Graham Finding Success, Blocking Out Noise

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Brandon Graham has tried to block out the noise.

During his five-year career, he’s pretty much heard it all. That he’s a bust. That the Eagles would be better off with someone else. That they should have never taken him with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

“People were… saying little stuff,” Graham said. “They used to be like, ‘Jason Pierre-Paul is better than you.’ Now they saying he ain’t. Now they’re like, ‘Oh man, we should have got Earl Thomas.’ Hopefully I can change all that.”

Thomas and Graham will be on the same field Sunday when the Eagles host the Seahawks. The names will forever be linked around these parts. When the Birds traded up in 2010, analyst Mike Mayock predicted on TV that they were going to grab the safety out of Texas. He was wrong. Since then, Thomas has developed into a guy most agree is the best safety in the NFL.

Graham, meanwhile, is a rotational player.

But through the ups and downs, he has found a role, and Graham still maintains a smile on his face. When the Eagles switched to a 3-4 before the 2013 season, there were questions about whether he even warranted a spot on the roster. But Graham has developed into a very productive all-around outside linebacker.

Stuck behind Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, Graham has played 39.5 percent of the snaps. But rather than mope around, he’s made the most of his opportunities.

“With me, I started focusing on worrying about myself, not worrying about what people were saying,” Graham explained, noting that he greets criticism on Twitter with the ‘block’ button. ” ‘Aw man, he’s not living up to this first-rounder.’ I got hurt. I was starting to feel real good in my rookie year. Then I got hurt. Then I had to start from the ground up. I’m just happy how far I fought. So many people saying, ‘He’s not gonna be here.’ And five years later, I’m here. It’s just all talk. I have to block it all out.”

Graham will be a free agent at the end of the season. He has a skill set teams will covet and can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4. Pass-rushers get paid, and Graham has shown he can consistently win one-on-one matchups against offensive linemen.

Take this play, for example, against Dallas. Graham sets up as a 4-technique, tosses left guard Ronald Leary to the side and sacks Tony Romo.

The Eagles have trusted Graham at times to fill in for Barwin at left outside linebacker, also known as the Jack spot.

Here against Dallas, he takes on right tackle Doug Free, sets the edge, sheds his block and tackles DeMarco Murray after a 2-yard run.

“When you’re talking about going forward, Brandon has a lot of power,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “He’s got a great center of gravity, low center of gravity where he really gets a push.

“When he goes to his bull-rush, people move backwards, no matter how big they are. And Brandon’s got a nice counter move. He’s very strong-handed, he’s got real heavy hands. Setting the edge in a run game and his bull pass rush are probably his trademarks, and then he’s got so much better at going backwards and knowing where he fits in coverage.”

Graham’s future is unclear. The guess here is he’ll go to a place where he can earn more snaps, but there’s no doubt that the Eagles could use him.

As for all the talk about Thomas, Graham said: “He’s definitely a playmaker. I gotta take my hat off [to him]. That boy nice. At the end of the day, I look at myself as somebody that could be like that, once given the opportunity. I want people to do good because they’re fighting for their family just as much as me. Congrats to him. Now it’s time to go against him. I just hope that he don’t come out like that against us.”