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Some perspective on Jimmy Graham’s “lack” of red zone targets

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

You still hear a lot that the Seattle Seahawks are not using tight end Jimmy Graham consistently or properly. But 65 catches and 923 yards are franchise records, while his six touchdowns scored in 2016 are still pretty good, especially for an offense that is historically conservative in the passing game and has several other weapons, like Doug Baldwin.


The most recent example is Danny Kelly addressing Graham’s lack of redzone targets by utilizing this stat line.

Graham redzone targets (Inside the ten yard line) from 2010-2014 with the New Orleans Saints: 58 targets, 30 TDs

From 2015-2016 with Seattle: 7 targets, 2 TDS

On average that’s 11 targets and six touchdowns per season with the Saints compared to three targets and one touchdown per year with the Seahawks. Concerning?

Here’s where a stat like that misses the details: New Orleans throws the ball about 650+ times on average.

Even going by the super inflated passing numbers of Russell Wilson, who threw 565 times this year, it’s almost 100 fewer passes thrown.

Point two: Seattle runs the ball a lot inside the ten. How many times have we seen the Seahawks run twice and then throw on third down? Yes, efficiency was catastrophic (28th) but I don’t think eight more throws to Graham inside the ten would guarantee touchdowns. Teams doubled him more than any other player on the offense this year. Seattle’s running game fell off but still got the lions’ share of the shots at the endzone inside the ten.

Point three: The Saints didn’t score rushing touchdowns that well during Jimmy’s tenure; In three of his five seasons, New Orleans had ten or fewer rushing touchdowns. In the other two seasons they did spike to 16 TDs but they still played a lot of garbage time games and threw the ball more than the Seahawks.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the argument to target Jimmy more or construct better plays. However, stats like this, constructed only as a means to narrative are a poor choice of defense when the whole picture is painted. What’s worse is they undermine the value that Jimmy has had on this team this year.

We’re talking about eight snaps a season with the potential for five more TDs. I think the real question is less about why Wilson isn’t going to Graham more often, but why is he going to Jermaine Kearse so often? Is Graham covered so well, and by so many players, that going to Kearse is almost a necessity because he should be catching all of these targets? Or is Wilson forcing it into his good buddy (though Graham was Wilson’s best man) because he’s developed so much trust for him on the field as they came up together? It’s something that probably needs to be addressed on Saturday because the Seahawks won’t beat the Falcons if they come away with field goals in the red zone instead of touchdowns.

Whether it’s Graham, Kearse, Baldwin, or Paul Richardson, it doesn’t matter: Wilson needs touchdowns.

Author’s Note: I want to be clear before you head into the comments that this isn’t to bash Danny Kelly for his tweet or commentary on Graham. I simply want to provide a full picture for a robust discussion. I’d love to get your perspectives.