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Player Spotlight: Jimmy Graham

A detailed look at Jimmy Graham's fantasy prospects for 2013

Expectations are everything.  Chances are if you owned Jimmy Graham last year, you weren't completely satisfied with his performance. And you wouldn't be alone; Graham has openly expressed his own disappointment in his 2012 performance:

"This is probably the hungriest I've ever been to kind of right the wrongs of last year and to prove what this team can do and maybe hush up some of the naysayers," Graham said. "So for me it's all work and doing as much as I can to be the best player I can."

Yet, should Graham and his fantasy owners really be disappointed with 2012? Consider:

  • 85 receptions
  • 982 yards
  • 11.6 yards per reception
  • 9 touchdowns
  • 152.2 fantasy points
  • #1 ranked fantasy TE

You read that correctly, for all the 'disappointment' in Graham's performance, he finished as the NUMBER ONE TIGHT END last year. 

How can a player finish atop his position in fantasy points and be deemed a disappointment? Again, it gets back to expectations.

  1. Graham fell short of his breakout 2011 numbers -- Fantasy owners tend to expect continued improvement from young players, and Graham was a victim of his own success. Graham finished with 99 receptions (+14), 1,310 yards (+328) and 11 touchdowns (+2) in 2011, so most fantasy owners drafted Graham expecting he would at least match the prior year
  2. Graham led the NFL in dropped passes -- Graham led the league with 13 dropped passes last season, robbing he and his fantasy owners of a handful of big games
  3. Graham didn't help during the fantasy playoffs -- In Weeks 14 through 16 (the key fantasy playoff weeks), Graham failed to eclipse 100 yards and couldn't find the end zone

Reasons for Optimism...Or How I Stopped Worrying About 2012 and Drafted Jimmy Graham in the 2nd Round

Graham is perfectly positioned this year to help savvy fantasy owners win their league. His current ADP is 18th overall, which is smack dab in the 2nd round. There's no reason you should steer clear of Graham at that position, and in fact you may well consider taking him earlier for the following reasons:

  1. Graham has a wrist injury last year, but is now 100% healthy -- Graham never used his wrist injury as an excuse, but he wore a bulky brace for much of the season and it stands to reason that hampered his ability to attack the ball and make catches in traffic. Without the brace, it's logical to think Graham won't drop nearly as many passes
  2. His relative value has never been higher -- Rob Gronkowski is coming off back surgery and Aaron Hernandez is out of the league for obvious reasons. In other words, there is no one outside of Jason Witten (in PPR leagues) that poses a credible threat to outperform Graham. On a relative basis, Graham should be one of the most valuable skill players in the league
  3. Sean Payton is back -- The Saints finished third in points (461) and second in yards (454) last year so it would be unfair to say the Saints weren't effective without their suspended head coach. However, there were times in key situations when the Saints failed to deliver, which is uncharacteristic. You have to think Payton's return is a positive, minimal or not. 
  4. Panthers/Rams/Panthers in Weeks 14 through 16 -- It's difficult to project strength of schedule from season to season, but facing the Carolina Panthers twice in the key playoff weeks should ensure Graham won't come up short in back-to-back seasons
  5. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees -- Brees is the only quarterback in NFL history with back-to-back 5,000-yard, 40 TD seasons. He's going to find Graham early and often.

POSITIVES

  • Graham has only been playing professional football for a handful of years, yet is already the most explosive, athletic tight end in the NFL
  • Graham finished as the #1 fantasy TE in 2012, yet his performance was considered a disappointment. When 85 catches, 900 yards and 9 TDs are a low-end outcome, you've got very little to complain about
  • Graham's wrist is 100% healthy

NEGATIVES

  • The Saints offense spreads the ball around, there are always going to be games when Graham is more of a decoy
  • Graham is coming off the board in the late 1st round in some drafts and no later than the early 3rd round in most

FINAL THOUGHTS

Let's keep his simple. Jimmy Graham finished as the #1 player at his position last year yet considered the year a disappointment. The Saints are motivated to redeem after a 7-9 season and the absence of Sean Payton. Graham is 100% healthy after battling a wrist injury all season, and is shockingly still learning how to play the game. He's the only tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski that has an upside north of 100+ receptions, 1,500 yards and 12-15 touchdowns. You don't need Graham to hit those marks to justify drafting him at his current ADP, something I will be doing in every league possible. 

PROJECTIONS

NameRecsYdsTDs
David Dodds 92 1,095 11
Bob Henry 90 1,090 10
Jason Wood 92 1,125 9
Maurile Tremblay 84 968 8

THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB

John Paulsen of 4for4 analyzes the case for Jimmy Graham:

Graham is rock solid, especially when you start to compare him with the other players in the 2nd round, specifically the RBs. After Matt Forte and Steven Jackson, things start to get dicey at the RB position with Maurice Jones-Drew (Lisfranc injury, new running scheme) and Chris Johnson (Shonn Greene vulturing goal line carries). DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore, David Wilson and Darren McFadden all have their own issues making them iffy picks in the 2nd. Looking at these RBs, I don't see a big difference between those going in the 2nd round (CJ1K, MJD) and those that will be available in the 3rd round (DMC, Murray, Gore, Lamar Miller, etc.). So, in most formats, I'd take Graham over all backs but Forte and Jackson.

JJ Zachariason of Late Round QB argues against drafting Jimmy Graham:

As I’ve written on opportunity cost, when you draft Jimmy Graham, you’re forgoing the opportunity to have a top-tier running back or receiver. Unless Graham falls in drafts, which is possible if enough people are willing to stream the tight end position, he’s not worthwhile in the first or second round. And because the position is so replaceable, I may not even select him until the late third.


More from Jason Wood:

What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7
Player Spotlight: LeSean McCoy - August 7
Player Spotlight: Peyton Manning - August 6
Player Spotlight: Marshawn Lynch - August 6
Preseason Watch List - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC North - July 22