The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Philadelphia Eagles, that player is defensive end Brandon Graham.
When the Eagles traded up to 13 in the 2010 NFL Draft to grab Brandon Graham, they thought they were getting a safe, reliable pass rusher who could be a solid starter for them and would likely not bust. Now, two years later, they have a player who has played just 538 snaps in 2 seasons and who is best known for being the guy the Eagles took instead of Jason Pierre-Paul, the high upside, risky prospect who the Giants drafted 2 spots later and turned into a Pro Bowler.
Graham has been a bust thus far in his career, but largely for reasons out of his control. Graham suffered a nasty knee injury late in 2010, which required microfracture surgery and cost him the rest of that seasons and limited him to just 58 snaps in 2011. Before the injury, however, Graham had a bright future. With 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 26 quarterback pressures on 273 pass rush snaps in 2010, Graham had a very impressive 13.2 pass rush rate as part of the Eagles defensive end rotation. Despite his limited playing time, Graham actually ranked 20th on ProFootballFocus among 4-3 defensive ends as pass rushers in 2010. Among eligible players, his 10.8 pass rush efficiency rate was 13th that season.
2011 was basically a completely lost year for him. He barely played due to injury and when he did play, he wasn’t effective because he was out of shape and he had lost his starting job to Jason Babin, who the Eagles signed in the 2011 offseason, after Graham’s injury. The Eagles used a 2nd round pick on Vinny Curry in the 2012 NFL Draft, but have not given up on Graham, according to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Graham seems to have used the Curry selection as motivation as he has shed weight and is now back to the 265 pounds he was at during 2010 and before the draft.
Graham won’t beat out either of the starters, Jason Babin and Trent Cole, for a starting job. Those two combined for 29 sacks last year and they’re not going anywhere any time soon. However, the Eagles love rotation on the defensive line. Even last year, as good as Babin and Cole played, they combined for just 1360 snaps played and reserves played a combined 624 snaps at defensive end. There’s a reason they spent a 2nd round pick on Vinny Curry. That’s how much they value defensive end depth.
Graham definitely has the ability to beat out Curry for the top reserve job and if he does that and stays healthy and in shape, he could see a good amount of playing time and become one of the better rotational ends in the NFL. He may have only had 3 sacks in 2010, but he played well enough to have 5 or 6 sacks. He was just unlucky. He could do that or even better this season. The Eagles already had 50 sacks last season, tied for the league lead. With Fletcher Cox coming in and Graham having the potential for a breakout year, the Eagles should match or even exceed that number in 2012.
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