Last night provided fans and scouts alike with an interesting Big East showdown between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the South Florida Bulls. For many fans, the fact that Pitt easily beat up on the No. 16 rated Bulls was the main story line. For those of us watching the game with an eye towards several of these prospects playing for NFL teams in the future, the final score (Pittsburgh won 44-17) was just a side note.
The star of the game was Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham, who rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the rout. Pitt's big, physical offensive line certainly aided in the production from the 5-09, 195 pound junior tailback, but Graham's vision and agility helped turn several 3-4 yard carries into 10-15 yard scampers. Most importantly, it was clear that the Pitt coaching staff trusted Graham as the game went into the second half. Though the final score argues otherwise, this was a close game early. Pitt went into halftime ahead only 20-17. Considering the success of recent Pitt running backs LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis -- each of whom left school early -- it is wise to keep Graham in mind when considering the underclassmen at this position who may test the NFL waters.
One of reasons why Graham found the running easy was due to the play of Panther offensive guard Lucas Nix. The 6-5, 310 pounder is rated NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4 offensive guard for the 2012 draft and demonstrated why throughout this contest, routinely blasting holes in the front line and showing the agility to block at the second level, as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, Panthers' pass rusher Brandon Lindsey enjoyed a solid, but unspectacular game. He was credited with four tackles, including a sack in the third quarter, but didn't show the explosivness I expected from a prospect I'd just included as part of my newest mock draft. Lindsey was often a beat late off the ball and relied mostly on his speed outside to cross the face of the tackle on his way to the quarterback. I'd like to see improved hand play and a quicker inside spin to compliment his outside rush.
On the South Florida side, I was intrigued by the play of senior cornerback Quenton Washington. The 5-10, 195 pounder has been reported to boast legitimate 4.3 speed. Though I would have estimated him at 4.45 based on last night's game, Washington did show an impressive burst to close, knocking away two passes that otherwise would have been caught. He also posted two tackles, including a tackle for loss. I would have liked to have seen Washington turn his second PBU into an interception, however, as he read the play, broke on it quickly and was in position to snatch the Tino Sunseri pass and perhaps take it back for a touchdown. Instead, the ball dropped to the ground in what was a microcosm of the opportunity South Florida lost in this nationally televised contest.
NFLDraftScout.com does not rank Washington as a draftable commodity at this time (he's ranked 52nd currently), but with his athleticism, he's certainly one I am keeping my eye on as a potential riser as the draft nears.