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Spotlight: Jimmy Graham

posted by Mike Brown on Aug 14th


Mike Brown's thoughts

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is easily one of the more polarizing players in drafts this preseason. Is he the 6'6" former hoops star about to become a red zone marvel who is going to bust out for double digit touchdowns and become the next Antonio Gates? Or is he going to prove to be wildly inconsistent for fantasy owners to stomach? Is he going to be the team's go-to receiver in the red zone, providing a huge value for owners who take a shot on him in the early part of their drafts? Or is he going to be heavily overvalued by the masses based on a handful of games at the tail end of the season, forcing owners to burn a high pick that could have been otherwise used on a quality halfback or wide receiver?

Typically, the answers to these questions lie somewhere in between. With Graham, however, I'm not so sure that they do.

He captured the imagination of fantasy owners down the stretch a year ago, posting 26 receptions for 307 yards (11.8 YPC) and five touchdowns over the second half of the season. It doesn't take a math whiz to convert those statistics to 52 catches for 614 yards and ten touchdowns over a full season. Because of the high scoring ratio, those stats would easily make Graham one of the top fantasy tight ends in the game. The question is, do those five scores represent an anomaly due to a small sample size? Or was it just a sign of things to come? After all, Graham is a huge red zone weapon, evidenced by his four touchdowns over the team's final three games of the season. He has added a few more pounds of muscle this offseason, and the coaching staff is already on record as saying they think Graham will be the steal of the 2010 draft. If the second half of 2010 is any indication, they may be onto something.

Heading into 2011, the Saints revamped their rushing attack by jettisoning Reggie Bush and bringing in rookie Mark Ingram and San Diego veteran Darren Sproles. The passing game is mostly intact, although number one receiver Marques Colston had yet another knee surgery this offseason (his fifth in five years). Graham is expected to play a major role in the team's passing game, particularly in the red zone. However, as touchdowns aren't as reliable to predict as catches and yards, it remains to be seen whether Graham will get enough work to be counted on as an every-week fantasy starter. The production is great, but the Saints haven't historically used their tight ends extensively in the passing game under Sean Payton. Of course, the flipside to that statement is that they have never had a physical specimen quite like Graham before.

Positives

  • Graham is a former college basketball player who is very athletic, very big, and provides a red zone nightmare for defenses trying to defend him.
  • Jeremy Shockey was allowed to leave via free agency, so there is no longer anyone on the roster who is a pass catching threat to Graham at the tight end spot.
  • He really earned the red zone trust of Drew Brees over the final month of the season, scoring four touchdowns over the final three games.

Negatives

  • Had some issues with drops, particulary in the red zone. He only played a year of college football, so his inexperience will show at times. Graham is still very much a work in progress.
  • The cat got out of the bag last season, so he now becomes a player who you're going to have to draft well above his productivity if you want him. Meaning, you have to pay for a top 6-7 tight end even though he was only TE23 a year ago.
  • The New Orleans offensive philosophy is to spread the ball around as much as possible, ensuring that no one really lights up the stat sheet but the open man gets the ball. That will help to depress his target stats.

Final thoughts

Graham isn't going to be able to catch teams by surprise this time around. After his heavy involvement in the red zone last year, teams now know they must game plan around him. As such, Graham should see a whole lot more attention once the Saints get down near the goal line. Granted, Graham provides a huge mismatch for almost anyone who tries to cover him and it's not as if the Saints have a ton of great red zone options, but you can't just assume he's going to score at the same rate he did in 2010. Meaning, the guy scored five touchdowns over eight games but you can't just do the math and say he's now going to score ten touchdowns in sixteen games. A) It doesn't work that way with such a small sample size. And B) There are very few tight ends who ever get to a ten touchdown level. If you want to bank on a guy with almost no football experience under his belt being one of the only ones to get there and spend a high round pick to do it, you've got bigger guts than me. Additionally, Drew Brees is notorious for spreading the ball around to the open man. That works great for New Orleans; not so great for the fantasy prospects of those catching the ball.

Graham will likely have a handful of big games this upcoming season. Due to his red zone presence, he's going to get a number of touchdowns just because of the matchup problems he presents. But I feel he's going to be too inconsistent between the 20's to be a very reliable performer from a fantasy standpoint. His end of year stats are going to look solid, but it's not like the New Orleans offense has struggled and now needs a savior to make everything go. They have the pieces in place to move the ball; Graham is simply another toy for Payton to use at his disposal, not a focal point of the offensive game-planning. Because of that, he's not going to see the targets necessary to justify selecting him as high as he's currently going in drafts.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Raiderfan32904 said:

Jimmy Graham was the name that was whispered last year here in the Shark Pool, and those whispers grew into murmurs and they grew into a loud roar. Now that the cat is out of the bag, there will be many people on the Graham bandwagon. He's a big target at 6'6" and 260 lbs. He's athletic and showed some good chemistry with Drew Brees, as he replaced the injured Jeremy Shockey. But Brees spreads around the ball too much to rely on his TE for consistent production.

After getting a small sample of Jimmy Graham last year, there are going to be reports that he is going to emerge as a superstar TE ala Jermichael Finley. With his basketball skills, athleticism, and opportunity playing for a powerhouse offense in New Orleans, there's no denying his upside. But I think the hype will overshoot the draft value, especially if he makes some plays in preseason. Still, I like Graham as a weak TE#1 in a tandem with a TE#2. Someone I would target for a TE by committee with a K. Winslow or B. Pettigrew pairing. If I can get him at this type of value, fine. If not, then pass.

Stinkin Ref said:

I think people are missing the boat here and it almost seems like its fashionable to jump on the "don't buy into the hype" thing....at some point their is a reason for "hype" and if you watched how Brees worked with Graham last year you would understand why....why is it when someone shows talent, so many are quick to label it as hype....maybe the dude is just good....his coach and teamates recognize his talents and he will be used to create matchups nightmares and will most likely be THE first red zone option because of the mismatches he creates with his size and maybe even more importantly his athleticism....top 3 numbers or higher that you may be able to get after 6-7 other guys are gone....I hope the "it's all hype he really ain't that good/proven" talk continues and it keeps his ADP down....I think he is a plug in and play every week, no questions asked TE that you don't have to worry about for the first 10 weeks of the season...

We Tigers said:

TE was not a big position for touchdown production on the Brees/Payton Saints until Graham arrived. He had more TDs last year than the whole TE position had each of the three previous seasons. The Saints TEs have produced an average of 97 receptions for 1000 yards the last few years, and with Graham the only good receiving TE on the roster right now, I'm comfortable giving him about 70% of that, with a small bonus for his talent and seeming rise to prominence in that offense.


Jimmy Graham projections

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