NFL Draft 2013 Preview: Pittsburgh Prospects

Can Ray Graham Outlast Concerns About His Durability to Hear His Name Called This Weekend?

Can Ray Graham Outlast Durability Concerns, and Hear His Name Called at the NFL Draft?

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

The well for NFL talent’s not doing so hot at Pittsburgh, but that’s what happens when you have a coaching carousel for an extended period of time. Players prefer consistency and a proven track record of successfully producing NFL talent, and for the Panthers, it just hasn’t been there lately. Though things could certainly change in the future, for right now, 2013 could even be another season of Pitt seeing zero players selected — a startling development when you consider the level of talent they currently have at the professional level (Darrelle Revis, Larry Fitzgerald, LeSean McCoy, to name a few).

Ray Graham, RB, Senior (Projected: Sixth Round)

At one point during his junior season, Graham could have very well been considered among the best running back prospects available — a smart, powerful runner who had tons of NFL potential. Now, unfortunately, his luck has turned a bit south. Though he certainly made a nice comeback from injury in 2012 (ran for over 1,000 yards), scouts see the 5’9″ 200-pound back as undersized and a risk with extended carries. Despite last year’s jump up to 258 touches (rushing and receiving), the prevailing thought on Graham is that his size prevents him from being durable over a long career, and his burst at the line just isn’t what it used to be. This is also reinforced by an unimpressive 40-yard dash time of just 4.68, which has knocked him down on many boards league-wide. For those who’ve watched his career closely, there’s certainly a prospect worth drafting in Graham. But if there aren’t enough running backs picked in the early rounds, he may be sweating it out late on day three.

Mike Shanahan, TE, Senior (Projected: Undrafted)

As a wide receiver in college, Shanahan made great strides each and every season, developing into a smarter, stronger one-on-one receiver over time. But with his long, heavier frame (6’5″ and 225 pounds) and slower speed (4.82 40-yard dash), he’ll need to transition to the tight end spot if he hopes to make a roster for this fall. Instincts-wise, Shanahan is a proven commodity, using a basketball background to his advantage when it comes to positioning and upper-body strength. But it’s that same reason he’s also seen as a bit of a liability. He’ll be graded as a prospect, rather than a difference-making player right now, so it’s unlikely he’ll be drafted. Just the same, if a team’s willing to take a risk and help him develop into a professional tight end, it’s not as if it’s unheard of for basketball skills to translate quite well (hello, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates).

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, NC State, North Carolina

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Can Pitt Running Back Ray Graham Regain His Place As the Leader of the Panthers’ Rushing Attack in 2012?

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

2011 W-L: 6-7 (4-3)

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (first season)

Returning Starters: 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)

After another offseason of transition in the program, the Pittsburgh Panthers are once again trying to enter a new season with a clean slate. Out goes Todd Graham, the known carpetbagger now despised by Pitt fans everywhere. In comes Paul Chryst, who spent the last seven years as Wisconsin‘s offensive coordinator. And while the first-team head coach inherits a challenging job with the program as currently comprised, he may also spot some similar surroundings. With a strong defense and a deadly running game, the coach is already taking to his new team just like his old one. Now, with a skeptical senior class (three different head coaches), he just has to hope they take to him.

As mentioned, the Panthers’ offense will go primarily through the running game, which I think may actually be among the best in the country (O-line permitting). So long as he’s healthy, the bulk of the carries should go to senior Ray Graham, who makes a surprise return after an ACL tear last year. At the time of the injury last season, Graham was second in the country in rushing yards, and appears to have some unfinished business to attend to. He’ll also be spelled by sophomore Isaac Bennett. After some flashes of potential late in 2011, and a very strong spring workout, he’ll be the favored back if Graham fails to return at 100-percent. Carries may also get doled out to freshman Rushel Shell as well. The highly-touted recruit runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. If given an opportunity for extended touches, he has the talent to jump right in and produce. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Pittsburgh Panthers

The Quarterback Position Is One of New Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst’s Biggest Concerns This Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh enters 2012’s spring practices disappointed, and employing their third head coach in as many years. Not surprisingly, those two items are also linked. As predicted by many around the game, former coach Todd Graham lasted just one season in the Steel City. He failed to truly change any part of a stagnant offense and the team he leaves behind is in a more confused state than the one he inherited. So new head coach Paul Chryst has his work cut out for him, needing role players on both ends to show themselves as leaders from day one of spring ball. First in line on that front is — of course — quarterback Tino Sunseri. Inconsistent as they come, he’ll enter camp with no guarantees about his job status, and will face stiff competition all around. Along with returning reserves Trey Anderson and Mark Myers, there’s additional buzz that redshirt freshman Chad Voytik could actually be the best quarterback on the roster. For this horrendous passing unit (77th nationally in 2011), any sure arm will do, even if there’s little to throw to. Devin Street and Mike Shanahan could improve, but should they fail to, Pitt will once again rely on the run. This is where incumbent starter Ray Graham comes in handy. Arguably one of the best backs in the game, Graham will be unavailable this spring, leaving initial reps to Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis. Come the fall, expect this rotation to be a fierce one-two punch of Graham and five-star back Rushel Shell, who’s certain to continue the schools’ recent tradition of pro-caliber rushers. Continue reading