Dunkirk’s Graf was a hidden gem in draft

Dave Graf prepares to tackle Tony Dorsett
University of Pittsburgh running back Tony Dorsett (33) leaps over teammate Dave Janasek for a 3-yard gain before being tackled by Penn State’s Dave Graf (85) and Greg Murphy (82) during a college football game at University Park, Pa. AP File Photo.

Though the early rounds of the NFL Draft have come and gone, every draft has hidden gems on the final day. Among the list of players to make it to the NFL as a late round choice is a local legend, Dunkirk native Dave Graf.

In 1975, the dream of Graf came true as he made history by becoming the first and only Marauders’ alum to get drafted and then play in the NFL. As is the same with every athlete in our area, nothing was handed to Graf as he made his way to the Cleveland Browns roster.

In today’s day and age, the NFL Draft has completely changed from what it once was — it is no longer just about rookies finding their way onto NFL rosters. It has now turned into a spectacle that is watched by millions — and makes millions of dollars, too. While at its core the draft has not truly changed, a few significant things have happened like how many teams are now drafting and how many rounds there are. In 1975, there were only 26 teams in the NFL and on top of that there were 17 rounds and a total of 442 players selected, compared to the 254 taken in seven rounds last year.

Even though you were more likely to get drafted in 1975 — thanks to the 188 extra players drafted — it was certainly more difficult to make an active NFL roster because back then there were six less teams and active rosters only consisted of 43 players.

So when you look at it closely, Graf getting drafted in the 17th round and cracking the Browns roster is even that much more special.

Dave Graf displays his bowl game watches.
Dunkirk native Dave Graf, displays the watches he received for participating in the Sugar Bowl (1973), Orange Bowl (1974) and Cotton Bowl (1975). This photo was taken after Graf was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1975. OBSERVER File Photo.

The Cleveland Browns had an extra two selections in the 1975 draft, bringing their total up to 19 picks that year, starting at 5 and ending at 421. That year they started their draft off at No. 5 by selecting a defensive end and ended it the same way with another defensive end, Graf.

Graf’s entire career he had played along the line, whether he played on the defensive or offensive line, but at just 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs something was going to change if he wanted to play in the NFL. As a defensive end at Penn State under legendary coach Joe Paterno, Graf’s role was actually more like a linebacker, adding to his versatility as a prospect.

In an article written by the OBSERVER shortly after Graf was drafted, J.T. White, the Penn State defensive end coach in 1974-75, described Graf as a really dedicated and intelligent football player in a very complex defensive system.

White further added in a statement in 1975: “He played real well when he matched up against the tight end, which is like playing as a linebacker in our system. He also was a good pass rusher and played real well when the play came right at him.”

With Graf’s ability to play multiple positions on the Browns’ defense it greatly improved his chances of making the roster. Among the rest of the draft prospects Graf had to battle with were six different defensive players that played a similar position, there were three defensive ends, one defensive tackle and two linebackers.

Considering all of those prospects Graf had to compete with, he needed to further distinguish himself from the pack. What helped Graf make the Browns that summer was the most underappreciated part of the football team, special teams.

In August of 1975, Graf had found himself competing with just Jim Cope (pick 119) for the final linebacker spot on the Browns. Against the San Francisco 49ers in the Browns first preseason game, Graf captained the special teams.

Throughout Graf’s professional career he never was able to grab a starting job at linebacker for either the Browns or eventually the Redskins, but he made his money playing on the special teams. Special teams players are not usually household names, with the exception of a few players, but that didn’t stop Graf from having a completely respectable career and certainly made Dunkirk proud of all of his accomplishments.

In total, Graf played in 71 regular season games from 1975-1981. One thing that limited Graf’s career was him never really getting a true chance to start at linebacker. Graf was noted as a quiet pro that went about his job and let the performance on the gridiron do the talking for itself.

This year is another year where a Marauder is not playing in the NFL or will be drafted into it either, but hopefully another will come along and be the next Dave Graf.

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