Who We Thought They Were

A four- or five-star player is one that is expected to contribute immediately, become an all-conference type of player at the very least, possibly even an All-American or NFL star. Here's a look at those who have lived up to the billing, best.

21. Anthony Gonzalez, No. 13 QB, 2010
We weren't sure of where Anthony Gonzalez was going to play when he got here. It's safe to say after his junior year at linebacker, he's lived up to the four-star bill.

He started off at quarterback, then went to receiver, before going to safety in 2012. Later in 2012, Gonzalez moved to linebacker. He has started the last 14 games, dating back to the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl, and has been one of Pitt's top defensive players overall since this latest move.

If he can pick up where he left off after his junior year, there's no reason why the NFL can't be an option for him.

20. T.J. Clemmings, No. 6 DE, 2010
The jury is still out on T.J. Clemmings, but it's possible he's developing into the caliber of player we expected when he signed with Pitt in 2010.

Clemmings saw the field in six games as a true freshman in 2010. Though he stayed by defensive end in 2011, he redshirted in Todd Graham's short year--the best thing that could have happened for him.

He progressed into a full-time starter at defensive end as a junior, before taking a chance at moving to offensive line in bowl preparations. He was a first-team right tackle all the way through spring ball, earning the Ed Conway Award for most improved offensive player. The then started all 13 games this season, after receiving a stiff test from heralded freshman Dorian Johnson.

Like Gonzalez, if Clemmings can continue to develop, the NFL should be an option for him. Clemmings and Gonzalez were the two most-heralded recruits in that 2010 class, and now that they've found a position that fits them, they are living up to the high rating they received coming out of high school.

19. Lucas Nix, No. 5 OT, 2008
Lucas Nix could have gone anywhere he wanted. The most heavily recruited offensive lineman over the last 12 years, Nix played in six games as a true freshman in 2008. He became a full-time starter in 2009, and never looked back.

He might no have earned all-conference honors, but he started at right guard and right tackle in two different systems. Nix accumulated 33 career starts, and is now a member of the Oakland Raiders. In two seasons wih the Raiders, he's started 10 games, all in 2013.

18. J.P. Holtz, No. 10 TE, 2012
Most impressive about J P Holtz, the fact that he never played tight end before coming to Pitt, yet he's been the most consistent performer at that position over the last two years.

Holtz has a bright future ahead, and should season well over the next two years. He was rushed into the lineup as a true freshman because of numbers and injuries. He has 36 catches for 282 yards in just two seasons.

17. Chris Jacobson, No. 3 OG, 2007
Most players would fold up their tent, or just fade away when deal with the issues Jacobson had to overcome in his Pitt career.

Jacobson was slated to be a contributor when he arrived in 2007. A knee injury in training camp ended his true freshman season. He rebounded in 2008, eventually making his first career start in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Jacobson played in 46 career games, starting in 30, even experimenting at center. Jacobson was invited to the Casino del Sol All-Star game as a senior.

16. Dom DeCicco, No. 19 S, 2007
DeCicco was in Pitt's two-deep immediately. He was a three-year starter at safety, though was also used as a hybrid linebacker in certain matchups.

He finished his career with 36 career starts, and was a two-time all-conference selection. His 94 tackles in 2009 led the team. He finished with 244 career tackles, which is tied for 25th on the school's all-time list.

DeCicco also recorded 12 career interceptions. He spent three seasons in the NFL, playing in 20 games for the Chicago Bears.

15. John Malecki, No. 19 DT, 2006
Malecki initially came here as a defensive lineman, and worked his way into a spot in the rotation immediately.

Malecki made a seamless transition to the offensive line after playing in all 24 games of his career at defensive tackle. He started every game at right guard in his final two years, a total of 26 consecutive starts, earning the honor as Pitt's Most Improved Player on offense in 2008, and then winning Offensive Line MVP in 2009. He spent two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, even filling in at center.

14. Jeff Otah, No. 27 OL, 2006
Jeff Otah's career was a blur, only because he was here for two years. But, he did what he was supposed to do as a four-star JUCO prospect. He came in, started right away, then became a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008, going 19th overall.

13. Jason Pinkston, No. 25 DT, 2006
Another layer listed at a different position, that's hard to believe he was ever at that position.

Pinkston started his Pitt career briefly at defensive tackle, before being moved over to the offensive line in his first training camp.

Though he had to overcome injuries in his Pitt career twice, Pinkston was one of Pitt's top overall players during his time. He made 41 career starts, starting off at right tackle before moving over to left tackle in 2007. Playing in seven games as a true freshman in 2006, Pinkston was also used as a extra tight end in jumbo packages.

When he returned to the lineup in 2008, Pinkston anchored the offensive line for the next three years, starting 38 out of a possible 39 games. The only game he missed was the 2008 Sun Bowl, where he was held out due to a shoulder injury. Pinkston was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, where he's started 24 games in three seasons.

12. Henry Hynoski, No. 4 FB, 2007
Henry Hynoski only scored one career touchdown, but he was arguably the most important person in the Pitt backfield, helping open up running room for LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham.

All you really need to know about Hynoski is that he took a chance declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior year. He signed a rookie free agent with the New York Giants, earning a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season.

11. Dorian Johnson, No. 12, OT
Might be too early to say Johnson has live up to it. Not if you base it on how eager Paul Chryst and his staff were to get him involved.

Though Adam Bisnowaty had more of a right to start in 2012 as a true freshman--based on numbers--Johnson worked his way into the lineup with more experience and more numbers.

Like Pinkston, Johnson worked his way into the lineup as an extra tight end. Eventually, he started at left tackle, and even right guard for the bowl game. Johnson showed he's ready for the next step, based on the coaches confidence in him. Now it's a question of which position it will be. Conventional wisdom says left guard, but this staff isn't afraid to shuffle guys around.

10. Dorin Dickerson, No. 4 WR, 2006
Given the option to redshirt in 2006, Dickerson declined, simply because he just wanted to play football.

Dickerson tried a number of positions, including linebacker, before he finally found a home at tight end. He blossomed as a senior in 2009, earning first-team All-America honors. He finished the season with 49 catches for 529 yards and 10 touchdown catches on a team that also. Had Nate Byham and Jon Baldwin.

Dickerson has spent the last four seasons in the NFL, currently a member of the Detroit Lions, where he played in five games this past season.

9. Nate Byham, No. 1 TE, 2006
Nate Byham was worked into the system immediately, and became a regular almost right away.

More of an all-around tight end than Dickerson, Byham was just as good at blocking as he was catching the ball. Proof of that, he finished with 10 catches for 108 yards, he was named all-conference as a senior. He earned all-conference honors twice in his career, finishing with 47 catches for 612 yards and three touchdowns.

Byham is a four-year NFL veteran, where he's currently a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

8. Aaron Donald, No. 25 DT, 2010
A lot of folks overlooked Aaron Donald, but Scout did not in its 2010 rankings.

Arguably, the most decorated player in Pitt history, impressive because defensive linemen typically don't get praise. That in itself should speak of how disruptive Donald was in his Pitt career.

Aside from all his awards. donald was successful at every juncture of his Pitt career. He found a way to the field as a true freshman, he adjusted to being a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme as a sophomore, he thrived going back to the 4-3 under a new coach and new scheme as a junior, before flourishing as a senior.

The only thing Donald hasn't accomplished is being drafted. Based on his performance at Senior Bowl practices, he is in the conversation as a first-rounder. He still has a Pitt Pro Day and the NFL Combine to adjust his stock, if needed.

7. Tyler Boyd, No. 12 S, 2013
Almost laughable to think of Boyd as a safety. No doubt he could play it, but there's no way he'd have an impact on defense the way he had an impact on offense this past season.

Boyd shattered Pitt freshman receiving records this past season, catching 77 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns.

Boyd did exactly what you hope for when you get a four-star prospect. He was able to start right away without any doubt, making a impact right away at a position of need.

6. Tyler Palko, No. 8 QB, 2002
Hard to believe it's been ten years since Tyler Palko took over the reigns at quarterback. Though his final two seasons weren't as productive as his 2004 season, Palko does have the claim of taking Pitt to its lone BCS appearance. He finished his career in the Top Four in passing yards for a season and for a career.

Palko did what you expect out of a four-star quarterback. He guided his team to a BCS bowl berth, and provided consistency in his three years as a starter, something we haven't seen from this position since he was there.

5. Todd Thomas, No. 31 WR, 2009
Thomas has battled back from two injuries--knee injury to the same knee, and a period of training camp where he left the team for a week.

Also, Thomas had to go to Milford Prep for a year, before even starting his Pitt career. After all that, he's been one of Pitt's top overall players since his freshman year.

He made an immediate impact on the defense as a redshirt freshman. We later found out, through him, that he tore his ACL for a second time in his career during that 2010 season.

In three years, Thomas has started 24 games, including a career-best 11 this past season. More importantly, he finished with a career-high 72 tackles.

Whatever the case, whether it be prep school, injury, a week away from the team, Thomas has come back every time, while maintaining a high level of play.

4. Ray Graham, No. 34 RB, 2009
Hard to believe that Ray Graham, who came to Pitt the year after LeSean McCoy declared for the NFL Draft, came in with very little weight on his shoulders.

Graham was a consistent performer throughout his Pitt career. Though he lost out early on to Dion Lewis, Graham was still impressive from the moment he stepped on campus.

Graham played in all 13 games in 2009, rushing for 349 yards in a reserve role. Despite having to wait his turn behind Lewis for part of his career, he found a way to get some carries. In 2010, he rushed for 922 yards, including 277 against Florida International--the second-most in a game in school history.

Graham finished just shy of 1,000 yards again in 2011, before his season ended prematurely with a knee injury. He rebounded from the injury as a senior in 2012, getting his 1,000-yard season. Graham was impressive in many ways in his Pitt career. None better than bouncing back from that injury, facing up to the questions about it every week, and rushing for 1,000 yards.

3. Jon Baldwin, No. 5 WR, 2008
Baldwin came in with a lot of comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald based on his size, and of course the receiver position.

He may not have had the same impact that Fitzgerald made in his Pitt career, but he was the ideal compliment to other offensive weapons such as McCoy and Dickerson.

Baldwin's best season was 2009, where he became the first Pitt receiver to finish with over 1,000 yards in five years. In just three years, he finished his career sixth, at the time, with 2,337 yards and tenth with 128 career receptions.

Baldwin went to become a first-round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, No. 15 WR, 2002
Antonio Bryant certainly had a great career. For any Pitt follower, it's hard to remember that entering 2002, the biggest concern was receiver. Not only did Fitzgerald answer the call, topping Bryant's totals from the year before.

Fitzgerald only played two years at Pitt, before declaring for the NFL Draft, but he had more of an impact on Pitt's offense than any player not named Dorsett. In just two years, he finished in the top four in career yards and receptions--comparable to other players on the list who played four years to rack up similar numbers.

Fitzgerald will best be remembered for his streak of 18 consecutive games with a touchdown reception, and his runner-up finish to the Heisman in 2003.

Fitzgerald was selected with the No. 3 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals, where he is entering his 11th season. He helped the Cardinals to their lone Super Bowl appearance in 2009, and had his No. 1 jersey retired by Pitt this past season.

Fitzgerald is still often referred as one of the best receivers in college football history. He's well on his way to doing the same in the NFL. He should be a lock for both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1. LeSean McCoy, No. 5 RB, 2007
Fitzgerald is certainly a logical pick for the top overall impact player on this list. McCoy gets the nod based on the time he came to the program, and the fact there was more of a need for a McCoy type player at the time.

McCoy initially committed to Miami, choosing the Hurricanes over USC. After spending a year at prep school. McCoy signed with Pitt, breathing life into the program.

You can even make a case that McCoy saved Dave Wannstedt from exiting that season. Had it not been for wins over a No. 20 Cincinnati team, and a No. 2 West Virginia team--games where McCoy rushed for 137 and 148 yards, respectively--Pitt would have been 3-9 in 2007.

McCoy not only added some flare to Pitt when it needed it most, he brought an identity back to the program. Before McCoy got there, Pitt hadn't seen a 1,000-yard rusher in seven years.

It was evident from the time McCoy arrived, not only was he a five-star type of talent. He was also an NFL caliber type of player--the kind you could always count on 100 yards a game from no matter the opposition, or conditions.

Like Fitzgerald, McCoy opted for the NFL after just two years at Pitt. Also like Fitzgerald, he only needed two years to make an immense impact on the program. Like Fitzgerald at receiver, many consider McCoy the top running back in the game. He has 5,473 yards in just five seasons--13th among all active NFL players.


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