Brandon Graham was the #13 pick in the 2010 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded up to get him. Unfortunately for Graham, he was drafted one spot ahead of the player all Eagles fans thought Philly was trading up for, Earl Thomas. Earl Thomas has become one of the league's elite defensive players, while Graham still has yet to become a starter for the Eagles defense. It has overshadowed Graham's career, which is a bit of a shame because Graham has actually been a pretty good player. 5 years later, Graham is hitting free agency and may finally find a place where he could establish himself as a starter in this league. New York could be one of those places.
Graham is coming off of the best year of his career where he recorded 47 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles, all career highs. Those numbers are not very impressive, certainly, however don't let that paint the entire picture. Among 3-4 outside linebackers who played 25% of the pass rush snaps, Brandon Graham led all of them in pass rush productivity with a 17.7, which was a full 2 points higher than second place Justin Houston. On 225 pass rushing snaps, Brandon Graham racked up 51 total pressures (sacks, hits, and hurries). That's a whopping 22.7% of his pass rush attempts where he's getting pressure. He is not a one hit wonder either, ranking 7th among outside linebackers in 2013 with an 11.9 pass rush productivity, getting a pressure on 15.1% of his pass rushes. In 2012, Graham had a 17.3 pass rush productivity, leading 4-3 defensive ends and getting a pressure on 22.0% of his pass rushes. Even as a rookie in 2010, he turned 14% of his pass rushes into a pressure. While Graham hasn't converted a ton of sacks, the guy is consistently getting pressure when he's on the field.
There may be some cause for concern here that he's a situational guy. Only one year of his career, his rookie year, has he played over 50% of the snaps for the defense. Interestingly enough, he's been near the top of his position in run stop percentage in 2012, 2013, and 2014. However, you can have a run stop rate of 9% (which is really high) and get demolished in the run game the other 91% of the time so it doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. That said, for what it's worth, Pro Football Focus has graded him as a plus run stopper over the past 3 years.
It's harder to maintain efficiency when you play more snaps. When you are only taking on 40% of the snaps, you will have more energy, more stamina, and less wear and tear to go all out on the snaps you do play. It's a little different than playing 85% of the snaps like Eagle OLB teammate Connor Barwin did. I cannot speak on why Graham wasn't a starter, I suspect a large part of it was due to Trent Cole's possibly incorrect entrenched status as the starter there. But we have yet to see if Graham can hold up while playing 80% of the snaps rather than 40%.
The other question, of course, is cost. According to Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia, Graham is seeking a contract for 30 million dollars over 4 years, a $7.5 million average annual value, with 20 guaranteed. This is not a cheap price tag, as only a handful of 3-4 OLBers make that much in average annual value. Graham is a young (26) pass rusher, which makes him a commodity on the open market. At the same time, people pay for sacks, and Graham only has 17 of them over his 5 year career. Elvis Dumervil had that this year and he was 3rd in the NFL.
Ultimately, I think Brandon Graham is a great fit for the Jets defense. He has experience in the 3-4 and the 4-3, he's young, he's a good athlete, he played a significant amount of coverage this year (with mixed results), and he seemingly can contain his run responsibilities. And while he hasn't done it yet, I have no major doubts about his ability to move into a full-time starting role. I think he's hungry and he's ready. I cannot come to grips with that price tag, though. I think 4 years, 22 million with 12ish guaranteed would be as high as I'm willing to go. But I'd be willing to go there. What say you, GGN?