Graham is Changing his Narrative Under Schwartz
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Narratives can change quickly in the NFL and Brandon Graham has reshaped his own under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Long regarded by Eagles fans as an underachiever after being taken at No. 13 overall in the 2010 draft, Graham is finally settling in as the kind of edge defender Philadelphia thought it was getting when it tabbed the Detroit native two spots ahead of where the New York Giants snared Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul, of course, quickly developed into one of the NFL’s better pass rushers as Graham struggled to find his way while bouncing between defensive end and outside linebacker depending on whether Andy Reid or Chip Kelly was in charge in Philadelphia.
Seven years into their careers, however, it’s now Graham who has quietly risen to the top of his profession while JPP struggles to regain his prior form after a catastrophic Fourth of July fireworks accident in 2015 mangled his right hand.
Through all the ups and downs, though, Graham has never lost the non-stop motor that defined him as a rookie coming out of the University of Michigan.
Take this year. Originally Schwartz had penciled in Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry to be the starters at defensive end with Graham mixing into the rotation but as the preseason marched on, it was Graham who grabbed control of the left end position.
And through two games, it’s been Barwin (74 percent) and Graham (70 percent) who have been the lead dogs in the rotation with Curry (46 percent) serving as Schwartz’s reliever.
As far as production, meanwhile, now that Graham is back in a defensive scheme more suited to his strengths, he is the clear leader, with two sacks, three tackle for losses and one forced fumble through two games.
In fact, Graham has been so effective through two weeks that ProFootballFocus.com has rated him the NFC’s best edge defender thus far, trailing only Denver superstar Von Miller and underrated Buffalo pass rusher Jerry Hughes in the entire league. Curry and Barwin are ranked Nos. 49 and 71 respectively.
“He's always been a good rusher,” Schwartz said when discussing Graham this week. “...He's compact, he's strong, he plays with great effort. ...Just watching the film last year, he gave some of the offensive linemen or offensive tackles in our own division, he gave those guys a handful. I think his biggest thing is the tempo he plays with, his effort. He's a tough guy and he's one of our tempo setters up front for our whole team.”
And the well-rounded nature of Graham’s game also hasn’t gone unnoticed by Schwartz.
“He's not a one-trick pony,” the DC admitted.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen