You've just been awarded an NFL expansion team and must build your personnel department. How would you do it? Matt Waldman takes on the exercise.
12 Apr 2010
by David Gardner
By all accounts, Brandon Graham will be a first-round pick later this month. The two-time Michigan defensive MVP led the nation in tackles for loss last season and is known as a disruptive playmaker in the backfield.
The problem is that team's aren't sure where to put him. In high school, he was an outside linebacker, but he transition to a 4-3 end in college. He is a bit on the small side (6-2, 270) for an end position in the NFL, so many teams have been looking at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
On Wednesday, he spoke on the phone with Football Outsiders.
Football Outsiders: What do you offer to NFL teams?
Brandon Graham: I'm a great pass rusher, a terrific run stopper, and my motor is continuous.
FO: Teams aren't exactly sure where to put you because of your size. Are you still getting a lot of questions about that, or have you proved it's not an issue?
Graham: I think I've proved that it's not an issue now. I think the issue now is, "Can I drop and move?" I need to, just in case I play linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, or wherever they want to put me.
FO: What have you been doing to prepare yourself to fly around in a 3-4 scheme?
Graham: All I've been doing is just doing linebacker drills, because I have the d-line drills down. I just wanna get acclimated with those drills, really.
FO: Talk about those drills specifically.
Graham: Just dropping deep, at least 10 or 15 yards. I've been working on breaking on the ball and going through bags and trying to shuffle through the bags a little bit. And I'm gonna do some of the drills at the Combine.
FO: Are teams projecting you just based on what kind of defense that they run? For example, Were there any 4-3 teams looking at you as an outside linebacker?
Graham: They asked me, "Would I fit in their scheme?" That's how every team approached it. They asked me about why I would be able to fit into their scheme too, stuff like that.
FO: So when a 3-4 team asks you about your ability to transition to linebacker when you've played end for the last four years, what do you say?
Graham: I just say, "Yes sir." I played linebacker all my life before I got to Michigan. I know how to react and how to get back and cover. I know that I'll be able to do it again.
FO: What's the difference in approaching the pass rush from the 3-4 where you've got the extra step versus taking the tackle on straight on from a 4-3 end position?
Graham: It's really different. I think it gives me an advantage to be in a 3-point stance because I can use the force from the ground to push off. The difference, standing up, is that I'll have to learn how to come off just as fast as from a 3-point stance. So that's all I've been working on -- the get-off is the key.
FO: In college, you were able to surprise offensive tackles with your power. How will that part of your game spread over to a 3-4?
Graham: I don't think it will be hard at all to transition. I use my hands well, and I believe I'm very strong. I'll be able to control whoever the offensive lineman is. I'll be able to get off of him and make the play.
FO: Do you have a preference between the two schemes?
Graham: I like the 4-3 now, but I'll be able to adjust to the 3-4 and still be able to do as good as I have been doing. I just have to really be in there for dropping back and doing everything a little bit early so that I can have an impact in my first year.
FO: What have you been doing to work on your coverage skills? That's something you haven't done for the last few years at Michigan.
Graham: I was watching what teams look for at the Combine. I haven't looked at the film, I've just looked at the Combine.
FO: Talk about the Combine a little bit. You ran really well and put up 225 pounds 31 times. What were teams telling you there?
Graham: I interviewed with a lot of teams. They were just telling me, good job on the bench, good job on the 40. They were just disappointed because I pulled my hamstring before they could see the drills and stuff. This is where I left off, I feel. They didn't get to see my linebacker drills -- the way I move and open my hips, they didn't see that.
FO: How's the hamstring now?
Graham: Oh, it's feeling really good. I'm happy that it just two weeks to recover. It wasn't serious, like I thought it was. I believe it's 100 percent. At the Combine, I thought it was gonna bleed out, but it didn't bruise ... that's what I meant by serious. I just strained it really bad.
FO: How upsetting was that, when you were having a really good Combine?
Graham: It was depressing at first because you wait your whole life to be in the Combine, and when you get there, you can't participate like you want to. But I know it was better to prepare for Pro Day.
FO: Do you pay much attention to the mock drafts and where you're projected?
Graham: I don't know watch it myself, but I hear it from a lot of people. Everyone else watches it and texts me or tells me.
FO: What is your feel from your agent and from teams as far as where you'll be going? Mid-first round?
Graham: I'm just happy to be thought of in the first round. Anywhere I go in the first round -- I'm not really worried at all. Just happy that I'm a big name in the first round. But they can take me anywhere, and I'll play my hardest.
FO: Who are the NFL players that you are trying emulate yourself?
Graham: I would really like to have a career like Elvis Dumervil has been having. I haven't ever talked to him, but I love his game -- how he converts speed to power. He's really good at that, and he uses his hands really well. His arm length -- he's short but his arms are long -- really affects offensive tackles. He's a short guy who can get past you with his speed.
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