Underdogs of the Eagles: Brandon Graham

By Josh Liddick, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Leading up to the Eagles playing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the unsung players on the Eagles roster that have made their unlikely season and playoff run to the Super Bowl possible. This is Underdogs of the Eagles.

In this edition, we will focus on the former linebacker turned defensive end and captain Brandon Graham.

College Career

Brandon Graham's path to where he is now is an unlikely path, but only because of how versatile he was on his high school football team.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Graham attended Crockett Vocational Technical School, which joined the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) in 1996, and didn't have a proper locker room for the team until they moved in his senior season in 2006.

He was inserted into the team's starting lineup at the start of his sophomore year, and as a junior Graham was listed as Crockett's linebacker, offensive guard, placekicker, and punter, leading his team to the MHSAA State Championship and becoming one of three juniors to be named to the 2004 First team All-Detroit. One source listed him as a linebacker, the other, a placekicker.

Graham recorded 91 total tackles all while maintaining a solid 3.8 grade-point average.

In 2006, Graham was already making noise as one of the top college prospects in the nation. He was the top prospect in Michigan, and the 15th overall best prospect in the country.

His incredible high school career of being an all-around standout of a player allowed him to be a five-star recruit and one of the most sought after players in the nation. He committed to his hometown college of Michigan in February 2005.

Once he started playing at Michigan, his attitude got the best of him in his early years. Graham was issued a ticket for playing loud music in a vehicle, and missed his court date after pleading not guilty. This caused a judge to issue an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court on a disorderly conduct charge.

As a sophomore, Graham was a member of the Michigan defense that allowed Division I-AA Appalachian State to upset the Wolverines at the Big House in what was one of the most unlikely upsets in College Football history.

At the time, the Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr had this to say about Graham's hustle and performance on Michigan's defense.

"Brandon, he needs to get focused in," Carr said, "and do the things that he's capable of doing."

Honestly, for the player Graham ended up turning into at this point of his career, if you told me that the comment made by Carr was about BG, I would've called you crazy.

Carr was disappointed with Graham's efforts in practice, so he made it a point to finish out the 2007 season on an incredibly high note. He started six games at defensive end, tallying 8.5 sacks, enough for the team lead, and three forced fumbles.

With a new head coach in his junior year in Rich Rodriguez, Graham impressed once again, finishing the campaign with 10 sacks, was ranked second nationally in tackles for a loss and tied for eleventh in sacks. He was recognized as a 2008 Second-team All-Big Ten selection and was named Michigan's Team MVP.

In his senior season, Graham posted a 12 game season of 26 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, which helped him secure a spot on the First-team 2009 College Football All-America team. He was also named 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year.

2010 NFL Draft

The Eagles made noise in the 2010 NFL Draft by deciding to trade up to the 13th pick.

Brandon Graham's selection by the Eagles with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft is considered to be one of the more controversial draft choices of franchise history.

Mostly because the Eagles were widely considered to be the top draft locations for safety Earl Thomas. Fans of the Eagles all around the world started the Graham-Thomas comps early on, most notably exclaiming "But he isn't Earl Thomas."

People thought that Graham was "undersized" and many projected Graham as being one of the next big NFL busts because of his  6 foot-2 stature.

Graham at first wasn't happy that fans and the media were repeatedly comparing him to Thomas and doubting his skills as a football player.

He spoke about it in a Matt Lombardo article back in 2014 for NJ.com.

"I mean, if I wasn't playing well, with him coming in here, that's all I'd be hearing about," Graham said. "Even now, I hear everybody. It's already talk on my Twitter. At the end of the day, I block all of that stuff out.

Once Graham established himself on the Eagles to start his career, he made sure everyone knew exactly the kind of player he was and the kind of player Eagles fans knew they were going to get from the get-go.

Graham's Eagles Career at a glance

To open up his first two seasons with the Eagles, it was an extremely rocky road for Brandon Graham, playing in 13 games for the Eagles in his rookie season, but tearing his ACL in Week 14, that left him out for the majority of his sophomore season.

When Graham was finally able to return, it appeared as if the Eagles had already replaced him at defensive end with a tandem of Jason Babin and veteran Trent Cole.

But in 2013, finally healthy, Graham moved from defensive end to linebacker to continue play for the Eagles.

He had an uneventful season, posting his lowest total of tackles since his rookie year, with 15, and added three sacks.

It all got better for Graham, who in 2014, had 5.5 sacks and 46 tackles with four forced fumbles. In 2015, Graham posted career-highs in tackles and sacks with 51 and 6.5 respectively. His strong season prompted the Eagles to re-sign Graham at the end of the 2015 season to a 4-year $26 million deal with $14 million guaranteed.

Now as one of the breakout leaders of the Eagles, one of the most respected individuals in the locker room and one of the absolute favorites of the fanbase, 2016 proved to be one of the most radical career-changing years for Graham. He moved back to defensive end, his original position with the Eagles, as Jim Schwartz became the new defensive coordinator under the new Doug Pederson regime.

From the beginning of his career to then, Graham always seemed to have gotten more and more aggressive and lethal as he developed as a man and as an athlete.

Graham had a top-notch season in 2016 with 46 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. His efforts allowed him to be named to the 2016 Second-Team All-Pro Team by the Associated Press. Pro Football Focus was rated as the ninth best player in the NFL for that season.

Now a captain and a team leader, Graham couldn't have gotten 2017 started on a better note. Four tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection in a win over the Washington Redskins in Week 1 isn't the worst way to start a season by any means.

Graham finished this season with 9.5 sacks, which destroys his previous career-high of 6.5 in 2015, and 47 tackles. Throughout his career, Graham has progressively gotten better and better to the point where now he considered to be one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers.

Graham's two tackles for loss on the final drive in the Eagles' NFC Divisional Round win over the Atlanta Falcons was a key moment for getting the Birds to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2005.

Graham went from being a high school standout, to being a troublemaker with no hustle in college eventually becoming one of the best defensive players in Michigan history, to becoming an "undersized NFL Draft bust," to where he is now, as one of the best defensive players the Eagles have had in this generation.

Brandon Graham's career as a whole epitomizes exactly what it means to be an underdog, especially as an Eagle in Philadelphia.



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