The fact that Brandon Graham is still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles is a mild surprise. Virtually every analyst agrees he’s not a good fit for a 3-4 defense, and quite a few—myself included—speculated he could be traded over draft weekend.
Didn’t happen. But the Birds did go ahead and take Marcus Smith in the first round, in case there are any doubts about the club’s direction at outside linebacker. Now, Graham sounds a lot like a man who is just trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
A couple of reporters noted Graham initially refused to speak to members of the media after OTAs on Thursday, but he eventually relented. And, in typical Brandon Graham fashion, he said all the right things.
He sees what’s going on though. After all, he’s been in Smith’s shoes before.
Graham still thinks he has chance to contribute here. Acknowledged he was once Marcus Smith, the pass rusher taken in 1st round to play.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) May 29, 2014
Fans might’ve forgotten the Eagles moved up to No. 13 overall in 2010 to select Graham, if only the player people wanted the team to take there (He Who Shall Not Be Named) hadn’t turned into a perennial All-Pro. Oops.
It’s revisionist history anyway. Graham was enjoying a solid rookie season until he was struck down by a torn ACL. The injury required microfracture surgery to repair, which made for a longer rehabilitation.
By the time Graham was back up to full speed, the Eagles had signed Jason Babin to take his place on the defensive line opposite Trent Cole. Babin’s star quickly faded, but Andy Reid’s finally fizzled, too, ushering in Chip Kelly, Bill Davis, the 3-4, Connor Barwin—now Smith.
So if you can detect a hint of frustration in Graham’s words, even as he tells reporters he’s ready to compete and wants to be in Philly, you can probably understand.
Interestingly enough, Smith told reporters he’s been learning Barwin’s role, not Cole’s. That’s not necessarily an indication of the long-term plan, but it would seem to leave the door open for Graham to spell Cole for the time being.
The reality, however, is Graham could potentially start at defensive end in a conventional 4-3 alignment. Yes, he only has 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons, but in such limited playing time, that doesn’t give us a true sense of how valuable he is.
According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Graham ranked seventh among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2013 in pass rush productivity, a stat that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt. In 2012, PFF had him No. 1 among 4-3 defensive ends in the same category. (Minimum 25% snaps.)
Graham is better than most people realize, largely because he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to show it. Would he have the same impact if he were playing every down? It’s impossible to say, but he deserves a shot.
A shot it doesn’t appear he’ll ever get in Philly, no matter how much he wants it.
I still think there’s a reasonable chance Graham could be moved at some point over the summer. A team that’s thin on pass-rushers or suffers an injury at training camp may be willing to make a move as the regular season approaches.
Should that happen, it seems like it will be a bittersweet day for Graham. Players want to come to Philadelphia and play for Chip Kelly—key word being “play” though. Graham is doing everything in his power, but the Eagles keep on dropping roadblocks in his path.