I’m a big fan of Michigan’s Brandon Graham but I’ve heard too many people compare him to LaMarr Woodley, and its just not a fair comparison. Just because they both played defensive end at Michigan, doesn’t mean they’ll have similar NFL careers.
Apparently I’m not alone. The man who drafted Woodley, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, weighed in on the subject today at the combine:
LaMarr had a little linebacker in his background. As a junior at Michigan some of their defensive sets had him playing on his feet. It was not so much of a stretch as it was for guys that played down exclusively.
Colbert hits the nail on the head. Woodley was already prepared to play linebacker in a 3-4 system because he already had experience in those defensive sets. Woodley was at Michigan at the same time as Alan Branch, who Ron English and Lloyd Carr used frequently as a nose tackle, allowing them to essentially run a 3-4 defense on occasion.
Graham, however, has never lined up without his hand on the ground. He is strictly a pass-rushing defensive end which means he’ll have a lot to learn if he’s drafted by a team such as Miami, San Francisco or New England.
The other difference is their athleticism. Woodley was an elite athlete coming out of college. His 38 inch vertical leap and 4.74 forty-yard dash at his pro day demonstrated his explosive athleticism, which further made teams comfortable viewing him as a 3-4 linebacker. We’ll see how Graham tests, but I don’t anticipate him demonstrating the same type of athleticm.
Now I have to admit I missed the boat on Woodley. I gave him a 3rd-round grade, behind Jarvis Moss, among others, who entered the draft with a similar skill set.
I am likely going to give Graham a 1st-round grade when I hand out my first round of grades after the combine. But that does not mean I anticipate Graham reaching Woodley’s level of success, at least not immediately. Graham enters the draft with a more physical style of play than Woodley and a more polished pass rush repertoire, but he lacks the athleticism and awareness to impact the game the way Woodley does for the Steelers. That may come with time, but the comparisons of the two as prospects are off base.