Brandon Graham, Michigan

brandon-graham

Brandon Graham

Defensive End

Michigan

6’2” 268 lbs.

Strengths: Quickness, technique, power, athleticism, experience, intelligence, played great in the Senior Bowl.

Weaknesses: Doesn't have ideal size.

By Scot Acocks and Bill Smith

Michigan’s defense has been one of the worst in the country since Rich Rodriquez took over the head coaching job in 2008 and the team has found itself ranked in the doldrums of college football for the second consecutive year. Despite the problems that Michigan has had, defensive end Brandon Graham has stood out as one of the NCAA’s best defenders. He has led the country in tackles for a loss over the last two years with 46, 20.5 of them being sacks. It’s just too bad that during that span the team as a whole has a compiled a measly record of 8-16.

In 2005 Graham was a highly recruited, five star linebacker prospect coming out of Crockett Vocation Tech high school in Detroit. For the last three years he has been a major contributor for the Wolverines at defensive end. Over the course of his career he has accumulated 138 tackles, 63 of them going for a loss.

Because he has played on such horrible defenses, Graham has faced a lot of double teams. However, he gets his pads low, uses his strong base effectively, and displays incredible quickness in order to beat combination blocks. At times he has completely dominated the competition with an ability to rip through blocks like few other defenders can and fights to make plays until the whistle blows. He can even break down and make the open field tackle against elite athletes.

Some scouts seem to think of him as a ‘tweener and are not sure whether Graham would be better suited as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. Such has been the case for a lot of players coming out of college due to their lack of ideal size for NFL defensive lineman. It is quite possible that Graham could do both but his experience in college has been on the line and it may bode better for him if a team employing a 4-3 makes the call. He may not have the elite speed of a Dwight Freeney or the long arms of a Mario Williams but Graham is a special player who has consistently gotten the job done from a three point stance.

Either way, the team that drafts him will get an elite prospect with the potential to be an all-pro player in the NFL. At the very least he will be a serviceable player capable of disrupting blocking schemes with his power and quickness. Whether or not he becomes a pro-bowl type player may simply depend on his determination. At this point it is difficult to question his ability or resolve as an athlete as his numbers simply speak for themselves.

Expect him to get his name called somewhere in the middle of round one in the 2010 draft. If he shows up to the combine and blows the scouts away with a top-notch forty time he could go in the top five. If he tanks the forty and appears a little sluggish and out of shape his stock could drop him into the second round. With Michigan missing out on another bowl season Graham finds himself with a lot of time on his hands these days. What he does with it will be a huge factor in determining where he is drafted in April.

A second opinion by Bill Smith:

Graham entered his senior season as a low 2nd or early 3rd round pick. Despite the fact that his team played bad football, Graham shined. Graham is a "tweener." At 264 he is not big enough to be a DE in the NFL. But at 6-2 he doesn't have the body type to put on 25 pounds to grow into the position. He is a high motor, high football intelligence player. He has a lot of tool but he is going to have to make the transition to outside LB and that is always a risk.

Strengths:
He is a pass rusher extrordinair. He has a lightening first step, effective speed in a pass rush, and a motor that does not have an off switch. He handles the O lineman with good hands, gets low to speed around him, and takes a direct line to the QB. He attacks the QB under control and seldom misses a sack by over running the target. He has both an inside and outside move and gets off a pass protector quickly with his head up to find the ball.

He has a good knowledge of the game and can anticipate the play and react quickly. He will make tackles of a RB behind the line and chases down runs to the other side of the field. Runs right at him are another issue.

Weaknesses:
He has good lower body strength for a LB but can not bull rush an OT because his upper body is not that of an NFL D lineman. He is either going to have to transition to an OLB or be just a pass rush specialist. He is expected to run around a 4.75 at the Combine which is slightly below average for a top OB prospect. One of his key strengths is his quickness and decent speed to the QB. If he were to add 25 pounds, he would likely lose some of that speed and quickness.

He struggles to hold up against runs right at him. Ohio State did most of their best running up the gut or to his side of the field. He tends to get caught up in the wash or bowled over against runs at him.

The key question is can he provide the coverage that an OLB is required to do? He has never been asked to do that. Michigan did not do a lot of zone blitz so that is a question. I can not overstate the risk of drafting a conversion DE to OB early in the draft. The Jets picked DE Gholston out of Ohio State with the 6th pick in the 08 draft. He was very similar to Graham in college playing a DE and being a force against the pass. But despite having played a zone blitz D fairly frequently, Gholston has failed at OB and will likely be cut this off season.

The Bottom Line:
Graham will be picked in the top half of the first round. Someone will believe that they can turn him into a top OB. But for every successful transition there is an unsuccessful one. There is a reason that Elvis Dumerville was a 4th round pick by Denver, LaMarr Woodley was a middle of the 2nd round pick and James Harrison went undrafted. The risk of the conversion pushes this type of player down the draft list.

2009 Stats:

Career Stats: