Here's part two of our series leading up to signing day Wednesday. Today, we'll take a look at where Pitt stands at the running back position.
Early enrollees: None.
James Conner (6-2, 225 lbs)
McDowell High School (Erie, Pa.)
Rivals: 3*, No. 26 Weakside DE
Scout: 2*, No. 124 DE
ESPN: 3*, No. 101 DE
Rachid Ibrahim (6-2, 170 lbs)
The Avalon School (Gaithersburg, Md.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 89 S
ESPN: 3*, No. 79 RB
Jojo Kemp (5-10, 189 lbs)
Deland High School (Deland, Fla.)
Rivals: 3*, No. 10 all-purpose back
Scout: 3*, No. 72 RB
ESPN: 4*, No. 28 RB
This is sort of a unique position for the 2013 class because Paul Chryst got his running back of the future last year in Rushel Shell. Running back isn’t an area of huge need for the Panthers, but they’ll take talent if they can get it. The Panthers lost their top target in October when Corey Clement decommitted from Pitt and instead chose Wisconsin.
I included Ibrahim in this grouping, even though there’s a very good chance he’ll start his Pitt career as a defensive back. I spoke with his high school coach, Tad Shields, yesterday, and Shields was effusive in his praise for Ibrahim as a running back, so (especially if Pitt doesn’t land Kemp) he could end up there as well. Shields said Ibrahim took a big step forward as a running back his senior year, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where he ended up making his biggest impact at the college level.
As for Kemp, he will decide Friday between Pitt, Kentucky, South Florida and West Virginia. Most indications I’ve seen have this as a two-horse race between Pitt and Kentucky, with the Wildcats probably holding a slight edge. As I said earlier, Kemp would be a nice addition to the class, purely on a talent basis, but I don’t get the sense that the staff is desperate to add a running back in this class. Shell and Malcolm Crockett will both be sophomores, eligibility-wise, next year, and Isaac Bennett will be a junior. Running back is also a position where a guy can step in and play right away, so the staff may be better served targeting an elite 2014 guy if Kemp decides to go elsewhere.
The one guy from this class who will definitely start in the offensive backfield is James Conner. Even though he's listed as a defensive end, the staff likes his ability to run the ball as a bigger back in this system. He doesn't strike me as an every-down type of back, but could be the perfect guy for goal-line and short-yardage situations, almost like a halfback/fullback hybrid role who's capable of getting 10 carries a game.