Peter King’s new site, The MMQB, has been a good source of information since it began last fall. He hired smart, talented writers. They do their research and write informed pieces.
That said, I’ve been scratching my head since reading this piece from Andy Benoit…his list of breakout defensive players for 2014. Benoit lists Cedric Thornton and Brandon Boykin, who I think both emerged in 2013. I realize that me being an Eagles fan makes me know the team better than the average fan, but both guys made big plays in nationally televised games. Okay, maybe I’m being picky here. It is nice to see Ced and the Boyking get some national publicity.
Benoit also put Brandon Graham on his list.
It wasn’t supposed to take this long for Graham to emerge; the Eagles drafted him 13th overall in 2010. But his development was halted by a late-2010 knee injury, and he never quite found a niche in the 4-3 schemes that Andy Reid’s defensive coordinators ran. In Billy Davis’s hybrid 3-4, Graham operates primarily as an outside linebacker (though he’s also been effective lining up with his hand in the dirt). He should see more playing time with Trent Cole coming off a somewhat inconsistent 2013 campaign. And if he can’t take snaps from Cole, he’ll take them from someone else. Simply put, Graham will be the Eagles’ most dynamic pass-rusher in 2014.
I don’t get this at all.
Benoit watches the All-22 tape on a regular basis. He knows his stuff. But sometimes he and I see things very differently. This apparently is one of them.
Brandon Graham never showed me anything this season that would make me think “I can’t wait to see him in 2014.” Graham had his moments, but there is a reason I think OLB is the number one need for the Eagles this offseason. Graham didn’t show me enough to think that he can be the primary rush LB in a 3-4 defense.
I hope I’m the wrongest wrong in the history of wrongs. I’d love Graham to be the answer at OLB. That would allow the Eagles to use their resources on other positions and overall upgrades. I just don’t think that’s going to be the case. If Graham had really caught the coaches eyes, he’d have gotten more playing time as the season went along. I don’t think his snaps went up in any significant way during the season.
In terms of production, Graham didn’t show much. He had 3 sacks and 5 hurries, per the Eagles official stats. Vinny Curry had 4 sacks and 11 hurries.
Graham did most of his rushing from ROLB or RDE. In the past, he was more productive when rushing from the left side. I don’t know that Graham, post-microfracture surgery, has the athleticism to consistently beat LTs. Going up against RTs can be far different.
If the Eagles asked my advice, I’d tell them to trade Graham to a 4-3 team. The guy can play. No one disputes that. But he just doesn’t seem like a good fit for the Eagles anymore. Graham lacks the size that Chip Kelly prefers. Graham is awkward when he’s got to drop back, which is part of playing OLB in the 3-4. And he’s going to be a free agent at the end of 2014. Does it seem likely that the Eagles would re-sign him?
Maybe Jerry Azzinaro and Bill McGovern think Graham will take a major step forward. If so, then hold on to Graham. He’s only going to net a 5th round pick or so. I just think you only keep him if you feel it is likely that he’s a better player this year. If not, move on and go find a young LB you want to develop or a veteran LB that is a better fit for the scheme.
As much as I want Graham to pan out and become a key player for the Eagles, we have to be realistic. Just doesn’t feel like it will happen in this scheme.
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I will talk a lot about fit this offseason. To me, that is one overlooked part of player success. Guys must be in the right system. Mike Vrabel began his career as a Steeler. He played there for 4 years and never started a game. The Steelers know a thing or two about OLBs, but Vrabel just didn’t fit their version of the 3-4. Vrabel then went to the Patriots and had an amazing career.
Carlos Emmons began his career with the Steelers. He started his final 2 years there, but failed to stand out. The Eagles signed him to be the SAM in a 4-3 and Emmons flourished.
There are just going to be times when players don’t fit. That doesn’t mean your scouts did a bad job. That doesn’t mean your coaches did a bad job. Player evaluation involves a lot of projection. You’re going to miss. That’s true for all teams.
If a lot of players that leave your team find success elsewhere, then you do have problems with scouting and/or coaching.
The one X-factor is character. Look at the difference in Aqib Talib as a Buc and a Patriot. Everyone knew he could play. He needed to be in the right environment to pan out. Think about DRC. He started off pretty well in 2012, but fell apart when Juan Castillo was fired. By the end of the year, he was as useless as playing me at corner (hard to jam receivers while holding a PBR and bag of Funyuns). Then DRC goes to the Broncos, a stable, winning team and has a good season. He just doesn’t handle adversity well.
Hopefully the Eagles will get back to being a team that has the environment that brings out the best in players.