College News & Analysis

Process over results: Graham Barton’s journey to becoming one of the best offensive linemen in college football

  • Duke offensive tackle Graham Barton sat down for an exclusive interview with PFF.
  • Quick contributor: Barton made his presence early on with Duke, as he started at center as a true freshman before transitioning to left tackle in the years after.
  • Outstanding in 2022: Barton was Duke’s best player during its magical 2022 season. He was the only Power Five tackle who earned 85-plus grades both as a pass-blocker and run-blocker while his 17 big-time blocks (PFF’s highest-graded blocks) were five more than any tackle in the country.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

“It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

While that quote is cheesy, it’s a mantra that Duke offensive tackle Graham Barton lives by. Coming out of Ravenwood high school, he was listed as a three-star recruit and outside the top 700 players in the class of 2020, according to On3’s industry rating. Yet, he never blinked.

“That stuff never really bothered me,” Barton said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “Three, four, five stars. I didn’t really care to be honest with you. I was more worried about my career as an individual. I didn’t care what recruiting services said about me. I just wanted to go to the team that I wanted to go to. I think I did just that.”

It didn’t take long for the Brentwood, Ten., native to find his new home.

“I committed to Duke pretty early on,” Barton said. “I came on a visit here, met the coaches and commits in my class and just fell in love. I love being here, I love being a part of this university, this football program. I came here on a weekend visit and committed on [the following] Monday. That was all it took.”

It also didn’t take long for Barton to see the field, starting at center for the Blue Devils as a true freshman. He played the following two years at left tackle and remains in that position heading into this season. While the position change was difficult at first, the rising senior was willing to do whatever it took to win.

“It’s important as an offensive lineman to play wherever your team needs you,” he said. “Whatever helps us win, I’ll absolutely do. When people ask me, I just say I play offensive line.”

Barton’s first two years in Durham, North Carolina didn’t produce many victories though, as Duke went a combined 5-18 in that span with just a 1-17 record in the ACC. That all changed when Mike Elko was hired as the new head coach, as the Blue Devils finished with a 9-4 record this past season and a 5-3 mark in the conference. Barton understands that their turnaround doesn’t just happen overnight.

“We have a phenomenal coaching staff and locker room now,” he said. “We built that through the winter, spring and summer. We built a gritty, underdog, chip-on-the-shoulder culture that carried us through the year. When things got hard during the season, everyone rose to the occasion. Being here for the darker days, winning three games a year, it was so awesome to see all that culminate in a nine-win season. The sky’s the limit for us in Year 2.”

Barton was Duke’s best player during its magical 2022 season. He was the only Power Five tackle who earned 85-plus grades both as a pass-blocker and run-blocker while his 17 big-time blocks (PFF’s highest-graded blocks) were five more than any tackle in the country.

Barton’s play as a junior likely would've gotten him selected within the first couple rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft if he declared. However, he wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

“It was a no-brainer,” the senior said. “I wanted to come back for the people. I wanted to finish school, find more consistency in my game and improve on some things. There’s no better place to do that than Duke.”

Instead, he enters the 2023 season with the potential of hearing his name called very highly in the 2024 draft. He went 22nd overall in my way-too-early 2024 mock draft, but he couldn’t care less.

“No offense, but [it means] nothing,” Barton said with a laugh. “That’s great for my parents and friends. For me, I’m a process guy. That’s what all the greats say. It’s about your process. It’s about your day-to-day habits to try and become a better player. So, I try to not worry about the results and next April. That kind of building process and day-by-day, that’s kind of my mindset. Hopefully if I follow that well and find some success doing that, that’ll lead to some of the things you mentioned earlier.”

So, if he isn’t eyeing the 2024 NFL Draft or any individual accolades, does Barton have any personal goals for the 2023 campaign?

“Yeah, win. Win and keep [quarterback] Riley Leonard nice, clean and safe. Help us run for thousands of yards. Those are my personal goals.”

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protect your family with fast, free will.

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