One of the most productive in a long line of great Pittsburgh running backs, Ray Graham was cut down on his way to greatness.
Prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury as a junior, his quickness and burst were very reminiscent of Panthers alma mater LeSean McCoy. He was having such a strong season in 2011 that coaches voted him first team All-Big East despite playing only eight games.
Can Graham regain his junior form and offer an NFL backfield a tremendous change of pace? Or will durability issues plague his pro career and prevent him from reaching his true potential?
|+ Exceptional vision to find cutback lanes and small creases||- Durability a major concern, may never return to previous form|
|+ Elusive runner, makes defenders miss||- Slightly undersized, lacking power to carry the load|
|+ Very quick with impressive lateral agility||- Can be caught from behind, ran a troubling 4.80|
|+ Good balance, breaks tackles and stays on his feet||- Patience a double-edged sword, can be hesitant in the backfield|
A small back at 5’9”, 199 pounds, Graham has a compact build with a sturdy upper body but fairly thin legs. That supports his running style, though, as he utilizes extremely light feet.
He lacks elite top-end speed but shows off decent burst and acceleration when healthy. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran an extremely disappointing 4.80 in the 40-yard dash (per NFL.com). Though he improved on that time at his pro day, it is clear that he lacks the speed to be a home run threat. Some of his other workout numbers were equally mediocre, including an 8’1” broad jump and 32” vertical (per NFLDraftScout.com).
Graham is much quicker and more agile than he is fast, however. He can stop and cut on a dime, demonstrating lateral agility and the ability to change speeds effortlessly.
In October 2011, Graham was forced to undergo season-ending knee surgery after tearing the ACL in his right knee. As a senior, he still looked to be recovering from that injury and was not quite as dynamic upon returning. He also was sidelined for Pittsburgh’s bowl game this past season due to a nagging hamstring injury.
Graham comes from a strong pigskin background. He is the younger brother to Rutgers linebacker and NFL draft prospect Khaseem Greene. His father played football at Purdue, and two of his uncles played at Rutgers.
Though it may have been an isolated incident, he along with two teammates appeared to be involved in a November assault on a Pittsburgh student.
Throughout his college career, Graham played in a variety of offenses under three different head coaches.
As a senior, Graham played in a traditional offense, typically lining up as the single back while the Panthers quarterback operated under center with two or three receivers wide. The offense in 2012 included a lot of two-tight end sets. In 2011, under Todd Graham, Pittsburgh worked from the shotgun.
Graham displays exceptional vision and is a tremendous cutback runner who finds small creases. A patient runner with very light feet, he creates his own yards. He has the combination of quickness and vision to unlock aggressive defenses at the second level. This ability to use his eyes effectively makes him an ideal candidate for a zone-blocking scheme.
Occasionally, however, vision and patience work against Graham. He hesitates at times, looking for cutback lanes in the backfield rather than gaining the yards blocked for him.
A very natural receiver, quickness and elusiveness make Graham a threat after the catch. He runs crisp routes and has experience lining up in the slot. While generally reliable in the passing game, he is not without his focus drops and occasionally lets the ball into his body.
Size may limit him somewhat as a pass-blocker, but he seems willing and has the feet to mirror pass-rushers. His ability to catch and block could make him an ideal third-down candidate early in his career.
Running Between the Tackles
While his size may suggest struggles between the tackles, Graham displays elusiveness in the hole. He can make himself very small, which helps him fit through tiny creases, shrug arm tackles and avoid direct hits
At times, he dances too much and misses the opportunity to gain small yardage. He is a limited short-yardage runner who will probably be taken off the field in those situations.
Graham possesses good lateral agility and very light feet with the ability to stop and cut on a dime. A shifty runner who changes speeds well, he is a very elusive runner who excels at making people miss.
Defenders do not stand much of a chance on an island. He has a ton of wiggle in the hole and in space. There is a seemingly endless supply of moves in his arsenal that he uses to elude would-be tacklers.
For a small back, Graham does a nice job of running behind his pads. He is not afraid to put his nose down and finish runs, but is tougher than he is powerful. Unlike other compactly built backs, he lacks the lower-body strength to churn his legs and push the pile consistently. He does not punish tacklers, but often gains yards after contact.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
While his lack of size and durability concerns make it unlikely for him to be considered a feature back, Graham should energize a backfield. With vision and quickness to unlock defenses, he will provide a great change of pace. A solid third-down back capable of catching and blocking, he could be an early contributor if healthy.
Due to his tendencies as a cutback runner, he may fit best in a zone-blocking scheme in the NFL. That type of offense could maximize the effectiveness of his vision while minimizing speed issues.
Graham is limited in short-yardage situations, however, and is not likely to see the filed near the goal line.
Draft Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round