Pitt football takeaways | SirVocea Dennis makes a statement, Calijah Kancey proves himself worthy of a first-round draft pick


Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor

Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) runs around obstacles at NFL Pro Day on Wednesday.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt hosted Pro Day on Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, allowing over a dozen Pitt football players to showcase their talents in front of NFL scouts. Some players entered Pro Day with a lot to prove, while others looked to elevate their already high draft stock.

Here are four takeaways from Pro Day

Linebacker SirVocea Dennis isn’t letting his injury hold him back

Dennis suffered a foot injury right before the Senior Bowl, forcing him to miss the game and most of the NFL Combine. After missing two key prospect showcases, Dennis had a lot to prove coming into Pro Day.

But the former Panther linebacker wasn’t going to let his absences or his injury stop him from chasing his dream. Dennis dominated Pro Day, impressing his teammates, supporters and NFL scouts in attendance.

Dennis began his day with the vertical jump drill. After missing the Senior Bowl and Combine due to injury, Dennis needed to prove that he was still athletic. But Dennis went above and beyond what was expected of him in the vertical jump, as he leaped 41.5 inches. For perspective, Dennis’ performance would have been the second highest vertical jump in the NFL Combine this year.

The former Panther linebacker continued his impressive jumping performance with a solid broad jump. Dennis soared 10 feet five inches, which wasn’t as impressive as his vertical jump, but still managed to turn heads. Dennis rounded out his day with a solid 4.63 second 40-yard dash.

Coming into Wednesday, Dennis wasn’t even ranked top 20 linebacker in his class. But, after proving himself capable at Pro Day, he is sure to move up the big board.

Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey deserves a spot in the first round

Kancey was quiet at Pitt’s Pro Day. After drawing national attention at the Combine, the former Pitt linebacker had little to prove on Wednesday.

But Kancey still found ways to make his presence felt.

The lineman prospect skipped the 40-yard dash, as he already ran a blistering 4.67 40-yard dash at the Combine. Kancey still managed to showcase his speed, as he turned heads during the three-cone drill.

One thing has become clear as Kancey continues to impress at pre-Draft events — he deserves a first-round draft selection. Kancey’s Draft stock is very inconsistent, as some have him firmly in the first round, while others have him falling to the second round.

But Kancey has shown that he is deserving of the first round. From earning ACC to showcasing his speed at the Combine, Kancey deserves recognition as one of the best defensive linemen in this year’s draft.

Pitt is a future candidate for DBU

The NFL can’t get enough of the Panther secondary, as Pitt has had at least one defensive back taken in four of the past five drafts. This year, defensive backs Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett II are looking to extend that streak.

Hill has a solid chance of hearing his name called in Kansas City. He is currently ranked as the No. 246 prospect in the draft, according to NFL Draft Buzz. The Florida native ran the fastest 40-yard dash out of all the safeties in the Combine, posting an impressive 4.44 second run.

Hallett, on the other hand, has some work to do. The former Pitt defensive back did not get an invite to the Combine, making Pro Day his biggest opportunity to impress scouts. With his draft stock on the line, Hallett performed well, posting a speedy 4.39 second 40 yard-dash.

If Hill and Hallett ultimately hear their names called on draft night, they will join several Pitt defensive backs already making waves in the NFL. Among the names of Pitt alumni on NFL secondaries is Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who was having a breakout year before his critical injury.

Jet’s safety Jordan Whitehead is another Pitt alumni that is having a great career in the NFL. The former Pitt safety played a significant role on the Buccaneers’ 2020-2021 Super Bowl winning roster. Whitehead also picked off another former Panther, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, in his first career pass attempt.

Considering its NFL success, Pitt football deserves recognition as a defensive back powerhouse. If the trend continues, Pitt may even earn the title of defensive back university.

Running back Israel Abanikanda is legit

Pitt’s Pro Day featured a lot of fast players. From Kancey to Hallett, the Panthers put on a clinic with their speed. But Abanikanda went above and beyond his teammates to showcase his speed at Pro Day.

Abanikanda — who missed most of the Combine due to a hamstring injury — posted a blistering unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.3 seconds on Wednesday. For comparison, if Abanikanda ran a similar time at the NFL Combine, then he would have posted the fastest 40 yard dash time for a running back.

The former Panther running back is already a sleeper pick in this year’s draft, ranking No. 15 among running backs on NFL Draft Buzz’s big board. But Abanikanda’s Pro Day performance may elevate him into the top ten running backs in the draft.