Making the Case for Brandon Graham

Mark NovakCorrespondent IMarch 24, 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

Every year players with freakish size, talent, and great upsides are selected in the NFL draft despite having questionable work ethics, criminal records, and occasionally three children by three different wives.

Coaches and GM’s go against their better nature when selecting these troubled but gifted athletes, and sometimes they are rewarded. Other times the problems cannot be nurtured out of these players and the problems continue, leading to an early exit from a league that seems to be created by the same guy who invented the revolving door.

Brandon Graham is not one of those players.

Brandon Graham enters the NFL draft with no off-field issues. He has a tremendous work ethic, a nonstop motor, and is as explosive off the ball as any NCAA DE in recent memory. Unfortunately, Brandon Graham stands only 6’2” and weighs a mere 270 pounds.

Although he leaves the collegiate ranks as a highly decorated defensive juggernaut— having been a First-team 2009 All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media, named to several First-team and Second-team 2009 All-America lists by various publications, and was named MVP of the 2010 Senior Bowl—he enters the draft listed behind a number of other defensive ends.

Grahams' size seems to be the only detriment to his predicted ability to excel in the NFL, and I, for one, am not sure why.

Graham has all the skills to be a star in the NFL including great explosiveness, a strong work ethic, a nonstop motor on the field, and, to top it all off, he has yet to bring a gun to a club, fail a drug test, or impregnate a woman in every state in the North East.

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Brandon Grahams' explosiveness off the ball is unmatched by any other DE in this draft, as evidenced by the fact that he led the nation in tackles-for-a-loss with 26.

Ends who have been rated higher than Graham—such as Carlos Dunlap, Jason Paul-Pierre, and Derrick Morgan—rely more on their excellent, and in some cases freakish, size and athleticism after the snap to make plays.

Graham, on the other hand, was not blessed with “ideal” defensive end size, but his explosiveness off the ball allows him to penetrate into the backfield consistently, despite facing many double teams.

After clocking a 4.72 in the 40, and displaying his tremendous in-game speed sideline to sideline, it is clear that Graham will be able to keep up in the NFL, and he is poised to enter his rookie season with the potential to be an instant playmaker.


In order to succeed as an NFL defensive end a player must have a motor that does not stop until the whistle blows, and after watching a few of his games I’m sure anyone would agree that this kid has a hemi under the hood.

Graham is the type of relentless rusher who doesn’t care how many times he gets knocked down, he’s going to keep going after the ball until someone is eating turf.

Many players have the same physical tools that Graham has because, let’s face it, the guy is not that big, but few come close to possessing the same kind of nonstop mentality that Graham brings to each and every play. All great pass rushers have this in common, and if you don’t have it then success in the NFL is not in your future.

Work Ethic:

Some players can get by in college ranks on athleticism and size alone, but the NFL is a different story. Players have to work harder off the field than on it, and some players (see JaMarcus Russell and Andre Smith, to name a few) just aren’t willing to work hard enough to continue to dominate in the pros.

Graham, a self proclaimed “gym rat”, has the same mentality in the weight room that he has under the lights; he doesn’t stop. It always seems that NFL stars, from Peyton to Owens, are the hardest working players on their teams, and Graham has the same type of relentless attitude towards work that is necessary to become a star in the NFL.

Many highly touted prospects have entered the NFL only to discover that they just can’t get by on talent alone; hard work is required. Graham knows this and it shows in his commitment to the game on and off the field.


One thing working against Brandon Graham is his size. Standing only 6'2'' and weighing in at 268 lbs, many teams have him pegged as an outside linebacker. Based on his work ethic and his professed willingness to play the position, this is not an unheard of suggestion.

However, it has been proven that shorter defensive ends with great moves and explosiveness can excel at the end position.

In fact, two of the NFL’s most highly regarded ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, are of similar stature to Graham. Freeney is an inch shorter than Graham, and Mathis is the same height. Both pros are known to be explosive pass rushers and dogged workers on and off the field.

Being shorter seems to give them an advantage in leverage when working against taller offensive lineman, an advantage that Graham has exploited ever since he began playing the position.

His size, which has been seen as perhaps his only downside, may turn out to be a strength...and in that case Graham should be viewed as the best end in the draft.