Once Aaron Kampman went down with a season-ending knee injury, the Packers were left with just one legit pass rusher: rookie Clay Matthews III. When the Cardinals resorted to double teams and chip blocking against Matthews in the playoff game, the rookie couldn't break through and the Packers didn't have a second option to harass Warner.
With Kampman's knee and free-agent status leaving his future in limbo, the Packers enter this offseason is need of upgrading their pass-rushing punch.
The answer could be found with the 23rd overall pick of the first round with Michigan's Brandon Graham.
As a senior, Graham posted 10.5 sacks and a nation-high 26 tackles for losses. That output came on the heels of his junior season, when he tallied 10 tackles and 20 tackles for losses. In both seasons, his teammates voted him the Bo Schembechler Team MVP.
At 6-foot-1 and 263 pounds, Graham might not have the prototype body of a 3-4 outside linebacker. (Matthews is 6-3, 250.) But neither does Pittsburgh's James Harrison, but that didn't stop the 6-foot, 242-pound linebacker from being named the NFL's defensive MVP in 2008, when he finished with 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
"People underestimated him and everything," Graham told Packer Report at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. "He comes off the ball hard, he comes and plays every day and he's got power — a lot of power."
Graham, however, prefers the comparison to Harrison's sidekick, LaMarr Woodley. Woodley's 6-foot-2, 265-pound frame makes for an apt comparison. Graham was a freshman at Michigan when Woodley was a senior. Graham said he learned a lot from Woodley and incorporated some of his moves into his repertoire.
He obviously learned well. In games against Michigan's four strongest opponents — Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State — Graham piled up 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses.
"Get to the ball. Run to the ball," Graham said of Woodley's advice before the Senior Bowl. "Show them boys that you've got a high motor. They know you can play football. Show them that you can keep going."
Graham was arguably the best player in Mobile. He had explosive speed getting around the corner on passing plays and toughness setting the point against the run. While he played defensive end at Michigan, Woodley has 29 sacks in three seasons (25 in 2008 and 2009) while making that same transition.
Graham is the oldest child of a single mom. He grew up quickly and would be a good fit for a young linebacker corps featuring 2009's rookies, Matthews III and Brad Jones.
"I was the oldest guy so I had to learn everything by listening to my mom and experiencing it myself," he said. "I had a lot of friends but there's nothing like having an older brother to lead the way. I was the older brother for my sisters."
The Packers finished tied for 11th in the NFL with 37 sacks. To go from having a very good defense to a potentially championship-caliber defense, the Packers need to either seriously upgrade their secondary or add to their pass rush. Graham has that capability.
"It's fun when you can do that (blow past an offensive lineman), especially at the size I'm at," Graham said. "A lot of people aren't expecting that. I just try to be tough. A lot of people are big and tall but they don't have this (points to heart), that mentality. You've got to have that edge, and that's what I have over a lot of people."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.