Will Rodgers and McCarthy Feed the Beast?

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Jimmy Graham

Let’s hope Green Bay doesn’t make the same mistake it made with Jared Cook, with Martellus Bennett, and Jermichael Finley too. A guy of Jimmy Graham’s superior abilities needs to be fed the ball. Again and again.

The only tight end even close to Graham’s numbers in this generation is Rob Gronkowski. They make for great comparisons, as both entered the league in 2010 – though due to injuries Gronk has only played in 102 games versus 121 for Graham.

Gronk leads Graham in touchdowns, 76 to 69. Each has a sterling yards per catch average over their careers: 15.1 for Gronkowski and 12.2 for Graham.

If Gronkowski appears to have a slight statistical edge, it’s only because Jimmy Graham was terribly underused by the Seattle Seahawks. In his four years as full-time starter with Drew Brees in New Orleans (2011-14), Graham had astounding success, averaging 138 targets, 89 catches, 1,099 receiving yards, and 11.5 touchdowns.

In eight years of being Tom Brady’s favorite target, Rob Gronkowski never topped 90 catches, which was just one more than what Graham averaged as a starter for New Orleans. In Gronk’s best season, 2011, he gained 1,327 yards on those 90 catches, and he scored 17 TDs. In that same year Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs.

Gronk has been a five- time Pro Bowler and All-Pro; Graham’s been a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. The main difference is that Graham never made All-Pro with the Seahawks – and there’s a reason for that.

If Gronk has a slight career edge, it’s for a simple reason: Graham’s productivity plummeted when he switched from Drew Brees to Russell Wilson. Compared to his yardage average in those Brees’ years (1,099), in his last two years in Seattle (I’m skipping 2015, when he missed five games due to injury) Graham averaged only 721 yards per year. In these two years Graham was targeted only 96.5 times on average – that’s over 40 fewer throws on average than during the four years with Brees.

At first glance, it might appear that Graham is in a decline as he heads to Green Bay. Though he played in every game for Seattle in 2016 and 2017, his yardage went from 923 to 520 – similar to Jordy Nelson’s sudden drop off. But there’s an explanation.

After the first two games of 2017, Graham’s stat line was nine targets, four catches, nine yards, no TDs. This included the season opening loss at Green Bay.

Since I reside in Washington State, I can tell you the fan base went nuts over Wilson’s neglect of their prize tight end. Over the next eight weeks, coach Pete Carroll must have listened, at least a little, for Graham averaged 5.25 catches and 50.5 yards per game, and he scored seven TDs. Though Graham still didn’t have any more than 72 receiving yards in any of these games (or for the entire season), he was once again a major part of Seattle’s passing game.

Then we come to the Seahawks’ playoff stretch of their final six games – when they went 3-3 and lost three of their final four games. Wilson went to Graham 22 times, for only 11 catches, and only 107 yards, fewer than 18 yards per game. This is an inconsequential yardage production, as well as a terrible 50 percent completion percentage.

What I’m leading up to is: Packers fans shouldn’t judge Graham based on his time in Seattle. He was never an essential part of that offense, and that offense was never a passing juggernaut. In Graham’s three years in the Northwest, Seattle was only ranked 23rd, 10th, and 14th in passing yardage.

The Packers have obtained one of the finest, and most imposing, tight ends in the history of the league. Jimmy Graham is 6’7”, weighs 265 pounds, and, as a tight end, he should still be in his prime at age 31.

Athleticism? Check out these percentiles (among his tight end peers): 40-yard dash, 94 (4.53); 10-yard split, 89; 3-cone drill, 90; vertical jump, 94 (38.5”); height, 86; weight, 72. Let’s even throw in some bonuses: hand size, 82; arm length, 97 (35 inches). With numbers as heavenly as these, how could 32 teams have bypassed him until round three? Because they still don’t get it that athleticism matters in athletics – that’s why.

Take Graham’s height, arm length, and jumping ability, and Graham is playing in a zone over a foot above almost every defensive back in the league! His catch radius is phenomenal – just throw it his way, and up high, and who cares about the coverage?

Especially given the other targets Rodgers will likely have to throw to in 2018, it will be a felony offense if Graham isn’t targeted this season at least 128 times (eight per game), and preferably 144 times (nine per game).

Aaron Rodgers has never in his career as a starter had a target nearly as tempting to throw to as this giraffe-like eight-year vet. Rodgers has never had a receiver who’s been named to more than two Pro Bowls while he’s started: Greg Jennings twice; Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Martellus Bennett, Randall Cobb, and Donald Driver once; and James Jones and Jermichael Finley zero. (Driver was a Pro Bowler thrice prior to A-Rod)

The Packers blew it in 2016 by not properly involving or utilizing Cook. They were on the way to doing the same in 2017 with Bennett. Maybe the third try will be the charm with this tight end.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

15 Comments on "Will Rodgers and McCarthy Feed the Beast?"

  1. Cheese

    They better use him. You don’t get rid of Jordy Nelson so you can say that you have a 6’7″ tight end that you never throw it to. But they didn’t use Cook or Bennett worth a crap so who knows.. It’s gonna be up to Philbin to put those plays together. Then Muffin Man can take all the credit.

    • Savage57

      I read a report where someone had asked McCarthy how he planned on using Graham. His reply wasn’t his usual prickish testiness. He just said, “Uhm, duh, uhm, duh.”

  2. PF4L

    James Jones

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    Breaking News: Jordy Nelson to the @RAIDERS on a Two-Year Deal….15M, 13M Guaranteed

  3. Jimmy Graham ruptured patella tendon. Not sure I have heard of a player that recovers fully from that injury. If they do and that is a big IF, the affects of the injury result in a shortened career. Maybe Graham will be the first?

    • PF4L

      I haven’t seen any details about his contract, other than the Packers will be paying him 22 million in the first two years. This guy better produce, there is no gray area here. If the Packers end up overpaying again, i’m gonna seriously lose it….lol

  4. PackAttack

    I agree with every word Monty said regarding Jimmy Graham.

    I’ve been a HUGE Jimmy Graham fan since he came into the league and took over for Jeremy Shockey in New Orleans. I’ve seen more Graham play more than any other Packer fan I know of and I’m ecstatic that Gutekunst made the play to bring this elite talent to Green Bay. He’s a bargain for what the Packers got him for and he can transform this offense into ways in which we haven’t seen before with Rodgers.

    Few things on Graham in Seattle. Monty is 100% correct when he said Graham was IMMENSELY underused in Seattle. Why the Seahawks ever traded for him is beyond me —- their offense was a terrible fit for Graham’s skill-set and it took them almost 3 years to figure out how to best use him and even when they did he was still incredibly underused. Go back and watch game film from last year of Seattle vs Philly. Jimmy gets open down the seam regularly and beats his man in coverage on a consistent basis, even getting wide open for a 30 yard touchdown, and yet Wilson never see’s him or checks down to another option —– this summarizes Graham tenure in Seattle in a nutshell. After Week #1 of last year Graham’s target usage was embarrassingly poor (1, 3, 2, 4, 6). The most in-game targets Graham saw last year was 11 (twice), and both times he posted over 60 yards, and averaged more than 8 yards per/catch. In 2016 Graham’s usage was even worse, being targeted double-digits in only one game yet he still managed to produce 3-100 yard games, total 920+ yards and averaged over 14.2 yards per/catch. Graham played 16 games (back-to-back seasons) and wasn’t even a top-5 most targeted tight-end in the league (in 2016 he finished 7th), Gronk missed two games (and played sparingly in others) and still managed 10 more targets than Graham did last year alone. For the record, in a healthy season Gronk averages 120+ targets per/season, Jimmy was nowhere near that level of usage in Seattle’s porous offense. From 2011 to 2014 Graham averaged almost 140 targets per/season in New Orleans, in Seattle that dipped to almost 90, and nearly half of those targets came in the red zone only (which is all Seattle ever used him for). In both 2013 and 2014, Graham had 7 games of 10+ targets or more, and in each of those seasons he posted 10+ touchdowns, 850+ yards or more, averaged over 10 yards per/catch and recorded more than 85+ catches. To summarize, Seattle was unquestionably one of the worst places for Jimmy to go and by all means it ruined his career (not to say that he hasn’t been successful) but had he of stayed in New Orleans his numbers would be very different.

    The Cons: Jimmy was coming off a ruptured patella tendon after the 2015 season, but he showed no ill effects from the injury in 2016 or 2017. Does he run as fast as he did in 2013, probably not but he’s still capable of jumping and dominating defenders. He’s not a great blocker —- but then again your not paying a guy with his skill-set to block like Seattle tried to. Also — Jimmy has had his fair share of drop problems over the years, he gets alligator arms at times (as he did in New Orleans) but the mistake Seattle made was not continuing to feed him consistently throughout the game. All in all this is guy (as Monty said) needs to be fed “consistently”, 7-9 targets per/game should be the norm for a guy like this in an offense like Green Bay. Jimmy still runs better than 4/5th of the league for a tight-end and his ability to exploit match-up’s is uncanny compared to what Rodgers is used to.

    Your getting a steal with Jimmy.

    • Empacador

      He could be Tony Gonzalez/Keith Jackson/Antonio Gates/Kellen Winslow/insert awesome TE here and McCarthy won’t utilize him properly. That’s a fact. Philbin might. But McCarthy is what he is, a gigantic blowhard who got more say in his roster and hopefully this shit blows up in his face. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

      • PF4L

        If McCarthy is smart, he’d turn the offense over to Philbin, but i don’t know if his ego would allow it.

  5. PF4L

    So what i’m getting from this article is that the reason Gronks #’s are better is because of a change in QB’s.

    I don’t know about that, maybe when he left the Saints, he lost a step.

      • PF4L

        I figured someone might catch that…lol

        It is what it is, but it would have been cool for Nelson to retire a Packer like he wanted. Instead he has to uproot his family, from their house, friends, kids school, etc. One day soon i wont obsess about it…lol. But it pisses me off.

  6. cz

    Typically, Packer receivers who went to play elsewhere never put up the numbers they did under Favre or Rodgers…. So imagine Jordys numbers without Rodgers. Not good.

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