As the 2017 NFL Draft nears, College players who have either graduated or left school early are preparing to showcase their talents with hopes of hearing their names called at this year’s Draft which will be held April 27th-29th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Part of that preparation process is the NFL Combine where players get invitations to basically ‘apply’ for a career in the National Football League.
Every year, the Pitt Panthers football team usually has some representation at the Combine and eventually the NFL Draft. Last season, it was WR Tyler Boyd, who ended up being a 2nd round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals. Boyd would have a decent first season with the Bengals, as he caught 54 passes for 603 yards and a TD.
I (like you) was not surprised that Boyd would get drafted after leaving Pitt in his Junior year. He was ready and his skill-set showed it. I expect him to have a long NFL Career.
As Boyd was the only Panther drafted in last season, I expect to see more Panthers getting that phone call in this year’s NFL Draft as 6 of their players were invited to this year’s Combine. According to Pittsburgh Trib Live’s Jerry DiPaola, this is the most that Pitt has ever sent to the Combine, and those persons were RB James Conner, QB Nate Peterman, DE Ejuan Price, Offensive Guard Dorian Johnson, Offensive Tackle Adam Bisnowaty and TE Scott Orndoff. Only 14 schools nationwide (five from the ACC) are sending more than six, led by Michigan’s 14. National champion Clemson leads the ACC with nine. Not bad for a team that didn’t even finish the season in the Top 25.
The Bottom line is this: The Panthers truly had some very talented players in 2016. Some who were All-Americans and national award winners. They helped make their 2016 season a memorable one as Pitt finished 8-5 for the second-straight season, upset National Champion Clemson and earned an invite to the Pinstripe Bowl.
As I look this list of Panthers, I come away with this conclusion: All 6 of them will get drafted in rounds 1-7. I feel like each player has what it takes to make a positive impact on any of the 32 teams in the NFL, because of their excellent college play.
Let’s take a look at each of those 6 players and give a breakdown of their NFL Chances.
1.RB James Conner-He actually had one year of eligibility left at Pitt, but he chose to declare early so he can pursue his dream. Can you blame him? Not only was he a true inspiration after overcoming injury and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (a form of cancer) in 2015 and rebound to have a 1,092 yard-16 TD 2016, he’s snatched up several collegiate records, including 2014 ACC Player of the Year, and is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-time rushing and scoring touchdowns leader. So what else is there left to prove?
What they’re Saying? According to cbssports.com, here are Conner’s strengths: “A smash-mouth, physical ball carrier, Conner does an excellent job running behind his pads and attacking the line of scrimmage with purpose. He is much more than simply a battering ram, however, quickly reading blocks and picking up momentum off his plant foot to keep his legs pumping and finish falling forward. He runs decisive and makes it a chore on tacklers to get him on the ground.”
Here are Conner’s Weaknesses: “Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and must beat cancer before reconsidering his football future. Torn MCL in season-opener in 2015 will require lengthy rehab and in-depth medical evaluations.”
Ray’s take: Every time NFL Scouts underestimate a college player, they usually get burned in the end. The fact that Conner overcame the MCL Injury and cancer and have a 1,000-yard season should pretty much say it all, and before that he was the ACC’s best RB and one of the best in the sport. He wasn’t given much of a chance as a freshman until he got the ball in his hands, and I believe the same thing will happen in the NFL. Prediction: 3rd or 4th Round, possibly to the NY Giants or Pittsburgh Steelers.
- QB Nathan Peterman-A 2015 Graduate transfer from Tennessee, Peterman took the starting job from QB Chad Voytik and never looked back. Although he only played 2 seasons, he helped lead Pitt to back-to-back 8-5 seasons, which resulted in a Bowl. His Pro-Style skill-set has garnered the attention of many scouts, he played in the Senior Bowl and was also invited to Jon Gruden’s QB Camp. That alone should say a lot.
What they’re saying- “nfl.com had this to say about Peterman. Strengths “Smooth, quick set-up in the pocket. Grips the ball with big, 10-inch hands. Poised in pocket and takes the hit to deliver a completion. Will set-up, slide and then re-set before making his throw. Weaknesses: “Inconsistent delivery base causes some throws to sail. Has instances where the short strides and is forced to muscle it to his target. Will float some throws on seams and dig routes. Will have to be mindful to drive the ball on pro level to avoid the ballhawks who are lurking at safety.”
Ray’s Take: The kid played 4 years at 2 schools, and benefited from Pitt’s Pro-style system and offensive talent and the team benefited from a QB who actually knew what he was doing with all that talent. They’re comparing him to Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins, which means he will hear his name called early in the 2nd round possibly to the NY Jets or the Redskins.
- DE Ejuan Price-After spending 2012-14 on the injury list Price got healthy in 2015 as he led Pitt and the ACC with 11.5 sacks and had an even better 2016 in which he had 13 sacks en route to first-team All-ACC honors.
What they’re saying: cbs.com said this about Price. Strengths: “Impossible to discount his continued presence in the opponent’s backfield. Although shorter than ideal, Price fires around the edge with flexible dip and naturally low leverage to stay underneath the reach of offensive tackles. His initial burst allows him to knife through gaps with his eyes always trained on the ball to make mid-rush adjustments. Weaknesses: Poor size dimensions for the position. With his lack of the desired length, Price can be swallowed by blockers at times, especially in the run game.”
Ray’s Take: Poor size at the Position? We’re talking about a player who will most likely play edge rusher in the LB spot in a 3-4 defense, but he can still play DE if drafted by a 4-3 team. Ever heard of Dwight Freeney? He was also considered too small back in 2004 and is still playing today. Price has a nose for the QB, just like Steelers LB James Harrison and it’s no surprise that most scouts compare Price to the Steelers ageless linebacker. Projection: 5th or 6th round, possibly to the Ravens or Steelers.
- G Dorian Johnson-Offensive linemen usually don’t get much of the attention, unless they’re doing great things that impact the offense and Johnson did just that in 2015 and 2016 for the Panthers as he paved the way for Conner and the other running backs and helped protect the QB. Such efforts earned Johnson First-team All-ACC honors.
What they’re saying: nfl.com had this to say about Johnson: Strengths-”Solid athlete when asked to play in space. Plays with leg drive as run blocker. Uses choppy, accelerated feet into contact and keeps chopping them through contact to secure the block.” Weaknesses- “Is a little inconsistent with smoothness coming out of his stance. At times too aggressive when he moves up to the second level and will climb beyond his target.”
Ray’s Take: I feel that if you play a part of paving the way for one of college football’s best running backs and help set offensive records, then you must have something going for you. Johnson began his career at tackle and changed to Guard and never lost a step. NFL teams will be lining up at the door for this dude. Projection: 2nd round, possibly to the Redskins.
- OT Adam Bisnowaty- Like Johnson, Bisnowaty got it done on the line for the Panthers wit his job protecting the QB’s blind side and this young man did it so well, that he also earned First-team All-ACC honors.
What they’re saying: according to cbssports.com here are Bisnowaty’s strengths: “With his broad shoulders, long arms and higher-cut frame, Bisnowaty possesses the athletic almost-TE-like build scouts are looking for in today’s modern offensive tackle. Bisnowaty possesses impressive initial quickness off the snap for a man of his size and has sticky hands, typically controlling opponents once he latches on. Weaknesses: “While quicker than he looks, Bisnowaty projects best to right tackle or perhaps even guard in the NFL because he lacks elite balance and agility for pass protection against speed rushers. He can be a tick slow off the snap and allows his pads to rise as he retreats in pass protection, leaving him vulnerable to bull rushers.”
Ray’s Take: Bisnowaty is nasty, he reminds me of former Steelers G Alan Faneca and current C Maurkise Pouncey. He won’t lose a battle and will knock a defender on his rear end to keep him from the QB. Projection: 3rd Round, possibly to the NY Giants.
- TE Scott Orndoff-It’s hard to believe that this player was only relevant in his final 2 seasons. A big and strong TE, Orndoff really showed what he could do in 2016 when he cause 35 passes for 579 yards and 5 scores. He also averaged 16.3 yards per catch, Not bad for a TE.
What they’re saying: From cbssports.com. Strengths: “Experience working down the field in Pitt’s pro-style passing attack. Works the seam and secures the catch despite imminent punishment from safety. Banger after the catch. Reliable in-line blocker.” Weaknesses “Tight in his routes. Needs to do a better job of setting up his breaks rather than rolling straight into them. Slow to cut and open to the throw. Needs scheme to uncover him rather than route quickness.”
Ray’s Take: “At 6-5, 253, Orndoff has the skill-set to play in the NFL a very long time. He reminds me of former Steelers TE Heath Miller. He can block, catch and is pretty fast for someone his size. Unfortunately, most NFL teams will overlook him because of his limited playing time in college, but kudos to the team who drafts him, because they will surely benefit from it. Projection: 7th round picks probably to the New England Patriots or New Orleans Saints.
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