Many Seattle Seahawks fans have been besides themselves for the last 2.5 years on the team has chosen to utilize tight end Jimmy Graham. A star tight end for the New Orleans Saints who caught 51 touchdowns in five seasons, including 26 over the final two, Graham was thought to be the red zone threat at tight end for the Seahawks who would bring every mysterious beginning of a drive to a very tight end. Instead, he has caught just nine touchdowns over 32 games in Seattle, which has made the tension between his utilization in the offense, which includes a high price tag for a tight ended, and fan patience on when he’d be “worth it,” very tightened.
We may have seen a relief to that tension during Sunday’s 16-10 win over the LA Rams, when Graham was barely even a tight end at all.
According to ProFootballFocus, on 31 routes run in the game, Graham was lined up at in-line tight end only three times. Compare that to 28 other routes, over 90%, in which he was either in the slot or lined out wide, like a receiver. This harkens back to 2014, when Graham was in arbitration with the Saints over whether he should be paid like a tight end or receiver after they had applied the franchise tag on him, the difference in which would be millions of dollars. The arbitrator ruled him as a tight end. But even then, he was lining up as a receiver or slot player on 67% of his snaps, not 90%. (Unclear if this is only on passing snaps/routes, or how much of a difference that would make it.)
Running routes as a receiver for most of the day, Graham was targeted eight times, catching six passes for 37 yards, including a god-bless-us-everyone touchdown inside the five-yard line. Wilson just threw it up to Graham in a one-on-one and of course he caught it because he’s a 6’7 athletic freak. The 6.17 yards per catch average isn’t great, but it does feel like his targets often count for something. He picked up the touchdown and a key first down earlier in the drive on third down.
Over the last three games total, Graham has 17 catches for 170 yards on 25 targets, which would put him on pace for 133 targets (a lot), 91 catches, 907 yards, and five touchdowns. Hopefully the TD rate goes up if Sunday’s slight change in utilization inside the red zone turns out to be a trend.
With Graham playing so much receiver, that meant more opportunities for Luke Willson and Nick Vannett. Graham played 42 snaps on offense (out of 68), while Willson had 26 and Vannett had 20. That’s more total snaps for Willson and Vannett combined than for Graham total, which isn’t a bad thing. Willson caught touchdowns in each of the previous two games (but had one target and zero catches on Sunday), while Vannett — well, he caught two passes for three yards. But he’s a part of something! Finally! And Vannett is the only tight end of the three under contract for next season, so it’d be nice for them to see what he can do.
With Graham a free agent after the season, and already the highest-paid tight end in the NFL in AAV at $10 million per year, it’ll be interesting to see what his next contract looks like. It might be smart for Seattle to completely move him off of the position and make him a 6’7 slot receiver/wide receiver who occasionally runs routes from the in-line tight end position, even if it means he looks to get paid like a receiver ($14 million per?) next year. No matter what position he plays, I think we’d all like to see him catch more touchdowns like he did on Sunday, and for the Seahawks to start finding out how they can best utilize their other guys at tight end.
This article has come to a tight end.