PHILADELPHIA -- When Eagles head coach Andy Reid made Brandon Graham the first defensive end selected in the 2010 draft, he compared him to retired Pro Bowl pass-rusher Hugh Douglas. So, it was only fitting that one of the first team ambassadors to greet Graham when he arrived at the Eagles' practice facility on Friday was Douglas.
Waiting outside the office of the team public relations director, Douglas stood up and grabbed Graham's hand. For a moment they were eyeball to eyeball.
"He might be a little taller than me," Douglas said to the assembled staff. Graham smiled. This is the knock on Graham -- that he might not be big enough to be an every-down defensive end at the pro level. Graham is listed at 6-foot-1, 268 pounds.
"I was the same size coming out of college," said Douglas, "maybe about three pounds lighter." Actually, Douglas was trying to be kind to the new kid. When Douglas came into the league, he was 6-foot-1 1/2 and 260 pounds. But he grew to become 6-foot-2, 281 pounds as his pro career progressed. In his rookie season in 2005 with the New York Jets, Douglas had 10 sacks playing in a 3-4 defense. What will it take for Graham to have 10 sacks as a rookie?
"Just keep coming," said Douglas. "His size is actually an advantage. He can use his leverage. I saw him on film and he played very low. He made the tackles go down and get him." In the NFL, Douglas said, Graham "will give right tackles fits -- he will use his speed and leverage and drive them crazy." Douglas said the most difficult transition for a smaller defensive end is working on endurance. "You got those big cats leaning on you all day," he said. "It wears you out. And those cats can move."
Graham, described by Reid as having a relentless motor, arrived in South Philadelphia with a big smile on his face. He's a pleasant "yes, sir, no, sir" kind of guy. But, he said, don't let that fool you.
"That's my personality," Graham said, "I like to smile. It doesn't mean I won't get the job done. I'll hit somebody and smile over them and let them know I'm coming again."
When Douglas was signed with the Eagles in 1998, he had 12.5 sacks in his first season. If Graham is that productive, there will be a lot of Eagles fans smiling in Philadelphia.
Sal Paolantonio, who covers the NFL for ESPN, is the author of “How Football Explains America” (Triumph Books: Chicago).