In a week that was pretty tough for several fantasy football stars — Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Marshall, C.J. Anderson and others — owners needed an uplifting story or maybe even a return of a formerly dominant player to cheer them up. We might just have that in Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham.
The former All-Pro caught six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in Seattle’s blowout victory over San Francisco in Week 3. It was just Graham’s third game as a member of the Seahawks that saw him eclipse the 80-yard mark and his third touchdown in his last 14 affairs.
Back in his days with the Saints, Graham recorded at least 80 yards 23 times and scored 46 touchdowns in 45 games over a four-year span.
Obviously, the star tight end didn’t adapt to the Seahawks’ offense like fantasy owners hoped he would, and then he missed the final month of last season with a patellar tendon tear, which also basically dropped him off the fantasy map for 2016.
But after Sunday’s performance, he’s back on the map, and there are strong signs that Graham is going to stay there for awhile.
Ever since Victor Cruz tore his patellar tendon and went 700 days without playing a game, owners have been very aware of how difficult of a recovery that injury has. That’s exactly why the expectations for Graham were so low heading into the season. Seattle played him just 20 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in Week 1, easing him back into action, despite the struggles they had scoring against Miami. In that limited action, he caught one pass for 11 yards.
In Week 2, though, the Seahawks removed the snap count, and Graham played three times as many plays as he did in the first game. That week was another tough one for the Seahawk offense, but just the tight end being out there was for 80 percent of the team’s plays was encouraging.
It was also extremely reassuring that Graham hauled in a pass against the Rams when he was taken out low. He actually completely flipped in mid-air after the Rams’ defender made contact close to his knees, but the tight end was able to get back up with no problem. It’s as if Graham was sending a clear message to all his fantasy owners, “Let’s go.”
He wasn’t tackled that way again versus the 49ers in Week 3, but there were plenty of other examples of Graham appearing to be 100 percent himself and even fitting into the Seahawks’ offense.
Seattle was able to establish a running game early against San Francisco, and with that, the passing attack opened up. One of Graham’s first catches of the day was a ball thrown in his direction with a defender draped all over him, yet because the ball was placed in a perfect spot, he came down with the reception.
Quarterback Russell Wilson definitely squeezed that pass into a crowd, but the thing about Graham is that even when he’s covered, he’s not really covered. He uses his basketball skills to box out opponents unlike any other pass-catcher in the league besides maybe Rob Gronkowski. If the ball is in his area, Graham is going to make a play on it, and that type of throw shows how far Wilson’s trust in the tight end has come since last year.
Wilson also displayed trust in Graham by targeting him on a delayed offsides call. He could have thrown it to anyone, but Wilson threw Graham the jump ball, and he rewarded that trust by hauling in a 40-yard reception. Nothing looked wrong with the patellar tendon on that play either.
But probably the best sign of all that he is fully back was the touchdown catch. Everyone was covered and the blocking broke down, but Wilson bought time with his scrambling ability. Seeing his quarterback in trouble, Graham improvised too, and found open space in the end zone. Wilson hit him for the score.
All these things aren’t going to happen on a weekly basis, but these are obvious signs that A) the 29-year-old tight end is healthy, B) he’s carving himself out a role in the Seahawks offense and C) Wilson trusts him.
The only negative was Graham did lose a fumble, but that hardly put a damper on his otherwise great day. Even with the fumble, he finished with 14.0 fantasy points in standard leagues.
The biggest concern to Graham’s fantasy value moving forward is his quarterback’s health. Wilson suffered a left knee injury Sunday and didn’t finish the third quarter. After his departure, Graham didn’t catch another pass.
Although the early expectation is Wilson will play in Week 4, he is now dealing with a left knee and high ankle sprain problem (in opposite legs). If backup Trevone Boykin must start, Graham’s value takes a deep nose dive.
Even still, the tight end should be one of the hottest adds this week. He is owned in just 65.6 percent of ESPN leagues. If he’s available in yours, don’t hesitate to add him regardless of whom you already have at tight end.