Why Jimmy Graham Could Prove The Doubters Wrong
Only Mitchell Trubisky draws more criticism among Chicago Bears players than Jimmy Graham.
And Graham hasn't even suited up with a "C" on his helmet yet.
It's been one bash fest after another for general manager Ryan Pace and the Bears after signing Graham to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
Critics of the move focused intently on the cash paid, his decline in catches and touchdowns at age 32 with Green Bay, but failed to take into account the entire Packers offensive change and how quarterback Aaron Rodgers declined in a new attack at age 35—his worst completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating since 2015.
Of course Graham is going to decline in his 30s. Yet his receptions total still was 20th among tight ends, just two less than Noah Fant and one less than Kyle Rudolph. And Rudolph started all 16 games while Graham started 10.
Graham still had seven more catches than Eric Ebron, four more than O.J. Howard, two more than Cameron Brate and Irv Smith Jr., three more than Jonnu Smith and six more than T.J. Hockenson.
His catch percentage (63%) was better than Ebron, Gerald Everett, Fant, Mike Gesicki and Hockenson. He only dropped three passes. Ebron dropped nine.
And at 6.8 yards after the catch he was better than a long line of top tight ends like Travis Kelce, Austin Hooper, Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee and Dallas Goedert.
His catch percentage and his yards per target (7.5) were higher than any time since 2016, and with a yards per catch so strong the problem looks to be elsewhere and not with Graham. He just wasn't targeted enough. He was targeted 60 times, fewest since his rookie year, by a quarterback who didn't know the offense real well in his first year of operating it. It was that simple.
Projecting a total for Graham for this season is not simple because of the uncertainty at Bears quarterback and whether he'll be a fit in the offense.
"It's just like Kansas City's offense and this is the closest I've gotten to being in an offense (like) back when I was with New Orleans," Graham said.
It's easy to say this now, but he had a decline in production and is 33 now. Still, studying his career overall the 38 receptions is an outlier.
He could lose some catches to Cole Kmet. The Bears would actually like this because it would show Kmet is starting his career off better than most NFL tight ends. It's a position where players usually struggle early.
"You start with the physical evaluation on the player," Pace said. "He's a guy we know well. But then you have to fit with our offensive scheme. And I just think there are a lot of discussions on how to maximize Jimmy Graham in this offense and that's with Matt (Nagy) and all of our offensive coaches and our scouts."
What is easy to predict is Graham will have plenty more catches and yards than the Bears' tight ends leaders last year. I'd give him somewhere in the range of 45 receptions and 500 receiving yards with five touchdowns.
There is a major emphasis in this coaching staff of getting touchdowns within the red zone instead of field goals, and bringing in three tight ends 6-foot-6 or taller, as well as a 6-6 quarterback testifies to this.
It might not look good to all the fantasy boys out there or to Pro Football Focus and all the numbers crunchers, but to Matt Nagy after what the team went through last year at this position Graham should be a godsend.
Jimmy Graham at a Glance
Key Numbers: Graham was targeted only 60 times, the fewest since his rookie year. Yet, his yards per target was higher at 7.5 than it's been since his career high of 9.7 in 2016, and his catch percentage (63.3%) was higher than it's been since 2016.
2020 Projection: 47 receptions, 521 yards, 6 TDs.