The 2010 NFL Draft is not far behind us, yet many first-round picks are already great players for their teams. Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Russell Okung, Eric Berry, Ryan Matthews, Jason Pierre-Paul—they all are starters and some of them are really excelling.
Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles haven’t seen such a return from their own first-round pick of 2010. Brandon Graham, the defensive end from the University of Michigan, has started only six games in his first two years with the team. His production circle contains just three sacks, 17 tackles and two force fumbles. Definitely, this is not what he and the Eagles hoped for.
Graham’s bitter pill, though, is his fitness and not his statistics. He suffered a severe injury on December 12th, 2010, when his right knee ACL was torn in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. He had an operation to reconstruct his ligament and he was kept out of practice for more than 10 months.
This year, the 23-year-old returned in Week 9 and made three tackles, but he was obviously not in the best condition. He finished the 2011 NFL season with four tackles in three games, playing in all of them as a substitute.
Graham’s value has been seriously questioned by many, due to his small contribution. At the same time, Jason Pierre-Paul has come to fruition in New York, and the fact he was picked after Graham makes the Eagles’ choice look weak.
Definitely, it’s too early to label Graham a draft bust. A torn ACL can’t be overlooked and certainly obstructed his development. Not only he was injured, he was also held out of the training camp. By the time he got to play, his fitness level was way lower than the league’s average.
Nevertheless, the next season will be very important for Graham and his career. Andy Reid didn’t hesitated and backed his player back in December, saying that Graham has a bright future ahead of him. With Juqua Parker either not returning or getting limited playing time, Graham needs to step up. Jason Babin and Trent Cole are two great defensive ends, but Jim Washburn likes to keep his players on a rotation and Graham will get a lot of time on the field.
I think that Graham can be an impact player for the Eagles. It’s just a matter of staying healthy. His size is not impressive and his performances were not thrilling, but you can’t demand much more from an inexperienced player, coming out of injury.
Howie Roseman, who has been criticized about the Eagles’ draft picks in the last couple of drafts, stated that he and the rest of the team’s management knew “…this year was going to be more of getting him back.”
Apparently, the Eagles still have high hopes for Graham. That’s why they didn’t risk using him more in 2011. With a fully healed knee, regular preseason training and a complete training camp, Graham will be able to deliver. He has the skills that are required and Washburn’s defensive lines have always been great for defensive ends. Babin and Cole will also be wearing out the opposing linemen, providing an easier task to Graham and the rest of the Eagles’ defensive ends.
My guess is that Graham will be a pleasant surprise in 2012—that’s if solid playing from the first round pick can be a surprise. Although he is at a great age, a sub-par performance next year will be a huge step back for his career in the NFL. Graham knows that and assuming he stays healthy, he will not allow this to happen.