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Brandon Graham's time to shine is finally here

Can Brandon Graham effective in an expanded playing role?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This week's question posed by Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is here. Here's the transcript:

Sometimes a player with the most heart has the Professional Grade resilience that can will a team to victory, no matter the circumstances. Which player leaves everything on the field?

When Brandon Graham takes the field in place of an injured Trent Cole on Saturday, it will be the first time since 2012 he's started a game. Graham's career has been a roller coaster ride to this point. He went from being a promising young talent with high expectations, to an injury prone bust, to a misfit in as a 3-4 linebacker, to a trade block piece, to an effective role player. Now he's starting with two games left in the final year of his rookie contract signed back in 2010. And it seems like the Eagles want to keep him in the long-term.

Graham's clearly been through a lot. He may not be the best answer to this question because he hasn't really ever willed a team to victory, but he does leave everything on the field in his limited role. Perhaps now he will show the ability to take over a game with extended playing time.

The pass rushing prowess of Graham cannot be denied. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham leads all 3-4 outside linebackers (minimum 25% snaps played) in their Pass Rush Productivity stat. This metric is a formula that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times a player rushes the passer. In 177 pass rush snaps played, Graham has recorded 42 total pressures: 6 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 31 quarterback hurries. He really makes the most out of his limited role. Washington has allowed the second most sacks in the NFL, so that seems to bode well for Graham's continued success. It also helps that left tackle Trent Williams is dealing with a shoulder injury.

Unlike some pass rushers (looking at you, Jason Babin), Graham is very strong against the run as well. He's not just a pass rush specialist. PFF ranks Graham as the second best 3-4 outside linebacker in run defense. In 155 run snaps played, he's recorded 21 tackles (plus 4 assists) and 16 stops (stops constitute a "loss" for the offense) for a stop percentage of 10.3%. Only Pittsburgh's James Harrison owns a better stop percentage.

Graham's biggest weaknesses is that he doesn't excel in pass coverage. While this makes him an unideal fit for the 3-4, it's not really a make-or-break factor. His lacking coverage skills don't come close to canceling his value as a pass rusher. Graham has only dropped into coverage about four times per game in 2014. By comparison, Cole only drops about seven times per game. Those very limited amount of snaps shouldn't be a major obstacle to overcome.

Graham, who will turn 27 in April, clearly has a lot to play for this weekend. It's unclear if the Eagles will be able to keep him, because he can opt to test the open market, but at the very least it will be interesting to see how he performs down the stretch. The Eagles need to win their final two games and Graham's pass rushing excellence can take the burden off of Philadelphia's lackluster secondary. It's up to him to step up into a bigger role and prove he's capable of being a full-time starter.


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