Expected Defensive Changes Indicate Eagles Aren't Building Around Brandon Graham
Brandon Graham has never been a 3-4 outside linebacker in his competitive football life. Not in high school, not in college and not in the NFL. He was a middle linebacker at Crockett Technical High School in Detroit, but he's clearly found his niche as an edge-rusher.
As a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles, Graham is coming off a breakout season. With his hand in the ground, the 24-year-old former first-round draft pick was rated by Pro Football Focus as the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. Using a formula that accounts for sacks, hits and hurries relative to snaps, PFF also concluded that Graham was the most productive pass-rusher in the league in his third season.
Considering that the rest of the Eagles defense is either a mess or in complete flux, a lot of folks—including the guys from Iggles Blog—are wondering why new head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis seem to be leaning toward a switch to a 3-4 defense, or at the very least some sort of hybrid.
After all, it was Kelly who stated adamantly, and on more than one occasion, that his scheme would be dictated by personnel, not the opposite.
Instead, it appears the scheme he's choosing will have the team's best defender making on-the-fly adjustments. Thinking he's going to have to become more versatile and contribute in coverage, Graham told PhillyMag.com's Tim McManus last week that he's already making an effort to lose weight for a new role.
Why mess with a good thing?
Well, that might be a big reason why the staff has yet to fully commit to anything. They may want to see exactly how Graham and fellow pass rushers Trent Cole and Vinny Curry fit in before pouring concrete on this D.
And sure, Mike Mayock saw Graham as an ideal fit at OLB when he came out of college in 2010, but that was also three years ago.
Will Brandon Graham be better or worse in a 3-4 defense?
Whether or not Graham ends up pegged as an outside linebacker who can drop back on occasion or as one who gets to contribute solely as a pass-rusher as the "predator" in Kelly's 4-3 under attack, a transition will be required.
It doesn't feel as though, schematically, the Eagles are building around their brightest young defensive star. Time will tell if the mini gamble pays off and they mold the personnel to suit Graham in a complementary fashion. But this is still a bit confusing.
It either means Kelly isn't enamored enough with Graham to cater to him or he's so enamored with him that he thinks he can make a fast and efficient transition to playing upright without missing a beat.
The key is that things remain fluid. This will be something to keep an eye on throughout the offseason in Philadelphia.
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