If you thought that the teaming of Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Graham would help resurrect the latter’s career, you’re not alone. The Packers’ top tight end rolled out a stat line of 55 catches, 636 yards, and two touchdowns in 2018, and ultimately left a bad taste in the mouths of Packer faithful.
There’s something to be said about a new weapon trying to integrate himself into an offense that had a quarterback with a broken leg and eventual coaching staff upheaval, but there’s little to suggest that Graham will return to Pro-Bowl form.
Graham is 32-years old, and while he isn’t a tight end who gets a lot of blocking wear-and-tear, that’s an indicator that his production could fall off even further. According to Apex Fantasy Leagues, tight ends begin their decline from peak performance after age 26, but there’s a steep drop into irrelevance from age 31 to 32 and 89 percent of peak seasons take place prior to the age-32 season.
The silver lining is that Graham doesn’t have to be near his peak, he just has to be top-10 from a fantasy perspective to make good use of the fantasy draft capital.
“When I get those opportunities, I have to show him that I’m the biggest, fastest thing out there. I have to go up and get those grabs for [Rodgers],” Graham said via the Wisconsin State Journal last week, regarding making the most of his playing time this season. “Everybody thinks I’m old and slow now, so, we’ll see what happens,” he would later add.
It’s encouraging that he mentions age being a factor in this stage of his career and that he wants to prove doubters wrong. I hope he does! The tight end position is feast or famine in fantasy this year and has been for the past few seasons. Last year, there were flashes of a connection with Rodgers, but the flashes were brief and easy to miss.
Right now, Graham’s average draft position (ADP) is in the 13th round, pick 11 for PPR leagues, tying him with fellow NFC North tight ends, Kyle Rudolph (Vikings) and Trey Burton (Bears). Either of those three are worth fliers at that stage in the draft, but it’s a virtual coin flip on who should be the TE picked.
Another variable in Graham’s value comes with a potential lack in opportunity. To factor in how Graham might look in the new Matt LaFleur offense, I had to look back at some other offenses LaFleur was involved in — which involved looking into Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, of course.
LaFleur was quarterbacks coach in Atlanta — while Shanahan was offensive coordinator — during the high-powered 2016 season, was the OC for McVay’s 2017 Rams, and then called plays as the OC for Mike Vrabel’s Titans in 2018. Here are some observations for each offense:
- No single TE surpassed 300 yards and 45 targets.
- Only the Falcons featured a TE who was close to 32 years old (Jacob Tamme, 31) and he went for 22 catches, 210 yards, and three touchdowns. (Side note: Delanie Walker was 34 last year for the Titans, but he played only one game so we don’t have the benefit of that example.)
- Each offense had a running back who had 65 or more passing targets, including Todd Gurley’s whopping 87 targets in 2017.
The Packers retained Marcedes Lewis, drafted Jace Sternberger, and have Robert Tonyan as a holdover from last season. They also made various tight end claims on the waiver wire, including Jordan Leggett, whom they ultimately weren’t awarded. The activity around the tight end position this offseason may be seen as a search for the eventual Graham-replacement, but I think it speaks more to the desire from LaFleur to find at least three viable options to use in the offense, not just one focal point.
There’s a case to be made — hat tip to Acme’s Peter Bukowski — that LaFleur could use Graham for concepts that Shanahan and McVay both use for George Kittle and Cooper Kupp, respectively. Both run plays for them in the slot. So, if that’s how Graham is used, there’s evidence that he will be involved in the passing game, but to how great of an extent that will actually be — translated to fantasy relevance — is murky at best due to age and the possibility of Geronimo Allison sharing those slot duties.
At this point, none of the Packers in the tight end group are league-winners, but Graham still has an outsiders chance of helping you from week-to-week. The best route for drafting tight ends this year is to either grab a top-three guy (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, or Kittle) or just wait it out.