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CFF Targets - AVOID this RB at all costs this season (so I can draft him...)
A reasonably priced volume pig at the RB position is one of VP's favourite commodities
Nobody knows anything and who does, is quiet
- Anonymous, Cuban saying
If you played CFF last year (as you should be) you might remember a certain Pittsburgh Panther RB popping the **** off in the regular season. That was one Israel Abanikanda, who (on the surface) appeared out of nowhere. Those of us of the more degenerate flavour understood that this was no coincidence. The Panthers changed their offensive identity in the offseason of 2022, from that of a more pass-centric attack under Mark Whipple, to a more balanced approach with new OC Frank Cignetti Jr.
On closer inspection, one will recall that it was actually fellow RB Rodney Hammond Jr. (RHJ) who led the Panther’s new and improved rushing attack in week one. Against the West Virginia Mountaineers, Hammond accumulated 74 rushing yards and 2 scores on 16 carries, with an additional 55 yards receiving on 2 receptions, closing the day with a decent 26.9 FPs (1-ppr). Izy, on the other hand, finished the day with 39 yards total between his 8 carries and single reception. The rest was history—Hammond picked up an injury and missed significant time, Izy took the torch and ran with it. RHJ would have two other notable games upon his return later in the season, though: Nov. 5th vs. Syracuse (28-124-1) and in the bowl game vs. UCLA (25-89-2). He scored 19.4 and 22.7 FPs in those games, respectively.
Now with Izy moving on, and OC Cignetti sticking around, I’m thinking there’s some value here. Speaking of that Frank character, let’s get some more info on him, shall we?
Coaching & System
When head coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t complaining about other programs tampering with his players, he was usually complaining about his offence not running the football enough. He made a very deliberate change in the system by bringing in run game savant OC Frank Cignetti Jr. in 2022. Surprise surprise—Cignetti has a long history of volume pig usage in his backfields.
Between the years 2009 and 2022, Cignetti has been the OC of an organization in seven of those years (Pitt 2009-2010, Rutgers 2011, St. Louis Rams 2015, Boston College 2020-2021, Pitt 2022).
During his first stint at Pitt, his lead rusher—Dion Lewis, surpassed 1000 yards in both seasons. In 2009, Lewis carried the ball a whopping 325 times, for 1799 yards and 19 TDs, plus another 189 yards and a score on 25 receptions. The following season he carried the rock 219 times for 1061 yards and 13 scores, plus 27 receptions for 216 yards.
The next season while at Rutgers (2011), Cignetti’s RB1 did not surpass 1000 yards, but he did still see significant volume with 231 carries for 897 yards and 9 TDs.
He then spent time as the QBs coach of the Rams in the NFL, but he would get his chance at OC in 2015. His rusher — a name some of you may recognize (Go Dawgs) — Todd Gurley, ran 229 times for 1106 yards and 10 TDs, plus 21 receptions for 188 yards in 13 games (19.23 touches per game).
I will skip the Covid year he spent at Boston College, but in 2021 his RB1 saw 205 carries, of which he paid off for 1045 yards and 7 TDs. And for those who need a refresher, his RB1 last season with Pitt—Izy, torched the ACC for 1431 yards and 20 TDs on 239 carries, plus added another 146 yards and a score on 12 receptions in 11 games (22.81 touches per game — 26+ FPG).
Oh hell yea. Count me in at Club Cignetti.
That track record is pretty impressive with respect to rushing usage, and I see no reason why that will change in 2023. Former BC QB Phil Jurkovic now mans the helm of the offence, and with few standout pass catchers left on this team, I’m thinking they are sticking to the 2022 formula that had them competing for the ACC championship at 9-4.
Pitt also returns multiple veteran offensive lineman, including Matt Goncalves and Jake Kradel, who have each started over 20 games for the Panthers and were named to the Athlon pre-season second-team offence.
RB Rodney Hammond Jr. — 5’9, 200
This kid’s name makes him sounds like a prize fight boxer or something, doesn’t it? As a slightly undersized player on the field, he would do well to evade would be knockout artists. He came to Pitt as a three-star recruit out of Norfolk, VA in the class of 2021. His freshman campaign was a good one—Hammond carried the rock 102 times for 503 yards and 5 TDs, and added another 57 yards on 8 receptions and 2 more scores (8.7 FPG).
His sophomore season looked to be a breakout year for him when he started the season with 74 rushing yards and 2 scores vs. WVU. As mentioned, he would unfortunately go down with injury, and in this fickle game of football, the next guy up sometimes never let’s you get back to the top of the depth chart.
However, Hammond (and CFF managers) need not worry about that headed into 2023, as Izy declared for the NFL draft this offseason. And, it appear’s that it is no secret that RHJ is going to be the lead dog this season; here’s Hammond himself talking about his mindset this spring as he prepares to lead the rushing attack for the Panthers:
I have a different kind of mindset this year . . . I got a lot to take on this year, with me coming in being the starter. I got a lot on my back trying to carry the team.
The day before he (Izy) came out and said he wasn’t coming back, we talked a long time about it so when he said it, I got kind of hyped knowing it was my time . . . Time to do me.
I’m trying to be an all-purpose back so I’m strong in every part of the game right now - run, pass, block . . . I know if I want to play every down, I have to do everything.
I like that he acknowledged the other aspects of a RB’s responsibilities that he will have to work to ensure he can be on the field as much as possible. That’s generally a good sign and I assume the coaches have told him he’s going to be expected to be that this season.
In the same report, a Pitt beat writer wrote:
As the presumed starter, Hammond has taken to studying film and the playbook more frequently. His physical skills - the strength, speed and hands that made him stand out as an underclassman - will have to be compounded by improved football IQ. There's no doubt Hammond can run with the best of them, but running backs coach Andre Powell challenged him to get smarter. Hammond feels he's done that and head coach Pat Narduzzi has noticed the improvements made behind the scenes show up when the team got back together this spring.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi added his thoughts on RHJ:
With Rodney, we knew he was a good back a year ago. He’s had a good camp so far . . . Coach Powell says with his individual stuff he’s a much more detailed player now, just a little bit better. I think every year, you get amazed by the strides guys are going to make, even when you’re not coaching them, when you’re not even on the field with them through the offseason.
That’s exactly what you want to hear in the offseason, and it sounds like RHJ’s development is going well. The only thing we’re lacking is a direct quote on usage, but with Cignetti’s play-calling in the past, it seems likely RHJ will be reaching 200+ carries and over 1000 yards (at least) in 2023.
We got a glimpse of what the Panthers will look like with Hammond sans Izy in the bowl game vs. UCLA. Leading up to the game, Narduzzi re-affirmed his confidence in RHJ replacing Izy:
He’s a really good football player. We’ve got a lot of trust in him…
Hammond rushed for 89 yards and 2 TDs on 25 carries, while catching a pass for 8 yards.
He’s a bit of a smaller player at 5’9, 200. He got injured last season and hopefully that’s not a theme this year.
I don’t know if Pitt downgraded or upgraded with the acquisition of Jurkovic to replace Kedon Slovis, but I have a hard time coming up with what the expectation is for this team in 2023. If they take a big step back as a whole, the RB production will likely suffer relative to 2022.
I hate to do it to my man Frank while I take refuge in his own club—Club Cignetti, but I am afraid I am going to have to borrow the services of his prized possession this season at a reasonable and fair price in CFF re-drafts. It’s precarious to assume that the next guy up is going to plug in and give the same output as his predecessor—26+ FPG is not the expectation. But as long as RHJ stays healthy (and avoids doing a lot of cocaine) he should be all money in 2023.
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