In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 14
2012 NFL Draft picks: Zero
Considering their history of success on the collegiate gridiron as well as their penchant for churning out quality NFL prospects, there isn't a team in the Big East with a more impressive lineage than the Pitt Panthers. Questionable administrative decisions regarding the hiring and firing of coaches, as well as the team's movement next year to the ACC has stolen some of the spotlight from a once proud program.
The team appeared to hit bottom last year with then-head coach Todd Graham abandoning the program for Arizona State after only one season at the helm, a 28-6 dismantling in the Compass Bowl by SMU and having zero players selected in the 2012 NFL draft -- the first time that's happened at Pitt since 1999.
Regardless of the success new head coach Paul Chryst may or may not be able to bring to Pittsburgh, this remains a team with legitimate NFL-caliber talent. Chryst, who came to Pitt after serving as the University of Wisconsin's offensive coordinator, brings back a pro-style attack that should complement the talent already assembled by former coaches Graham and Dave Wannestadt.
The biggest challenge for Chryst and his staff, therefore, may not be teaching or recruiting but simply finding the right motivational tools to generate consistency from what could be the most talented roster in the conference.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. RB Ray Graham (5-9, 195)
While undersized and coming off a torn ACL, Graham (pictured above) has demonstrated the impressive lateral agility, burst and vision that has led other Pitt backs before him to produce at a high level on both the collegiate and pro stage. Despite sharing the workload early in his career, Graham has been a standout his entire career. Given the opportunity to serve as the bell-cow back a year ago, Graham started off like no back in Pitt history, rushing for 734 yards in his first five games, eclipsing records set by LeSean McCoy and Tony Dorsett (among others) along the way and leading the entire country in rushing yards before suffering the injury against Connecticut. Graham was held out of spring practices but Chryst says he'll be ready for the season. With Graham out, sophomore Isaac Bennett turned heads and could give the Panthers' star plenty of competition should he not have the same electric movement enjoyed prior to the injury.
2. WR Devin Street (6-2, 192)*
While Pitt running backs generally earn most of the headlines, the Panthers have been nearly as effective in churning out quality wideouts over the past 20 years, producing the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Bryant and the Kansas City Chiefs' 2011 first round pick Jonathan Baldwin over that time. Some close to the program believe that Street, who earned Second Team All Big East honors a year ago, has the talent to warrant inclusion with these stars someday. Street possesses an NFL-caliber combination of size, speed and leaping ability but has thus far struggled with consistency. He led the Panthers a season ago with 53 catches for 754 yards but only scored two touchdowns. The return to a pro-style (after a season in Graham's spread) could iron out some of the wrinkles in Street's game and make him an intriguing prospect for the NFL.
3. FS Jared Holley (5-10, 190)
Considering the amount of attention that Graham and other offensive "skill" position players have generated it is easy to understand why Holley, a returning two-time All Big East selection, hasn't received more national fanfare. Holley enters his senior campaign having racked up nine career interceptions and has seen his tackle total rise each of his three starting seasons (48-54-67). He is a bit smaller than scouts would prefer and has to answer questions about his straight-line speed. He's a proven playmaker, however, with the intangibles coaches love at free safety, where many teams are searching for their leader in the secondary.
4. DL Aaron Donald (6-0, 270)*
Under Wannestadt the Pitt Panthers routinely produced quality defenders. Consider that since 2006, five Panthers (H.B. Blades, Scott McKillop, Greg Romeus, Mick Williams, Jabaal Sheard) have been recognized as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. In the undersized Donald, Pitt could take the award yet again, serving as an appropriate legacy in their final season in the conference. Despite only starting five games and being moved to every position along the defensive line last season, Donald broke out to register 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and an eye-popping 11 sacks. There is no denying that Donald was aided a year ago as the team searched out favorable matchups to aid in his success but much of his production was based on his burst, quick hands and hustle. These traits could lead him to even greater success this season as he'll be lining up as his natural defensive tackle position in the 4-3 rather than serving as a defensive end in the 3-4 Graham and his staff had installed.
5. WR Mike Shanahan (6-4, 225)
While not as athletic as Street, Shanahan is the most polished of Pitt's wideouts and offers the combination of size, strength and reliable hands and route-running to help as a traditional possession receiver in the NFL. Shanahan, who by the way, is not related to the Washington Redskins' head coach of the same name, finished second to Street in catches (39) and receiving yards (493) a season ago but caught twice as many touchdowns (four) as the Panthers' speedier option. Shanahan, a highly regarded prep basketball player, turned down scholarship offers on the hardwood to play football but one can see the skills he learned in hoops with the ways he positions himself against defenders, high-points passes and catches the ball cleanly with his hands.
QB Tino Sunseri (6-2, 215)
TE Hubie Graham (6-3, 230)
CB K'Waun Williams (5-10, 190)*
OG Chris Jacobsen (6-2, 295)
SS Andrew Taglianetti (5-11, 190)
OC/OG Ryan Turnley (6-5, 320)
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
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