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Qadree Ollison selected in fifth round of NFL draft

The former Pitt running back was taken by the Atlanta Falcons

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Former Pitt running back Qadree Ollison was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft with the 152nd overall pick on Saturday afternoon. With the selection, Ollison became one of just four Pitt running backs to be taken in the draft in the past decade and the first since James Conner came off the board in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.

“The Falcons got a great back and person,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a statement released shortly after the announcement of Ollison’s selection. “He’s one of the best to carry the ball at Pitt and also got it done on special teams. Most importantly, Qadree was a vital leader for us on and off the field. We wish him the very best in Atlanta.”

Ollison was the first Panther selected in the three-day event, marking the longest period Pitt has waited to have a player chosen in the draft since 2013, when no Pitt products were selected at all. However, Ollison kept alive a streak of consecutive Pitt draft selections dating back to 2014, and the Panthers have had a player chosen every year since 2000, except for 2012 and 2013.

The native of Niagara Falls, New York, had a productive career at Pitt, where he helped the team navigate the loss of star running back James Conner back in 2015. That year, Conner tore his MCL during Pitt’s 45-37 win over Youngstown State in Week 1. He was then diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With Conner out, Ollison stepped in and ran for 1,121 yards as a freshman.

Conner made his comeback in 2016, landing Ollison on the bench. It would take Ollison until 2018 to regain his standing as a top option in Pitt’s backfield. During that campaign, he was paired with Darrin Hall, and the two formed a near-unstoppable thunder-and-lightning tandem that accounted for 2,357 rushing yards. Ollison ultimately led the team in the category, with 1,213 of those rushing yards, but Hall was not far behind, with 1,144 rushing yards of his own.

Thanks to the efforts of Ollison and Hall, Pitt ranked 18th in the nation in rushing offense and came to be known as RBU. Ollison’s efforts, in particular, were also instrumental in Pitt logging vital ACC wins over Syracuse, Duke and Virginia Tech, as he amassed 192 yards, 149 yards and 235 yards on the ground in those games, respectively. And as a result of his play and the play of Hall, the Panthers clinched their first ACC Coastal championship.

With that said, the reason for Ollison’s late selection may be the ankle injury he suffered during Pitt’s 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl. The injury prompted him to decline invitations to the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game and focus on training for the NFL combine, which likely cost him some much-needed pre-draft exposure. However, Ollison performed well at the combine, finishing among the top performers in the 40-yard dash, the bench press and the 20-yard shuttle.

The Atlanta Falcons are fairly deep at running back, as they have Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman on their roster in addition to Kenjon Barner, Brian Hill, Jeremy Langford and Ito Smith. However, the team is coming off a disappointing 7-9 season in which none of their running backs ran for 1,000 yards, so if Ollison continues to produce at the level he did at Pitt, he may find himself rising up the Falcons depth chart more quickly than some might expect.