OWINGS MILLS – Brandon Graham was the scourge of the Big Ten Conference, barreling into quarterbacks by dominating offensive tackles with his combination of leverage, speed and aggressiveness.
That nasty streak and skills were on display from the University of Michigan pass rusher at the Senior Bowl.
Watching the hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end was akin to witnessing a virtual clone of former Michigan standout LaMarr Woodley, who now plies his trade for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It’s an honor to have everybody saying that because LaMarr is a great football player," Graham said. "I’ve learned most of my moves from him, so I agree and like the comparison."
It’s unclear if Graham will make it to the Baltimore Ravens’ first-round draft pick, the 25th overall selection. He has been linked to several teams, including the Steelers at No. 18, the Atlanta Falcons one pick later and the New England Patriots at No. 22 overall. The highest he’s considered likely to go is the Tennessee Titans’ No. 16 pick.
If Graham is available it’s considered unlikely that the Ravens would take a pass on him under their best player available philosophy.
“Good player,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We like him. Strong explosive guy, good motor, tenacious. He plays like a Raven. Not the biggest guy, but he plays bigger than he looks.”
Graham met with the Ravens during the Senior Bowl. He took official predraft visits with the Patriots, Falcons, Titans, Denver Broncos and the New York Jets.
At 6-foot-1, 268 pounds, Graham is shorter than the prototype. And he has shorter arms than normal at 30 ½ inches.
However, neither appears to be an obstacle to him getting to the quarterback.
“All he does is change games,” said Russ Lande, a former Cleveland Browns scout who covers the draft for the Sporting News. “He’s a really good pass rusher who’s surprisingly good against the run. Everything you want is there. I think he’s better than Woodley coming out of school, so how is he not going to be a good pro?”
Graham recorded 10 ½ sacks last season for the Wolverines, leading the nation with 26 tackles for losses.
For his career, he registered 29 ½ sacks and 56 tackles for losses.
“Brandon Graham has one of the best motors in this draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He reminds me a lot of LaMarr Woodley. From an initial cosmetic overview, he fits what the Patriots doe from a rush linebacker perspective, but he doesn’t fit the prototype.”
Graham could fit with 4-3 teams as a defensive end and with 3-4 teams at outside linebacker.
"Some teams want me to play linebacker and others haven’t really said anything about the position I play. They just told me to keep that motor moving. And that’s what I’m trying to do, always."
Ultimately, Graham said he doesn’t have a preference for which position he’ll play.
"It doesn’t matter to me," Graham said. "I’m just going to go hard no matter where I’m lined up. If you play fast and you have a motor, you’re going to be on the field and you’re going to be making plays. You need to be relentless out there and play hard until the whistle blows."
University of Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap is a player with major upside, whose stock is falling due to driving under the influence arrest that caused him to be suspended for the Southeastern Conference title game.
The 6-foot-5, 277-pound junior has 4.71 speed , the frame to get much bigger and posted 18 ½ sacks over the past two seasons.
DeCosta compared him to Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell.
“Like a lot of these juniors, his best is probably yet to come,” DeCosta said. “He’s a tall guy, linear body, excellent first step, very quick. He’s going to have to get stronger if he’s going to play that five-technique. He just doesn’t have the pad level right now to really stack up. I see him more as a 4-3 defensive end with the possibility to be a rush linebacker in a 3-4.
“As a defensive end in a 3-4, I think there would initially be some growing pains just because of his pad level. It’s really tough for some of these 6-foot-6 guys to bend their knees and play with leverage at the point in the 3-4. And it may be a year or two for Dunlap to get those techniques.”
Dunlap had two sacks in the Sugar Bowl. And he was the defensive MVP of the 2009 BCS title game with four tackles, a blocked kick and a sack.
Dunlap improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.61 at the Gators’ campus Pro Day workout.
“He’s fast enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he’s 270 pounds now with the frame to get bigger,” Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “As he matures past 20 years old, he should mature into a 3-4 end with elite speed for the position.”
USC defensive end Everson Griffen is an exceptional athlete, but has been downgraded by teams due to his questionable work ethic and maturity.
“Some think he’s a first-rounder, some teams wouldn’t touch him,” said Lande. “He’s a remarkable physical talent. Why wasn’t he a dominant player? There were some games I didn’t know he was on the field.”
There are several intriguing pass rushers besides Jason Pierre-Paul, Derrick Morgan and Sergio Kindle, who are expected to be drafted in the first 15 picks.
Texas Christian’s Jerry Hughes (two-time All-Mountain West Conference), Clemson’s Ricky Sapp, Utah’s Koa Misi, Cal’s Tyson Alualu, Northwestern’s Corey Wooton, Ohio State’s Thaddeus Gibson and Virginia Tech’s Jason Worilds all have good pass rushing skills.
Hughes is graded as a first-rounder.
The other players range from the second round to the fourth round.
Alualu had 7 ½ sacks and 60 tackles last season, and the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder is regarded as a classic 3-4 end. The All-Pac 10 selection’s work ethic is impressive as the Lifter of the Year at his school last season.
The Ravens have met with Arizona State ‘tweener Dexter Davis, a four-year starter with 4.62 speed who recorded 31 career sacks.
Another rising player is University of Washington defensive end Daniel Te’O-Nesheim.
The Ravens are known to be high on James Madison outside linebacker Arthur Moats.
Stillman College pass rusher Junior Galette is a rising sleeper on draft boards.
“I think it’s a very interesting group,” Lande said. “There are a lot of guys who can get to the quarterback in this draft.”