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Players to Watch- North Carolina at Pitt

by J.T. Toth

Photo courtesy of Tar Heel Blog.

The (1-2) Panthers open up their ACC schedule against the (3-0) and #17 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium. The Panthers are riding a two game losing streak after their 17-6 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers last weekend in the Backyard Brawl.

North Carolina’s squad features more than a half dozen pro prospects that Draft 412 has been tracking, and they will be on full display this Saturday night in prime time.

Here’s Draft 412’s weekend showcase of three prospects from Pitt and three from UNC for draftniks to watch:

North Carolina - Quarterback - Drake Maye

Drake Maye, the No. 2 ranked quarterback on most NFL draft boards, has not exactly lit up the score sheet like other top quarterbacks have early in the season. Through his first three games, Maye has thrown for 891 yards and 4 touchdowns, but has also thrown 4 interceptions. His decision making early on has not been precise or on par with his past performances. Minnesota demonstrated last week how pressure can affect Maye in a negative way, leading to turnovers.

Maye has an NFL arm and is able to move around the pocket, and in last season’s games against Pitt, North Carolina trailed 24-14 early in the second half. But Maye led them back with 3 second half touchdowns to beat the Panthers 42-28. Maye ended the game 34-44 for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns against a solid Panthers defense. He will look to get his season back on track against a Panthers defense who is still trying to find their identity in 2023.

To see Draft 412’s full profile on Drake Maye visit here…

North Carolina - Linebacker - Cedric Gray

Cedric Gray is a Draft 412 preseason first team All-American, and he has played like it so far in 2023. With 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the first three weeks, he has shown scouts his amazing pursuit speed and playmaking abilities.

Pitt will be run heavy on Saturday night, so look for Gray’s name to be announced on tackles early and often. He is good in coverage and is a game changing playmaker that Pitt will have to account for.

In an earlier profile on Gray, Draft 412 compared him to Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

To read our full profile on Cedric Gray visit:

North Carolina - Wide Receiver - Nate McCollum

The diminutive 5’9” receiver is leading the Tar Heels in catches this season with 16 and is proving to be a handful for defensive backs to cover. He played three years at Georgia Tech before transferring to North Carolina last spring. Though more of a slot receiver, he can run all the routes and put back end pressure on the Panthers' secondary. McCollum is just starting to get on the scouts' radar and playing with Drake Maye should speed that process up.

Pittsburgh - Safety - Donovan McMillon

Donovan McMillon did not start the season as a starter for the Panthers, but he still leads the team in tackles with 26. McMillon is coming off a game in which he had 18 tackles against West Virginia and was all over the field making plays. He transferred from Florida to come back home and play for the Panthers this past off-season after playing his high school ball locally. He is athletic and loves to hit and will step into the box and take on blockers if he has to. As a prospect, he has enough speed to chase down ball carriers from behind or sideline to sideline. He looks to build off his performance against WVU and help shut down Drake Maye and North Carolina.

To read our full profile on Donovan McMillon visit:

Pittsburgh - Running Back - Rodney Hammond

Coach Pat Narduzzi announced this week that Rodney Hammond is as healthy as he has been in a long time and they plan to run him more. Hammond only has 25 carries through the first three games as Pitt coaches seemed fixated on a three-running back rotation.

Hammond is a compact back who can run around you or run through you. Draft 412 compared him to a younger version of Frank Gore because of his 5’9” frame and running style.

With Pitt’s passing offense stalling at the moment they need a back like Hammond to step up and have a huge game Saturday. Draft 412 also thinks Pitt coaches need to get Hammond involved in the passing game more and get him into open spaces.

To read our full profile on Rodney Hammond visit:

Pittsburgh - Cornerback - M.J. Devonshire

During Pitt’s media day back in August, Draft 412 asked M.J. Devonshire about the prospects of playing against an NFL type quarterback like Drake Maye. Devonshire stated, “It will be a challenge, but we will be ready for that challenge.”

There is no reason not to believe Devonshire, who always seems to make big plays on the biggest stage. In the first three games of the season, no receiver-QB combination has really challenged Devonshire, but that will most certainly change Saturday night. North Carolina is loaded with weapons and the Pitt secondary will have to play a 60 minute game.

To read our full profile on M.J. Devonshire visit:

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