Diamond in the Rough: Kevin Graf

Diamond in the Rough: Kevin Graf, OT, USC
By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Every year in the NFL Draft, there are talented players who slip through the cracks. Players go undrafted for a variety of reasons like being too undersized, a lack of speed, injuries, a lack of production in college or playing at lower level of competition. Some players end up not getting invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and end up falling to the late rounds or going undrafted all together.

The history of the NFL features some great players who went undrafted, including Hall of Famers like quarterback Warren Moon. In recent years, there have been other superstars who were undrafted free agents, including Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, London Fletcher, Antonio Gates, Arian Foster, Brian Waters and Priest Holmes. Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith became the Super Bowl MVP after not getting invited to the Combine and being a seventh-round pick.

With so much talent falling through the cracks, WalterFootball.com decided to start a new series to showcase some of the under-the-radar talents in the 2014 draft class. These players could be late-round picks or undrafted free agents who end up becoming steals for their NFL teams.

This edition features USC offensive tackle Kevin Graf. The 6-foot-6, 295-pounder has the skill set to play in the NFL. He was a 3-year starter for the Trojans at right tackle. Graf improved each each season and finished his collegiate career playing his best football. After a quality senior year, Graf was impressive during the East-West Shrine practices in January. He could be a late-round pick or priority free agent who ends up being a steal.

You really stood out at the East-West Shrine Game. What was the feedback you got from teams and the coaches there?

“It was very positive. I think it went really well the entire week of practice. There was some good competition and I was very pleased with the showing I had at the East-West Shrine Game. I was able to talk to all the teams and I was getting a lot of good feedback from everybody, so I was really excited after that.”

Who are some of the teams that have shown in interest in you?

“I’ve had some workouts so far. I had one with the Carolina Panthers the other day. I have a visit coming up with the Seattle Seahawks. After my pro day, a lot of teams were showing interest. Some more than others. I have some visits lined up. It’ll be interesting to see where I go.”

Looking at your senior year, I think you and the USC offensive line had an underrated season. Offensively it is always is tough to replace a college quarterback of the caliber of Matt Barkley – not to mention Robert Woods – but especially in the second half of the year, the line played well and you showed a lot of improvement to lead the offense. Would you feel that I’m correct in that assessment?

“Absolutely, in the beginning of the year, we had a lot of line switches. Some guys were coming in and out with injuries, but in the second half, we were able to stick with the same line and play as a unit. We had the closeness that you have to have to play as a line. I felt beat up in the first half, but in the second half, I was healthier and was really able to play to my full potential. I was glad that I was able to end on that note.”

Entering the next level, do you feel stronger as a run- or pass-blocker?

“I feel that I’m very good at both, especially after my senior year. In my first few years, I had to block for Matt Barkley, and we really did pass the ball a lot, which is similar to what the NFL does, so I became a very good pass-protector. Last year, I became a better run-blocker because we had four running backs that were really good backs. We became a really balanced offense. It made me a balanced offensive lineman, and I feel that I’m a good run- and pass-blocker.”

Scheme-wise, you look well prepared for the NFL after having years in a West Coast offense under coach Kiffin and sticking with a pro style after he left. It looked like you got some experience in zone and man blocking.

“Oh absolutely, I feel that I’m athletic enough to adapt to whatever system a team is using. We were very much a zone-blocking team. I know a lot of teams are going to the spread, like the Chip Kelly offense, and I feel that I’m athletic enough for offensive tackle or whatever position they put me at on the offensive line to quickly pick it up.”

With your athleticism, you could move inside to guard, but you have the length and quickness for tackle.

“I’ve heard both from NFL teams. I can play tackle or guard and whatever the team needs me at. I played all tackle at USC, but I can switch in to guard and have no problem doing that.”

That’s very common in the NFL as you see a lot of NFL guards played tackle in college. They move inside and it fits them well. I could see a team cross-training you so they have a versatile player on game days.

“Exactly. I’m very comfortable playing both sides of the line as well. I can play four out of the five positions on the offensive line. That really helps me as a player to play that many positions.”

After three years of starting in the Pac-12, you went against a lot of good pass-rushers. Who stands out to you as being above the rest?”

“Obviously at USC, I played against great players on my team. I went against Leonard Williams, who was an All-American. Jevon Kennard; George Uko; Morgan Breslin, who was hurt last year but the year before had all theses sacks; so a lot of it was every day at practice going against these guys. In the Pac-12, you go against good competition every week, but for me, every game I felt like I was ready from going against great players in practice.”

Who are some of your USC teammates who we’ll be talking about as draft prospects in a year or two?

“Definitely Leonard Williams. He’ll probably be a guy who leaves after his junior season. Right now, I hear he’s an early-rounder. He made me better and I made him better, but he has a lot of talent.”

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