Pittsburgh Panthers Runningback Ray Graham became the leading tail back after the departure of LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. He had shared the backfield with both former Panthers, and finally took the lead role in 2012. Graham showed that he can be a feature back for Pittsburgh, despite having to recover from an ACL injury from the year before. He finally broke the 1000-yard mark in his senior year after coming close to it in his sophomore and injury-shortened junior season. His performance in the East-West Shrine game has earned him some positive buzz. Below I will attempt to describe the areas of strengths and weaknesses of Ray Graham.
5”9, 192 lbs.
There are noticeable influences of LeSean McCoy’s style in Ray Graham. Graham runs with good pad levels, and lowers it appropriately when engaging defenders. He is smooth in his cuts and shows good balance. Before his ACL injury, Graham was great at making players miss and running between the tacklers. He was elusive and quick in his cuts making him a very difficult target to tackle, and he can consistently achieve big plays. Ray Graham also possesses good hands and can act as a slot receiver occasionally. He matches up well against linebackers or slot cornerbacks. Graham can make plays after the catch coupled with his good balance. Graham has the quickness to reverse his field when his offensive line fails him; by running in the opposite direction of where he was intended to run. He has shown this ability on several occasions where he was able to turn a bad situation into positive yards. This is possible due to his patience in the backfield.
Ray Graham is on the smaller side of runningbacks; weighing less than 200 lbs. He would not be able to contribute as a three-down back immediately, because too often he got taken down by a single defender. Graham doesn’t generate enough power to push for the short-yards, and even gets tackled for negative yards on occasions. He has a tendency to wait too long at times and tries to bounce outside for bigger plays instead of running for short gaines.
Post ACL-injury, Graham never looked the same. He lost his bursts and quick cutting ability early on in the 2012 season. The injury really hurt Graham, as speed and agility were his bread and butter, and this is reflected by his low production on the field. He reported that he was not confident in his knee after the first few games. Yet, he was able to continue to produce, and near the end of the season showed flashes of his old self.
Ray Graham was an average pass blocker in college. He does not win many one on one battles with pass rushers, and was called more often to be the emergency pass option out of the backfield when his quarterback is pressured. Perhaps due to lack of coaching, Graham has never shown the ability to absorb blocks, and relies on cut blocks when he is asked to stop any pass rushers. Lastly, there is concern with the way Graham holds the football. Though he fumbles no more than the average runningback in a season, the way he handles the pigskin exposes it to hits by defenders. He will need to learn how to hold the ball more securely if he wants an opportunity to be the lead back.
Scouts and teams will worry about Ray Graham’s ongoing recovery from his ACL injury. While his production has slipped, he still managed to produce for a team that struggled mightily behind a sub-par quarterback play and injury riddled offensive line. His draft stock is directly tied to his Pro Day performance now, after a disappointing overall showing at the Combine. Sharing a similar pedigree and running style as his predecessor McCoy, I can see a good fit for Graham in the now Andy Reid-led offense in Kansas City. Teams will want to see a spry-er Graham before they are willing to take him in the mid- to late rounds, so he will most likely continue to fall on draft day, to the fifth or sixth round.