Even without any marquee free agent signings, the Philadelphia Eagles have still made a significant splash during the NFL offseason. Not only have they addressed their biggest concern by trading for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, they have also signed core players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole to contract extensions, while infusing their roster with young talent through the draft.
Due to all the commotion that comes along with a busy and successful offseason, it’s no surprise that the return of former first-round selection Brandon Graham has been drastically overlooked.
When Philadelphia traded up to the 13th slot in the 2010 NFL Draft to select the ex-Michigan star, many believed he would contend for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and develop into a Pro Bowl talent.
Instead of blossoming into a disruptive pass rusher, Graham has spent his first two years battling knee and ACL injuries that have been compounded by his poor eating habits.
To make things worse, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was selected two picks after Graham, has already become one the league’s elite defenders, and is still considered to be a relatively raw talent. Comparisons between the two ends are not in Graham’s favor and have him admitting, “right now, I’m a bust.”
This proves that aside from being completely healthy, Graham will enter training camp determined as well.
If the former All-American can play with a chip on his shoulder, he should become another dangerous weapon under the tutelage of defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
The Eagles spent all of last season learning the intricacies of Washburn’s Wide-9 scheme, yet they still managed to lead the league with 50 sacks. This bodes well for the third-year pro’s nonstop aggressive style of play.
While he was at Michigan, Graham would routinely find himself in the opposing backfield, as he finished his collegiate career with 29.5 sacks and 56 tackles for loss, earning him the honor of back-to-back Big Ten Conference TFL Champion (2008 and 2009).
It’s no secret that the Wide-9 comes along with a rotational system; however, this should be beneficial for Graham, as he reintroduces himself to pro-level competition and looks to maintain focus during the upcoming season.
In 2011, there were seven Eagles defensive linemen who received over 250 snaps of action. With Antonio Dixon returning from injury, and rookies Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry projected to play significant roles in 2012, Graham will be forced to earn his playing time and one of the contract extensions we mentioned earlier.
Washburn has shown that he’s able to get the best out of his players by transforming the likes of Jason Babin from journeyman into a pass-rushing specialist. Now while it would be difficult for Graham to match Babin’s sack production upon return from serious injury, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t earn playing time as a two-down run stopper.
The beauty of Graham’s game and what made him so highly-touted out of college was an overall skill set that made him effective in both aspects of defense.
As of right now, Graham has been doing and saying all the right things that would equate to a strong comeback. He is finally healthy, extremely motivated and equipped with the best position coach in football.
He will have every chance to become the missing piece to the Eagles’ three-headed pass-rushing monster, and with pressure coming from internal and external sources, he better not break down, but rather breakout.