Jets safety Jon McGraw hopes to stay healthy and become a dominating NFL player. (Jets Insider.com photo)
While in college, Jets safety Jon McGraw knew he had to do something to stand out if he wanted to get on the field at Kansas State. McGraw, who began as a walk-on quarterback was following in the footsteps of his grandfather who had played for K-State from 1928-1930.
McGraw knew he would not see much playing time if he stayed at QB so he decided to move to safety. McGraw worked hard to make the transition.
“I think most people though I didn’t have a chance,” McGraw said. “It was my idea to move to safety.”
At Kansas State, McGraw started 19 games while playing in 43 at FS. McGraw finished his college career with 184 tackles, three sacks, and nine interceptions.
He drew the attention of the Jets scouts, who knew the team was looking to inject youth in the secondary. McGraw was drafted in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
In 2002, McGraw saw action in 15 games, making one start. McGraw learned from veteran safeties Sam Garnes and Damien Robinson. McGraw made 43 tackles and also contributed on special teams, making 18 tackles. His first career interception sealed a 19-13 win over Denver.
Last year, McGraw won the starting FS job during training camp. After a good start, mumblings among Jets fans was that McGraw was the next John Lynch. However, that was short lived as McGraw injured his shoulder in the Jets 30-3 win over Buffalo and missed the next four games with the injury. He returned to start at Indianapolis and recorded 10 tackles before being forced from the game due to the injury. He was placed on injured reserve on November 7 and had season-ending shoulder surgery on November 21. McGraw finished the season with 31 tackles.
In the off-season, Garnes and safety Tyrone Carter were let go. Reggie Tongue was acquired as a free agent from Seattle. The Jets drafted Erik Coleman in the fifth round and Rashad Washington in the seventh round to fill the void left by Garnes and Carter’s departure.
McGraw worked hard at rehabbing the shoulder and came back healthy for training camp this year. He was having a productive training camp before injuring his leg in the Jets joint practice with the Giants in Albany on August 7. With Tongue also injured most of training camp, Coleman had to step up and has exceeded expectations as he has acclimated to the pro level quickly. Talk in the media was that McGraw could be too fragile to take the rigorous pounding of a starting NFL safety.
McGraw was inactive for the Jets opener at home against Cincinnati. He came back the following week at San Diego and came off the bench to play in multiple DB packages while posting three tackles. He intercepted a Drew Brees pass on the Charger’s first possession of the second half.
McGraw is often matched up against the opposing team’s tight end. He limited Dolphins TE Randy McMichael to five catches for 51 yards in the Jets 17-9 win on October 3. Two weeks later against San Francisco, McGraw limited TE Eric Johnson to two catches for 24 yards; one week after Johnson had caught 13 passes for 162 yards.
The front seven has played very well this year and McGraw and the secondary appreciates them.
“The good things we do on the field are because of them,” McGraw said.
Under defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, the Jets defense has shown much more aggressiveness than in the past. Henderson is not afraid to use the secondary on blitzes.
“That is our theme every week-get hits on the quarterback and pressure back there,” McGraw said. “I think that is one of the big keys to our success so far.”
While Coleman has played solid all year, Tongue has given up a lot of big plays and on Monday against the Dolphins, a three man rotation at safety was used between Coleman, McGraw and Tongue. McGraw had his best game of the season on Monday, leading the team with eight tackles and intercepting a Jay Fielder pass intended for McMichael. McGraw now has 17 tackles this year and is working his way back to the starting lineup.
Henderson is glad to have McGraw back healthy.
“The thing I like about him is he can run,” Henderson said. “He has good change of direction. He is a tall guy with range, and he’ll put his face on you. He’ll hit you. With those ingredients, he always has a chance in my book.”
McGraw has never given up and wants to prove to everyone that he can be a dominating force in the NFL. The fact that his game seems to be finally coming into it’s own could not come at a better time as the Jets continue their 2004 quest for a championship.