Breaking Down the Patrick Graham Defensive Scheme

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The Raiders have officially hired a new defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham. The ex-Giants defensive coordinator is a former Patriots assistant and a well-respected name around the league. Let’s take a look at how the Patrick Graham scheme might look in Las Vegas

Coverage Tendencies:

Despite labeling himself a “multiple” defense guy, Graham clearly shows some noticeable tendencies on tape. Throughout his tenure as an assistant, Graham has always primarily ran out of 3-4 and nickel formations with a bit of 4-3 mixed in, allowing himself to use outside linebackers as both coverage players and pass rushers.

Unlike his mentor, Belichick, Graham prefers zone coverages over man, running a lot of Cover 3 and a bit of Cover 2 and allowing his defensive players to drop back and read the offense. Instead of the heavy-blitz schemes seen in New England, Graham likes to have a strong defensive line that can get pressure with a four-man rush.

Positional Outlook:

Looking back at the units he has led over the past decade, here are some of the top players Graham has coached and what he might be looking for at each position on the defensive side of the ball.

Top Interior Defensive Linemen: 2017 Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 325), 2017 Damon Harrison Sr. (6-3, 350)

Patrick Graham likes big run-stuffing defensive linemen on the interior of his front. Harrison specifically led a 2016 Giants unit that finished second in the NFL in rushing yards per game and was key to New York’s trip to the playoffs. Johnathan Hankins fits the mold for the position and played under Graham, but his regression the past couple seasons doesn’t bode well for a re-signing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders go after an Akiem Hicks in free agency or a Jordan Davis in the draft.

Top EDGE Defenders: 2013 Rob Ninkovich (6-2, 260), 2017 Olivier Vernon (6-2, 262)

The Patrick Graham scheme likes powerful pass rushers off the edge, like Ninkovich and Vernon, who also take pride in the run game. That’s not necessarily how one would describe the Raiders current duo of Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. However, Crosby may be the best defensive lineman Graham has ever coached and should be able succeed despite the scheme shift in Las Vegas. Ngakoue on the other hand may really struggle, and the Raiders will likely have to look for a new partner for Crosby off the edge next year.

Top Linebackers: 2014 Jamie Collins (6-3, 255), 2015 Dont’a Hightower (6-3, 260)

Linebacker is one of the most unique positions for Graham’s scheme. He requires extreme versatility out of these players and when it works, it can look absolutely special, a la Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. However, when it doesn’t, it can be horrific, notably, Jerome Baker in 2019 and Tae Crowder the past two seasons.

Graham wants big physical linebackers who can fill run gaps, rush the passer, and hold their own in coverage. Denzel Perryman showed flashes this season and could be a great fit, but don’t be surprised if the Raiders go after Hightower himself in free agency or a guy like Leo Chenal in the draft.

Top Cornerbacks: 2020 James Bradberry (6-1, 212), 2021 Adoree Jackson (5-11, 185)

There’s no specific body type Graham looks for in a cornerback, but he does want smart, heady players who can handle deep third zones. The Giants brought in three players over the past couple years who fit this mold in Bradberry, Jackson, and Logan Ryan, and it won’t be surprising to see him continue that trend in Las Vegas. Casey Hayward Jr. is a perfect fit for the system and should be a top priority in free agency, but it is an offseason cornerback crop and it won’t be surprising if the Raiders go in a different direction.

Top Safeties: 2021 Xavier McKinney (6-0, 201), 2020 Jabrill Peppers (5-11, 215)

We finally got to see what a safety playing his ideal role in the Patrick Graham scheme looked like this year, and it was magnificent. Xavier McKinney was a smart, game-changing ball hawk as a deep safety and was able to haul in five interceptions. Graham will likely be excited to work with Tre’von Moehrig as he’s a perfect fit as the long term free safety. In the box, Graham may finally be the person who solves the Johnathan Abram puzzle, as he loves a physical, athletic, versatile player at strong safety. If he’s not convinced by March, there’s plenty of versatile safeties available in free agency this year.

Long story short, Graham looks for versatile, heady players to execute his scheme. At times it may look very similar to the defense that Gus Bradley ran, but with a bit of New England flair. It will be interesting to see how much success his unit can have over the next few years.

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