Brandon Graham made it clear in February at the NFL Combine that his goal was to be a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft.
Well, he almost got there.
The Philadelphia Eagles traded up 11 spots to the No. 13 overall pick, giving up two third-round picks in the process, to draft the former Michigan defensive end in the first round on Thursday night.
Graham was a star for the Wolverines, and one of the few bright spots for the team in 2009. He posted 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in his senior year.
Now, Graham is going to have high expectations placed in Philadelphia, as he will probably be expected to play defensive end, not outside linebacker as many had speculated he would play in the NFL, in the Eagles’ blitz-happy 4-3 defense.
Rumblings from draft evaluators was that a knock on Graham was his lack of ideal height and size at the position.
But director of college football scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc. Todd McShay thinks Graham has the skill set to overcome those challenges.
“Leverage and hands,” McShay said at the NFL Combine in February. “He does a good job of staying low not letting offensive linemen get into his body as much. And he does a great job of getting offensive linemen’s hands off, swim moves, rips, clubs, all those different techniques. He has a lot in his bag he pulls out in terms of pass rush moves and just ways to disengage, and I think that really helps him.”
Graham faced the possibility of being drafted by an NFL team that plays a 3-4 defense, in which case he would most likely play outside linebacker. But that is not the case with Philadelphia, and Graham will be right where he became comfortable at at Michigan — defensive end.
The Eagles finished 12th in the NFL in defensive yardage and 19th in scoring defense allowing over 21 points per game in 2009.
Graham adds another pass-rusher to Philadelphia’s arsenal to throw at the likes of division-rival quarterbacks Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s got wonderful explosion and burst and so he was a natural,” Graham’s former coach Lloyd Carr said in February. “As I look at him, I’ve had a lot of people call me from the NFL, as I look at him, he can be a 4-3 defensive end. But there’s no doubt in my mind that he can also be a stand up linebacker, because he’s very athletic, very quick. So I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. But he gives any defensive coordinator incredible flexibility.”
Any time Graham’s name comes up, talk of his relentless motor soon follows. It helped Graham stand out on disappointing teams during his junior and senior years at Michigan.
“It starts with the effort,” McShay said. “From the first play to the last play, he’s just nonstop. He really is. And I think he’s technically sound. And he’s the one guy who’s in the position he should be, doing the right things and all that. I just think really the effort and the toughness are what will impress scouts the most.”
With his new home in Philadelphia, Graham is reunited with former Wolverine teammates Jason Avant and Marlin Jackson.
The Eagles made Graham the first defensive end selected in the 2010 NFL Draft on Thursday night. They are hoping he can add to their 44 sacks last season — Graham had 29.5 career sacks in 28 starts while at Michigan.
What remains clear, however, is that Graham’s going to give Philadelphia everything he’s got.
“Even though I’m 6-1, or whatever size I am, I’ve got the heart to go out there and compete with everybody any size, it don’t matter,” Graham said at the Combine. “Because between those lines it doesn’t matter, it’s all about mentality.”