Free Agent Profile: Brandon Graham
Brandon Graham has been one of the most underrated players in the NFL since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2010. Consequently, the former Michigan Wolverine is not considered by many as a marquee name among the upcoming free agents. Although, the 17 sacks and 121 tackles he recorded over his 64 games with the Eagles may not seem impressive, these stats and his performances need to be evaluated in the context of the playing time he received over the years.
Graham is ranked fourth among the edge defenders who are set to become free agents. This is even more impressive when considering that only two players in the Top 10 played fewer snaps than him: Brian Orakpo who played only seven games due to injury and Greg Hardy who spent almost the entire season on the NFL’s exempt list with legal difficulties.
Since Graham played in all 33 games for the Eagles over the past two seasons, but started in only one of them, he would be probably eager to land a bigger role. Over his five years in Philadelphia he played more than 50% of the team’s snaps only once, in his rookie season in 2010. As a result, at this point it is unlikely that the Eagles will be able to keep Graham in Philadelphia.
Although, former Philadelphia Eagles head coach, Andy Reid, drafted Graham as a defensive end in his 4-3 system, his replacement, Chip Kelly, also found a place for Graham in his scheme. The majority of his snaps since the coaching change have come at outside linebacker. Fortunately, the transition was nearly seamless.
Graham graded out as the second best 4-3 defensive end in 2012 with a grade of +30.1, despite playing the fewest snaps in the Top 10. Moving to another position resulted in a slight dip in 2012 as he was graded at +8.0, which was good for 15th among 3-4 outside linebackers. However, in that year he played even fewer snaps than usual. Last season, even at his new position, Graham was back to his best, posting the third-highest grade at his position. Again, he played the fewest snaps of the eight highest-graded 3-4 outside linebackers.
As a result of playing linebacker, Graham needed to drop into coverage more often during the 2013 and 2014 seasons and flashed some ability there. He had 119 snaps in coverage over these two seasons, while he dropped back only 23 times in his first three seasons as an end.
While Graham did flash ability in coverage, his pass rush is still his bread and butter, and he eats well. He racked up 51 total pressures in 2014 despite rushing the passer on only 225 snaps. This led to a Pass Rushing Productivity of 17.7, the best at his position in front of Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee. His versatility is further highlighted by his ability to generate pressure without sacrificing the run game. Over 189 snaps against the run, he recorded 17 run stops, leading to a Run Stop Percentage of 9.0%, the fourth-best among 3-4 outside linebackers.
The main question when talking about Graham is durability, in terms of health as well as production. Although he did tear his ACL in 2010, Graham is not considered to be injury-prone. However, with the limited snap count he received so far; it will be questioned how his body can hold up with an increased role and what kind of hit his impressive per-snap production would take.
Graham should get a starting role and the price tag that comes along with that. According to the CSNPhilly’s Geoff Mosher, Graham is looking for a four-year deal amounting to $30 million, including $20 million guaranteed. Due to his scheme diversity, it is nearly impossible to narrow the list of teams Graham could play in 2015. He has shown he can be a productive pass rusher in any scheme, and at this point he has been consistently productive for long enough that he demands more of a featured role.