An embarrassment of riches returns to Pittsburgh this season as their top returning players were hard to limit to just 10. Anchored by one of the top defensive lines in college football, Pitt has an elite crop of returners this season. Even though they break in a new quarterback in Kedon Slovis and lost their top talent to the transfer portal after Jordan Addison jumped to USC, the Pitt Panthers have to be a favorite to win the ACC Coastal.
For every other conference’s top returning players: AAC | ACC | B1G | Big 12 | Conference USA | Independents | MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt
Top 10 returning players at Pittsburgh
We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to Pittsburgh.
10) Marquis Williams, CB
Kicking things off is Marquis Williams, Pitt’s fierce cornerback on the outside. After breaking out in 2020, Williams proved himself yet again in 2021. He recorded an interception and several pass breakups when targeted on the outside. Williams sticks with receivers of any frame and displays great movement both in his back pedal or straight-line running.
9) Jared Wayne, WR
It was a special season last year with Kenny Pickett throwing dimes left and right. Jared Wayne was on the receiving end of 47 of those which he turned into 658 yards and six touchdowns. Wayne can win everywhere on the field and from any alignment. He’ll feast on defensive backs downfield with his ability to separate and has terrific speed for a man with a 6’3″ frame.
8) Brandon Hill, S
It’s a wildly talented group if Brandon Hill checks in at No. 8. Alas, here we are as Hill finished with two interceptions and six pass breakups last season. He flew around the secondary, patrolling the intermediate area of the field with ease, both in coverage and against the run. Hill brings hit-stick abilities against any ball carrier or would-be pass catcher and runs the alley like a linebacker.
7) Erick Hallett II, CB
Dependable in all kinds of coverage, Erick Hallett made opposing quarterbacks pay for targeting him so heavily in 2021. Hallett recorded a team-high three interceptions and nine PBUs a season ago. He’s a ball hawk with great length for his size and more than enough burst to close on the ball at the catch point.
6) Marcus Minor, G
It’s a dominant offensive line with five returning starters, including left guard Marcus Minor and left tackle Carter Warren, perhaps one of the nation’s best left tackle/left guard combinations. Minor is sound in both facets but excels when he’s able to get in front of the rushing attack and pave huge rushing lanes. He’s a solid pass protector with great movement skills laterally.
5) Carter Warren, OT
The best of the five returning starters on the offensive line is certainly Warren, as the big man is generating legitimate NFL draft buzz. Warren moves well in all facets, like the rest of the returners on the line do, but Warren really sees success when he can move laterally in pass protection and swat away unwillingly pass rushers. At 6’5″, 320 pounds, Warren has excellent size and comes with great length and a solid foundation.
4) Deslin Alexandre, EDGE
Dictating the strength of their defensive line, Deslin Alexandre checks in at No. 4 on Pitt’s top 10 returners. Alexandre ripped through for 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss last season. He’s shown what he can do in dramatic form over the past three years as he’s combined for 11 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, and generated double-digit pressures in each season. A big man with positional versatility, no one offensive lineman can contain Alexandre for a whole game.
3) SirVocea Dennis, LB
With impressive range and better instincts, SirVocea Dennis opted to return in 2022 rather than enter the draft. Dennis brings a great size/speed combination, as he excels when initiating contact. He’s a bully against running backs and limits receptions on underneath passes very well. Dennis is at his best, however, when he’s able to blitz through the middle. He uses his instincts to time the snap and his speed to get past any unsuspecting lineman with the greatest of ease.
2) Habakkuk Baldonado, EDGE
A former mixed martial artist, the sky is the limit for Habakkuk Baldonado off the edge. It’s safe to say that no one understands how to use their hands better than Baldonado, as the big man pressured his way for a team-high nine sacks last season. Baldonado is a heavyweight off the edge at 6’5″ and 255 pounds, moving with the speed of a light heavyweight. He dominates with fast hands, faster feet, and an incredibly high motor.
1) Calijah Kancey, DT
Pressuring quarterbacks up the middle grows in importance for a defense when you can rely on a player like Calijah Kancey. He led the team in tackles for loss last season and dominated when rushing the passer for the second straight year. Kancey now has two remarkably efficient seasons against both the run and the pass. 2022 is looking like it could be his very best and ultimately his last as Kancey could challenge for one of the top interior linemen selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Honorable mention players returning to Pitt in 2022
- John Morgan III, EDGE
- Israel Abanikanda, RB
- Gavin Bartholomew, TE
- Owen Drexel, C
- Gabe Houy, OT
- Jake Kradel, G