Feature | Pitt football draftees look to make splash with new teams


Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor

Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) runs around obstacles at NFL Pro Day on March 29.

By Brian Sherry, Sports Editor

With offseason workouts in full swing and training camp just a few months away, NFL fans across the country are already getting a good look at this year’s rookie class. Pitt — who boasted its best Draft class since 1990 this year — has more than a few former players already turning heads.

Here’s how Pitt’s NFL rookies are doing with their new teams. 

Buccaneers Defensive Lineman Calijah Kancey and Linebacker SirVocea Dennis

Kancey came into the 2023 NFL Draft as arguably Pitt’s best prospect since Aaron Donald in 2014. Yet, critics still cast doubt on Kancey’s ability when the Buccaneers drafted him with the 19th overall pick. 

But one thing the critics can’t cast doubt on is Kancey’s initiative. While the transition to the NFL is certainly jarring, Kancey is determined to adjust quickly to his new home and get to know the entire organization. 

“Right now, my focus is on three things — learn, engage and execute,” Kancey said in a press conference earlier this month. “So I want to learn everyone’s name, I want to learn the playbook [and] I want to learn my way around Tampa. I want to learn everyone’s name around the building — custodians, chefs, everything.”

But one person in Tampa Kancey won’t have to get to know is former Pitt teammate Dennis. Kancey and Dennis — who formed the core of Pitt’s defense the past two years — will look to recreate their success with the Buccaneers. Kancey said Dennis’ presence has made the transition in Tampa much easier.

“It’s just good to have a former teammate with you,” Kancey said. “Just makes you more comfortable in a new environment, new city. But you got your teammate with you, so that kinda makes you comfortable and then we can both learn the playbook together.”

While Kancey is trying to make noise in the locker room and in the training facility, he is still quiet on the field. Not many reports have come out about the rookie lineman’s performance in practice, meaning fans may have to wait until the preseason to see if Kancey will pan out. 

Vikings Wide Receiver Jordan Addison

Unlike Kancey, Addison is not remaining quiet on the field. In fact, he is apparently making a splash with his new team. According to Vikings Territory, a team insider described Addison’s off-season performance with the team as “smooth.” 

But Addison was forced to slow down this week, as he reportedly suffered a minor injury that held him back from participating in OTAs.

Nonetheless, Addison’s development with the Vikings may spell trouble for the rest of the NFL. Addison joins an already lethal Vikings’ receiving corps, which includes Justin Jefferson — one of the top receivers in the league

Still, not all Panther fans are excited to see Addison performing well with his new team, considering the former Biletnikoff trophy winner left Pitt for USC in 2022. Addison touched on his turbulent relationship with Pitt in his Vikings introductory press conference

“I would say the hardest part [about leaving Pitt] was going through the transfer portal and then all the backlash that I was getting from the previous team that I left,” Addison said. “Just a lot of different fans, media, so that was just the toughest part [about leaving Pitt].”

Jets Running Back Israel Abanikanda and Offensive Tackle Carter Warren

As soon as Abanikanda and Warren heard their names called by the Jets, they knew they had their work cut out for them. In addition to adjusting to a new team and city, the duo were also given an especially tall task — defending and assisting new Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. 

But the duo are still excited for the opportunity to play with such a big name.

I’m willing to do whatever I can to protect this guy, a big-named quarterback, someone who will be a Hall of Famer one day,” Warren said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m excited for the opportunity.”

On the field, the pair are still trying to find their place in the Jets’ offense. Abanikanda said the transition to the NFL is similar to coming to college at Pitt. 

“I feel like I’m back at phase one,” Abanikanda said in a press conference. “I feel like I’m back at freshman year of college, just getting ready for a long season, ready to work with my new teammates and ready to get my respect and show them I can have an impact as well.”

Jaguars Defensive Back Erick Hallett II

Getting the call on Draft night is one of the most memorable moments in most NFL players’ careers. But what if a player misses the call? Hallett found that out the hard way during this year’s Draft, as he reportedly missed the Jaguars call right before they selected him with the 208th pick.

Despite the blunderous start to his NFL career, Hallett can rest assured that he will play a role in the Jaguars secondary in the near future, as the team remains impressed with Hallett’s versatility.

Still, Hallett has a lot to prove this summer. As a late draft pick, Hallett must fight for a roster spot — let alone a starting job. 

Texans Safety Brandon Hill

Like Hallett, Hill faces an uphill battle to gain recognition in the NFL, as he was drafted with the 248th pick. 

Not much has come out about Hill’s off-season performance. However, he will face an even more difficult transition to the NFL than most rookies, as he was forced to change his jersey number from No. 9 to No. 36 with his new team.