The first thing you notice when you meet
Graham was named second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press on Friday, a second honor for the defensive end, finishing his seventh season as an Eagle. Earlier, Graham was voted as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl’s NFC team, and it remains to be seen if he will make the trip to Orlando.
“It’s just an honor to be recognized and, yes, it means a lot to me,” Graham said. “I’ve worked hard to put myself in this position. It’s been a long road.”
It sure has, and Graham’s rise is a story of a young man who found his footing in life and in his career, and he stands as the kind of player the Eagles want to have, one who is 100 percent invested in the sport and in every play of every game. Graham’s remarkable strength off the edge is one of the keys to his success, along with a great first step, good technique and huge desire.
“Brandon keeps coming and coming,” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said during the 2016 season of Graham. “He wants to be great. He works to be a great football player and it shows. He comes off the ball with so much force and power. He’s been a treat to work with.”
Graham’s odyssey isn’t one that came together quickly, or easily. The 13th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Graham was an immediate starter in the team’s four-man defensive front and he ended up with six starts in 13 games before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Dallas. That ended his rookie year and cast some doubt on his future abilities. The 2011 season was a washout, with Graham unable to play until November and he ended up suiting up for only three games.
In 2012, Graham rebounded to record 5.5 quarterback sacks in only 40 percent of the defensive snaps and the Eagles season ended miserably, causing a change at head coach – Andy Reid out, Chip Kelly in – and a new-look defense with a three-man front and four linebackers.
Graham moved to outside linebacker, a foreign concept.
“Totally different game. Everything was new. The way I lined up, the way I saw the game the responsibilities I had,” he said. “It was hard. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done in football, along with coming back from the injury. But I had to figure it out if I wanted to play.”
Graham got it, for sure. By the third year of Kelly’s time in Philadelphia, Graham was a down-in, down-out threat and he recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2015, along with 12.5 tackles for loss. He had arrived as a 3-4 rush end, just in time for the Eagles to make the switch back to a four-man front in Jim Schwartz’s defense in 2016.
Graham was back with his hand in the dirt.
He responded with a terrific ’16 campaign, leading the NFL with 80 combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback knockdowns, according to Stats LLC. The rest of the league, his peers, noticed with the Pro Bowl recognition. The Associated Press followed with the All-Pro selection.
“I feel like I’m in my prime,” said Graham, who has two seasons remaining on a four-year contract he signed prior to the 2015 season. “I’m where I want to be with my conditioning and my performance on the field, but I know that I let too many sacks go this year. I've got to get me some more sacks. That’s what I’m going to be working on. I need to make more things happen when I’m getting after the quarterback. Just getting there is one, but I need to finish the job better.”
Graham is, then, the epitome of what the Eagles want from the defense. His motor doesn’t stop. His quest for greatness is extremely high. He is at the peak of his career, with some rough edges to smooth out – like finishing off his sacks – as Graham’s production continues to rise.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Graham says, smiling, of course. “I love this game and I love this team. I can’t wait to get after it in the offseason and get back here soon and see what we can do.”