With ball-hawking safety Ed Reed gone to the Texans, the Ravens need all the playmakers they can get on the back end of their defense.
At this point last offseason, Graham was primarily known as a standout special teams player. Now he views himself as an NFL defensive playmaker.
Graham has good reason after notching four interceptions in 12 starts last season, including a pair that came from Peyton Manning’s right arm in the playoffs.
Graham was asked whether he expects to be more dangerous this year.
“I should be,” he said. “Obviously, I've got high expectations for myself. I pride myself on making plays, and I want to go out there and do whatever it takes to help the defense win.”
Graham has shown a penchant for getting his hands on the ball. His eight pass deflections were third on the team behind Reed and Cary Williams, and his four interceptions, including the playoffs, were just one fewer than Reed.
Graham also showed his hands the previous year in Chicago. During a three-game stretch in which he saw more defensive playing time, he made an interception in each game.
"I like to say that I'm a playmaker,” Graham said. “I get my hands on the ball. I can catch pretty [well], so that helps being on defense. Most defensive backs can't catch the ball, so if you just catch the ones that come to you, you'll be alright."
Graham also did a good job of limiting damage when completions were made against him. According to Football Outsiders, Graham ranked fifth among NFL cornerbacks in average yards allowed per pass attempt (5.7) last year.
Ravens Secondary Coach Teryl Austin said Graham keeps reception yards low because he is a good tackler, thus limiting yards after catch, and he does a good job not letting receivers beat him deep.
“I think what he does is he understands football – understands the scheme,” Austin said. “If they complete it on an out, that’s great. They have to complete eight or nine of those to get down and score a touchdown on us. We don’t worry too much about those. We just made an emphasis to stay over top, and I think he did a great job of following that.”
Graham is competing with
At the same time, seeing more defensive plays would likely mean less of a special teams role for Graham, another area where he excels. Graham said starters likely are only on two phases of special teams.
“Obviously, I'll always have a role on special teams. That's where I came from. I love it. I enjoy it,” Graham said. “So, I'm pretty sure I'll still be on a couple phases. … If I'm not dead tired out there, if [Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg] asks me to play four phases, I'll do it."