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.