Maybe Brandon Graham wasn't a first-round bust after all.
After finally getting a chance to start three weeks ago, Graham has thrived for the Philadelphia Eagles. He has four sacks in three games since replacing two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin, who was released last month.
"The opportunity comes when they see you working and see you focused," Graham said. "I was just trying to stay focused, not trying to worry about how many snaps I've played. If we won and I only played one (snap), I'm happy. I just kept at it, kept at it and once my opportunity came, I was going to make sure that, at least, I was ready."
The Eagles coveted Graham so much they traded three draft picks to move up and select him with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft. But Graham had just three sacks in his first two seasons, both shortened by a serious knee injury.
Graham started this year on the bench playing behind Babin, who had 18 sacks last year. But Babin failed to match the same level, getting 5½ sacks in 11 games. When the Eagles (4-10) dumped him, Graham got his chance to prove he belongs.
"You never know," Graham said. "I just kept pushing. I wasn't really worried about it. I was just hoping that one day my day would come to be able to step up and show them what I can do."
Graham had a stellar career at Michigan before coming to Philadelphia. He had 29½ sacks, 56 tackles for loss and eight forced fumbles in 46 games across four seasons. He was the first defensive player in school history to be voted team MVP twice.
Graham started six games his rookie season and had three sacks. He was just starting to show his potential when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in December.
It was worse than the average ACL injury. Graham needed microfracture surgery, so the recovery took longer. He missed the first two months of the 2011 season, came back in November and played in just three games.
"Once I got back and was back in action off of the PUP list, I still was not moving (well)," Graham said. "It kind of challenged me. They said my knee was all right. I felt like it was all right and I still wasn't doing what I knew I could. That was the hardest part and now I'm comfortable, I feel good and that's history. Now it's time to move forward."
Graham moves forward, knowing he endured the toughest of times.
"It's all mental," he said. "How strong are you as a person to fight through the pain in the beginning? Because that's the hardest part. You really don't see the day when it will finally stop hurting. You just know at the time, 'It's bad right now.' You just have to stay focused and keep going and doing things over and over until everything is better."
Throughout his first 2½ seasons, Graham heard comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul. The New York Giants chose Pierre-Paul two picks after Graham, and didn't have to trade any picks to get him. JPP had 16½ sacks last year and played a key role in helping the Giants win the Super Bowl.
This year, though, Pierre-Paul has 6½ sacks, one more than Graham has in far less playing time.
"I've just got to keep getting better because I've got a big year next year and I've got to finish strong," Graham said. "Hopefully, we can pull these last two games out, so we can go in this offseason focused and ready to go."
Notes: The Eagles signed TE Evan Moore to take backup Clay Harbor's roster spot. Harbor was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Moore has 63 receptions for 810 yards and five touchdowns in 47 games in four seasons with Cleveland and Seattle. ... Asked about the crowd reaction to Andy Reid, who may be coaching his last game in Philadelphia on Sunday, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said: "Andy's got Hall of Fame numbers and really the only thing we haven't done here and he hasn't done here is win a Super Bowl. He's been to one and five NFC championships, so he's had a heck of a run. I'd expect it to be emotional. Other than that, it's a hypothetical."
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