Once labeled a first-round bust, Brandon Graham is starting to pay serious dividends for the Eagles organization who has been more than patient in giving him time to develop into a Pro Bowl, All-Pro caliber defensive end.
Graham was drafted 12th overall in the 2010 draft, as the Eagles traded up to grab the dominant 4-3 end out of Michigan. After passing on the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and more notably Earl Thomas, Graham struggled to live up to first-round expectations through most of his career.
Now, as Graham continues to play at an All-Pro caliber level in 2016, the organization is finally getting maximum return on their investment. Yes, it took seven years to get to this elite level of play, but it is better late than never as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz seems to have tapped into the enormous potential.
For a good part of Graham's first six seasons in the NFL, he was more of a rotational player. He played in the better suited 4-3 scheme during his first three seasons in a midnight green uniform, but he logged only 8.5 sacks during those first three seasons.
Andy Reid was let go by the Eagles following the 2012 season, the man that was mainly responsible for drafting Graham. Then stepped in Chip Kelly, who brought a 3-4 defensive scheme to Philadelphia. Many of the defensive players he inherited didn't fit the scheme, including Graham. To the credit of the former first-round pick, he made the most of it and managed to adapt to the role as a 3-4 edge rusher, flashing some dominant play at times.
But after Kelly's departure, Doug Pederson brought in the perfect coordinator for players such as Graham. His 4-year $26 million deal that he signed during the 2014-2015 offseason has quickly become one of the biggest bargain contracts in the NFL. He is Pro Football Focus' co-number one edge rusher heading into a Week 11 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, and is tied for third in the league in hurries with 20, according to sportingcharts.com.
Graham's nine tackles for loss is ranked 13th in the NFL, according to the same site, and he has logged five sacks through nine games. He only needs two sacks during the next seven games to break his single-season sack mark of 6.5. Though the numbers aren't extremely eye-popping, his plays speaks for itself. All you have to do is put on a game tape to see how he is impacting a game.
Graham's speed off the edge is off the charts. His performances, especially in four home games this season - all resulting in wins - has been a significant key to the Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field success. As the team gets set to play in Seattle on Sunday, Graham must be a force on the defensive line once again. Seattle's offensive line has given up 19 sacks in nine games. It is a modest number, but Russell Wilson tends to avoid heavy pressure more than most players.
With two years left on Graham's contract, with a modest salary guaranteed, it is very possible his agent asks for a pay raise in the offseason. Of course, many things can change with seven games left in the regular season and a possible playoff matchup to boot, but Graham has proven his worth to the Eagles' defense. He is one of the prototypical fits for Schwartz's 4-3, wide-nine scheme.
Many were wrong about Graham. Instead of the word "bust," now the word to describe his play is "All-Pro." It is a remarkable ascension for a player that has worked extremely hard to get to where he is today. The Eagles' organization had chances to give up on him, but they saw something in him that the majority of the league didn't see.
Graham has the last laugh. Though passing up on Earl Thomas will always haunt this organization in some way, it is nice to see a player that shed the bust label with such authority in a sports town that is very difficult to strive in if that negativity surrounds them.