Jimmy Graham is a great tight end. He’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends ever. To show you exactly how good I know Jimmy Graham is (and because I like playing around with pro-football-reference.com’s cool search tools), I’m going to post this:
Graham’s one of three tight ends EVER to have a season with 85 catches, 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns. And he did it twice! That’s nuts!
So why, pray tell, would you not want to draft this talented chap at his current cost of TE2, 32 overall? Well my good fellow (or uhhhh fellet??? No that’s not it. Lady? Yeah we’ll go with lady), in case you were living under a rock for most of the offseason, Jimmy Graham is now a Seahawk. “But that’s good,” you might be saying. “The Seahawks have a great quarterback in Russell Wilson and have made the Super Bowl for the past two years.” Sure, these things are true. But Jimmy Graham is getting a serious downgrade this year in something far more important than Super Bowl appearances to us fantasy football addicts: opportunity. As important as talent is, opportunity is the single most important predictor of success in fantasy football. You can get into the argument that talent leads to increased opportunity and bad players with opportunity won’t have it for long, but that’s an argument for another day. Right now, we’re going to try to project Jimmy Graham’s opportunity for the 2015 season.
Certain offensive styles lead to more offensive plays. For example, Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense ran 1127 offensive plays last season which was first in the NFL. The Saints run a relatively fast-paced offense as well. Over the past three years, they averaged 1081 offensive plays per season. The Seahawks averaged only 983 offensive snaps per season over the same time period. That’s a 9.1% decrease in total plays for Jimmy Graham’s offense this year, and plays are opportunities for pass routes which are opportunities for targets which are opportunities for catches. That’s a bad start in the “Jimmy Graham opportunity” discussion.
In order for Jimmy Graham to catch passes, his team has to be passing the ball. I know this is a simple concept, but it’s important. The Saints, over the past three years, passed the ball 63.67% of their snaps. The Seahawks passed the ball 47.21% of the time. Holy sh*t that’s a huge difference. When you apply these percentages to each teams average number of snaps over the same time period, you see that the Saints dropped back to pass the ball 688 times a year, while the Seahawks only dropped back 467 times a year! That’s f*cking huge! I can’t stress how important this is.
Jimmy Graham received a little over 20.6% of the Saints passing targets in our sample time period (135, 142, and 125 targets each season). If he had received that percentage in the Seahawks offense we would be talking about 85 targets per year. As I said in the opening, Jimmy Graham is great, but not even he would be putting up top 2 TE numbers with only 85 targets per year.
Being the Number One Option
Seattle traded for Jimmy Graham for a reason, and that’s to throw him the damn football. That being said, even the best pass-catchers need other competent receivers around them. Tyler Lockett and Chris Matthews could develop into viable targets and Doug Baldwin has been a useful role player, but there is no real proven threat among the Seahawks receivers. I don’t have a ton of numbers to back this up, but step into Small Sample Size Theater with me so we can look at Tony Gonzalez’s season in 2013. There were three games in 2013 that both Julio Jones and Roddy White missed. In those three games, Tony Gonzalez averaged 3.7 catches per game and 45.7 yards per game with 1 total touchdown. Over the other 13 games of the season, he averaged 6.4 catches and 66 yards per game with 8 total touchdowns. Gonzalez performed significantly better when he had viable receivers around him.
Like I said, this is one example and an extremely small sample size, but it intuitively makes sense. If I’m a defense against the 2013 Falcons pass game sans Roddy and Julio, I will let anyone but Tony Gonzalez beat me. If I’m a defense against the 2015 Seahawks pass game, I will let anyone but Jimmy Graham beat me. Graham is going to need the Seahawks wide receivers to prove that they’re dangerous. Until that happens, he’s the focal point for every defense.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture for Jimmy Graham in 2015, but there are definitely scenarios in which Graham has a good season. The Seahawks personnel moves seem to indicate that the passing game will open up a bit. Don’t expect the team to be passing 60% of the time, but slightly above 50%? Yeah, that seems likely. I expect to see roughly 100 targets for Graham this season. I also expect that Graham will catch somewhere from 8-10 touchdowns. There’s no denying his size and redzone ability.
100 targets and 8 touchdowns is an excellent season for a tight end, but it’s basically what we’re expecting out of Greg Olsen (probably a few more targets and maybe a few less touchdowns). Greg Olsen is going in the 6th round of most drafts. Graham is a great player who will probably have a good season, but opportunity and a lack of talent around him limits his upside. Let someone else in your league take him in the third round, you’ll end up happier that way.
This photo is courtesy of and copyrighted by Jeffrey Beall. This image is being used in accordance with Creative Commons and all rights are reserved by Jeffrey Beall.