In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 11
2013 NFL Draft picks: 0
As Pittsburgh transitions from the Big East Conference to the ACC, the Panthers are coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1998-1999. Pitt also failed to produce a NFL draft pick the past two years and while time will tell if the Panthers can finish above .500 in 2013, it looks promising that they'll snap their streak when it comes to the draft.
In Year two of the head coach Paul Chryst era, the Pittsburgh roster is forced to replace several key players from a year ago, including Tino Sunseri at quarterback and Ray Graham and Rushel Shell at running back. But on a positive note, two of Pitt's best players are back and provide leadership on both sides of the ball: defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receiver Devin Street.
Top Pittsburgh prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DT Aaron Donald (6-0, 275, 4.95)
A quick-footed interior penetrator, Donald became a full-time starter as a sophomore in 2011 and recorded double-digit sacks (11). And although his sack total dipped to just 5.5 as a junior last season, he boosted his tackles for loss production from 16 (2011) to 18.5 (2012), earning First Team All-Conference honors as a junior. At a hair under six-foot with a 275-pound frame, Donald has an odd body type, which presents questions about his fit at the next level. But he is able to use his length and core strength to stack-and-shed and frequently find his way to the backfield. Donald is a favorite of the coaching staff due to his football smarts and relentless motor any time he steps onto the field, flashing an obvious passion for the game. There are some concerns about the position and scheme he fits best in the NFL, but coaches at the next level are going to struggle to hide their grins at the thought of working with a player with Donald's pedigree.
2. WR Devin Street (6-3, 192, 4.57)
A good-size target, Street became Pitt's go-to wide receiver the past two seasons after Jonathan Baldwin left early for the NFL. After recording 53 receptions as a sophomore, he led the Big East in catches last season with 73 grabs, adding 975 yards and five touchdowns. Street lacks ideal top-end speed, but he is a smooth athlete with natural body control and foot quickness to create some space and work the middle of the field. He shows off his toughness before and after the catch, highpointing and coming down with contested receptions and also fighting for every yard after the grab. Street looks to finish, but his lack of breakaway speed shows as a ballcarrier, struggling to elude defenders or create after the catch. He has soft hands and usually catches everything his way, staying focused from snap to whistle. Street will have to adjust to a new quarterback in 2013, which might hurt his production, but there is enough game tape out there for scouts to know he has the talent to contribute in the NFL.
3. FS Jason Hendricks (6-0, 182, 4.62)
There is a bit of a drop off in terms of senior talent on the Pitt roster after Donald and Street, but Hendricks deserves mention in this group, especially after his productive junior year. Last season he led the conference in interceptions (six) and the team in tackles (90), showing the versatility to play close to the line of scrimmage and also in the deep half of the field. Hendricks has battled the injury bug in the past, missing half of the 2011 season with a shoulder issue and also sitting out most of this past spring due to a right toe injury, so durability is a slight concern. He has a lean body type and needs to spend more time in the weight room, but he has enough speed with the redirection skills to quickly burst in any direction. With Pitt breaking in a new defensive coordinator in 2013 (Matt House), the Panthers will rely on the experience of Hendricks to be the quarterback of the defense.
Other Pittsburgh prospects worth watching:
OT Cory King (6-6, 325)
After starting at guard as a sophomore, King was Pitt's starting left tackle last season and returns to protect the quarterback's blind side.
CB Lafayette Pitts (5-11, 195, 4.54)*
A young player with a bright future, Pitts should lock down one of the corner spots for the Panthers and will have his hands full with ACC receivers in 2013.