes for 480 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 24.6 yards on kickoff returns.
If there’s one position where the Panthers have gotten little production in recent years, it’s at tight end. In 2019, Pickett had as many touchdown receptions as the entire tight end group. Last year, five tight ends combined for a total of 100 yards on 10 catches and one touchdown.
Lucas Krull was expected to turn the tide for Pitt tight ends in 2020, but he played in just one game before a season-ending injury. In the spring game, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Florida transfer caught two passes for 40 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown.
Krull thinks the group has a chance to be special this season.
“I feel like from last year to where we’re at now, it’s just been that chemistry, that unit, and togetherness,” Krull said following the spring game. “I think we’re going to be extremely explosive with (Pickett) back there controlling the game.”
Sophomore Kyi Wright also played well in the spring game, catching two balls for 57 yards and Narduzzi was pleased with his performance throughout spring drills.
Another player expected to improve the play at tight end is freshman Gavin Bartholomew, who earned praise from Pickett for his work ethic in the spring.
“I think he’s a guy who has potential to make an impact early,” Pickett said at the time.
Those sentiments were shared by Narduzzi who also believes Bartholomew could contribute this fall.
“At this point, it looks like there’s three guys that can really go out and play some really quality football for us, so we’re excited about what that tight end can do,” Narduzzi said after the spring game.
The tight end unit will return Daniel Moraga, Kaymar Mimes, Grant Carrigan, and Jake Zilinskas and add a second freshman in Jake Renda.
While increased production in the receiving game would be welcomed, Narduzzi is also hoping better play at tight end will lead to an improvement in the run game.
“You have to have tight ends in the run game. It’s hard to run the football without it,” Narduzzi said. “So if we can get out there and in some two tight end (sets) on offense and even one good tight end out there at a time, it changes things for a defense and it gives you an opportunity to run the ball better.”