Nobody on the NC State roster helped themselves more in terms of the NFL Draft at the Belk Bowl than T.J. Graham, who finished his final collegiate game with seven receptions for 116 yards and two scores, including an impressive 68-yard catch-and-run for a score. The speedster made several Cardinals' defenders miss on his long reception and showcased his elusiveness. He also totaled 65 yards on returns with a long of 23 yards on a kickoff run back.
Coming into the season, Graham's speed and return abilities were probably enough that it was going to get him a long look from NFL teams. However, the ACC's all-time kickoff returns leader emerged as a legitimate wide receiver threat out of the gate in 2011 and earned a spot on the Biletnikoff Award watch list, which should have landed him squarely on NFL scouts' radars.
He recorded an 82-yard punt return for a score in a relatively quiet season opener and then tallied three straight games with at least five catches, one touchdown and 117 yards through the air. Graham set a school-record with 336 all-purpose yards against Cincinnati and, at one point, he led the nation in all-purpose yards before he finishing 17th nationally with an average of 148.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Graham's final tally included a team-best 46 catches for 757 yards (16.5 average) and seven scores, 986 yards on 44 kickoff returns (22.4 average) and 195 yards on 17 punt returns (11.5 average), including the long touchdown runback. He was named to the All-ACC first-team as a return specialist this season.
The Raleigh, N.C. native wraps up his career with 22 starts in 46 games; 99 receptions for 1,453 yards (14.7 average) and 12 touchdowns; 137 kickoff returns for 3,153 yards (23.0 average); 65 punt returns for 628 yards (9.7 average) and 5,225 all-purpose yards (he finished his career with minus-9 yards rushing).
Graham's 6-0, 180-pound frame will probably limit him from being a huge factor on the outside in the NFL, but he could thrive in the slot, where he can utilize his world-class speed. He did earn All-American honors last year while running his first season of college track, which is no small feat, and there is a very good chance he could record an impressive 40-yard dash time in front of NFL scouts.
We expect he'll get a look in the closing rounds of the draft but some fast times may help him skyrocket up team's draft boards. His vertical ability, development as a wide receiver and return ability make him an intriguing sleeper. Not bad for a kid who entered his senior year with just 53 receptions for 696 yards and five scores due to a veteran receiving corps his first three years on campus.
Steve Muench of Scouts, Inc. is probably the draft guru we've seen who is the highest on Graham and, in an ESPN Insider article from Dec. 13, he projected Graham as a late-third or early-fourth-round pick. One thing is clear - he's definitely done more than enough to convince NFL squads to take a flyer on the speedster.
NationalFootballPost.com ranks Graham as the No. 34 draft-eligible wide out in the land and the No. 241 overall prospect. Meanwhile, Pro Football Weekly lists the speedster as the No. 39 receiver and the No. 247 overall prospect in the Draft; they assigned him a seventh-round grade.
Graham was selected to play in the East-West Shrine game, which will be played on Jan. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The game will be broadcast on the NFL Network with coverage starting at 4 p.m.