The Big East has plenty of talented running backs, but in terms of NFL potential there are three who stand out.
Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis
Lewis is undersized at 195 pounds but has the lateral quickness, vision and patience to cut back against the grain or bounce outside after starting inside. He also has above-average balance and runs tougher than his size suggests. Lewis also has the benefit of having played in a pro-style offense. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate last year's production behind new starters at quarterback and in three spots along the offensive line.
Overall, Lewis grades out in the third round because his size will likely prevent him from becoming a featured back in the NFL. He has the skills, though, to become an excellent change-of-pace back at the next level.
West Virginia's Noel Devine
Devine is even smaller than Lewis (177 pounds), doesn't have great power and is also unlikely to become an every-down back in the NFL. However, he's been productive because he has the burst and vision to take advantage of a West Virginia scheme that spreads defenses horizontally. But like Lewis, Devine is in the third-round area because of his size limitations.
Louisville's Victor Anderson
Yet another undersized prospect, Anderson has had durability issues but can turn heads if he remains healthy. He plays in a scheme designed to get playmakers into space and Anderson can change direction and reach top speed in a flash. If he avoids the injury bug, Anderson could join Lewis and Devine in the third round and provide an NFL team with an excellent No. 2 running back.
Scouts Inc. took in Pittsburgh's first fall practice intrasquad scrimmage and came away with the following observations on the Panthers' top NFL prospects:
Baldwin passes the eyeball test with flying colors. Nearly 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, he is at his best getting down the field and using his size and soft hands to make plays on the ball. Only A.J. Green of Georgia is better in terms of tracking and bringing in the deep ball. Just look at last year's South Florida or Notre Dame games if you want evidence.
However, Baldwin is unpolished as a route-runner. Offseason film study showed an inability to run the complete route tree and what we saw during his limited snaps in the scrimmage reinforced that. Baldwin is tight in the hips at times and struggles to drop his weight and transition smoothly on comebacks and similar routes. He will clearly be most effective running nine routes, deep crosses and other routes that take advantage of his size and speed.
We would also like to see more consistent effort as a run blocker, but Baldwin's freakish physical gifts are enough to get him a second-round grade should he enter the draft after this season.
DE Greg Romeus
Romeus did not take part in the scrimmage because of an ankle injury and back spasms, but he looks the part of a top DE prospect. He could get thicker in the lower half but is stout and has long arms, a combination that allows him to play the run well. We would like to see him finish more often as a pass rusher but he is a great athlete, and because he did not begin playing football until his senior year in high school he has a lot of upside and a ton of good football ahead of him. Romeus joins Baldwin in the early-second round at this point.
RB Dion Lewis
As mentioned above, Lewis is undersized but his vision and lateral quickness allow him to get in and out of traffic near the line of scrimmage and make defenders miss. He is also one of the best backs we've seen on film when it comes to setting up and utilizing blocks. Lewis also runs hard and shows a good stiff arm.
However, while he has good short-area burst through the hole Lewis seems to lack an extra gear in the open field and at times makes one too many cuts. He needs to be more decisive and simply get vertical and pick up as many yards as possible.
A good athlete with great feet, Pinkston does not appear to have very long arms and that lack of length might make him a better fit at guard in the NFL. He moves well in space, though, and at one point in the scrimmage he did a great job getting around the edge on a toss play, finding a defender and putting him on the ground.
The problem with Pinkston is that his body is a bit frumpy and there are questions about his dedication in the weight room. He has been labeled as somewhat of an underachiever and is prone to penalties -- consecutive false starts followed by a holding penalty in the scrimmage -- and he is inconsistent. Pinkston grades out in the late second round but cold move up if he addresses some of those questions.
Sheard has a solid lower body and is very strong in the upper body. He is violent, powerful and tough at the point of attack and comes off the ball hard with the ability to rock blockers back and use power-to-speed moves to get to the quarterback.
He also has a high motor and is instinctive against the run. At one point Sheard controlled a blocker on a toss play, using a strong punch to discard him and then stuffing the running back for a loss.
Sheard is a bit stiff in space and will have some coverage limitations at the next level, but overall he appears ready to make the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. He has to overcome an offseason fight outside a Pittsburgh bar and prove that it was an aberration, and if he can do that Sheard could significantly improve his fourth-round grade.