A new tight end has emerged as the next potential fantasy star, and his name is Jimmy Graham.
News broke last week that the Saints released tight end Jeremy Shockey after 3 not-so-great seasons. Next in line down there in N’awlins is Jimmy Graham, who was a former basketball player for the University of Miami. Basketball, you say? Yes, basketball I say! Basketball stars becoming football stars isn’t all that unheard of, particularly at the tight end position. We all know how this Antonio Gates thing has worked out. All he has done is become the most dominant player in the NFL at his position after playing basketball in college, which has warmed our fantasy lovin’ hearts. That Tony Gonzalez guy is a future NFL Hall of Famer as well.
Is Jimmy Graham the next Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez? Whoa, whoa, whoa – back that train up just a little bit there, hombre. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t go that far, but he does have some serious fantasy potential. It’s time to take a closer look at the one they call Jimmy Graham.
In honor of NFL Combine weekend, let’s take a look at a few measurables on this kid. He checks in a 6’6″ tall, weighs 260 lbs and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. He also recorded a 38.5″ vertical jump at the 2010 NFL Combine. I’m not much of a Combine guy, myself. All that mumbo jumbo is more for the NFL scouts and die-hards. I tend to look at who can play football and who can’t. The 40-yard dash is virtually meaningless to me, but his 40 time does suggest he can keep up with or out run any linebacker in this league, and his vertical jump shows he can go up and get it if he needs to. A 6’6″ player with a 38.5″ vertical is a prime red zone threat, and he displayed that skill late in the 2010 season. Graham can clearly play football, and play it well.
Despite splitting time with the as-of-now unemployed Jeremy Shockey late in the 2010 season, our boy Jimmy Graham recorded 4 touchdowns in the last 3 games of the year. His yardage totals in those games were underwhelming (70 combined yards in those 3 games), but he did record 11 catches during that span in limited playing time. His play late in the season combined with Jeremy Shockey’s contract made Shockey expendable this off-season, and prompted the higher-ups within the Saints organization to put their money on their 2010 3rd round draft choice.
Drew Brees threw 5 TD passes in the last 3 games of the 2010 season – 4 of them went to Jimmy Graham. Brees throws to whoever happens to be open, but those TD numbers are telling. They tell us Brees trusts Graham in the red zone. Not just Graham, but all of his tight ends. Of Brees’ 33 TD passes last year, 10 of them went to his tight ends (Graham – 5, Shockey – 3, Thomas – 2). Based on those numbers, you don’t need me to tell you Brees likes his tight ends inside the 20-yard line. Even more good news for Graham’s 2011 fantasy outlook.
It’s easy to get excited about Jimmy Graham and his 2011 fantasy appeal, but the fact remains that he’s still an unproven fantasy commodity and comes with some risk on draft day. Right now I have his value is in the Owen Daniels and Zach Miller neighborhood, just outside of the top tier of tight ends. It’s a safe bet to say he’ll finish in the top 10 at his position, but he has the potential to finish in the top 6. My initial projection for Graham would be around 65-70 catches for 785 yards and 6-7 TD receptions.