According to Football Outsiders, Graham allowed just 5.7 yards per pass attempt, which ranked fifth among NFL cornerbacks last season. Graham also ranked fifth in success rate, which is a statistic that Football Outsiders defines as “is the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.”
Wednesday, I asked Ravens secondary Teryl Austin how Graham did such a good job of limiting the damage.
“I think what he does is he understands football, understands the scheme,” he said. “We always like to teach things top-down. If they complete it on an out [route], 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 must have been a fast learner. After playing five seasons for the Chicago Bears, mostly on special teams, he signed with the Ravens last offseason. He stood out right away in training camp and proved to be a bargain once he became a regular on defense.
Graham started the final eight games of the regular season and finished with 60 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed overall. He added two interceptions in the AFC divisional round win over the Denver Broncos, including one during overtime.
And as Football Outsiders suggests, he was one of the NFL’s most effective corners. They did point out that many nickel cornerbacks were ranked in the top 10 in these categories, including Graham, who spent a lot of time covering slot receivers in 2012. But standout cornerbacks such as Seattle’s Richard Sherman, Kansas City's Brandon Flowers and Green Bay's Casey Hayward are also on the list.
When passes were completed against Graham, the average depth of catch was 12.9 yards, but Graham allowed on average three yards after the catch, which is a very respectable average.
“He limits the damages, because he is a good tackler,” Austin said. “He’s a good football player that way.”