The Case for Brandon Graham: The Best Fit For The 49ers 3-4 Puzzle

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IApril 13, 2010

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 05:  Brandon Graham #55 of the Michigan Wolverines dives for a sack on Tim Hiller #3 of the Western Michigan Broncos on September 5, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Weeks ago, I wrote off Brandon Graham as the solution to San Francisco's pass rush woes. Focusing on taller, more rangy defensive end types that could convert to outside line backer and rush the outside, I wanted a player who could reach into the pocket and force fumbles. I looked at Julius Peppers as the archetype and poster child for what the 49ers defense was missing.

Although I still like this mould of pass rusher, I have come to another conclusion: The 3-4 defense is tailor made for Brandon Graham, and Graham would fit right in on the 49ers front seven.

At 6'1", 263 lbs. Graham is a different type of play maker. Watching highlights, I didn't see him reaching into any pockets or backfields—he was simply busting through them.

The young man led the nation in tackles for loss (26) and registered ten sacks in 2009 alone before being named the Senior Bowl MVP with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

His play makes me think James Harrison instead of Julius Peppers, and so does his professional can-do attitude.  And apparently, Mike Singletary really likes the guy.

I see speed coming off the edge and strength in the middle.  I see power and leverage combined with excellent handwork when he fights off blockers like Bryan Bulaga and Selvish Capers. I see versatility as he plays outside linebacker and defensive, crashing the backfield from both sides.  I see awareness as he throws off blockers and makes plays against the run and pass without hesitation.

Then I picture him in red and gold, and think "yeah, that could work."

Graham would complement the platoon of Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson  and Takeo Spikes.  His stature is dissimilar enough from theirs that he will bring another dimension to their pass rush—a hard thumping wrecking ball to bust the pocket wide open or blow up the backfield on a running play.

Add that to Brooks' speed rushes, Willis' savage open-field tackling, Lawson's range (we're sitting on the very type of player I've been looking for, he just needs to get a little faster) and Haralson's savvy physical play, and we've got a solid 3-4 scheme with some depth.

The 3-4 works because blockers have a difficult time identifying where the pressure is coming from, and I'd bet Graham picks this up right quick, as he can stunt inside, rip outside, or even bull rush a tackle.

Back in February, the 49ers had Travis LaBoy drop by for a visit. Two weeks into April, and LaBoy remains unsigned by any team with the draft is just over a week away. 

And the 49ers seem on the verge of fitting one more puzzle piece into the big picture—and I'm thinking Graham seems likely to fit pretty well.