There’s been a lot of moves in the NFL today, though not too many more important for fantasy football than this one. The Packers moved in and are going to sign tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal, though we don’t currently have the details of how much money is involved. Following the signing of Graham, though, the Packers made a corresponding move and released long-time wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
This move seems eerily similar to the one the Packers made last offseason when they acquired Martellus Bennett in free agency to the tune of $21 million over three years. We know how that one ended, but do we have reason to believe Graham will be any different? Bennett just turned 30 years old when he signed that deal, while Graham will turn 32 years old in November.
It’s a new era we’re entering, as both Graham and Rob Gronkowski ushered in a new type of tight end; one who was more of a wide receiver than anything. It’s fair to wonder how long these types of players can play at an elite level. Think about it for a minute – Calvin Johnson was 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, but hung up his cleats at 30 years old because he was afraid his body was deteriorating. Many other big receivers have gone the similar route or just started seeing their performance trend in the wrong direction. Graham is 6-foot-6 and 259 pounds himself, but he’s also beat the odds once in his career coming back from a torn patellar tendon, something players don’t often do. While he bounced back after his surgery, we saw his play decline over the last year while with the Seahawks.
It’s fair to wonder if Graham has gotten to the point of his body breaking down, as he failed to total more than 72 yards in any one game in 2017, including eight games of less than 40 yards. Playing with Russell Wilson should net him much more, especially when you consider he saw 95 targets, which ranked seventh among tight ends. His 520 yards on the season were his lowest total since way back in 2010, his rookie year. He did, however, score 10 touchdowns to lead all tight ends.
As for the reason for Graham’s decline on the stat sheet, he was dealing with ankle and knee injuries down the stretch that could’ve affected his overall numbers. As a 32-year-old, it’s unlikely those aches and pains will go away. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely we’ll see Graham in the peak physical condition that we’re used to.
It’s not all bad for Graham, though, as he’s going to play with Aaron Rodgers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that, right? Rodgers is always among the league leaders in touchdowns, so it’s only natural that we’d expect Graham to, at the very least, post a repeat of last year’s performance. The release of Jordy Nelson frees up 120-150 targets in the offense (feel free to ignore 2017 that was played with Brett Hundley), giving Graham a nice big chunk to eat into.
Funny story – I made a bet last offseason with Rob Waziak (@WazNFL) and Evan Silva (@Evansilva) that Jack Doyle would outscore Martellus Bennett in fantasy football. Why would I make such a bet? One, I didn’t know that Andrew Luck would be out for the season. Two, I knew that Rodgers wasn’t someone who ever targeted his tight ends a ton. I knew that because of the research I did on Martellus Bennett when he signed last year. Those two have yet to pay up on that bet, so let them know they still owe me if you talk to them before I do.
But here’s the thing, it’s now a different story with Nelson out of the picture. You see, we’ve never seen this Aaron Rodgers before. Well, we have, just not recently. Back when he took the starting job in 2008, Nelson was just a part-time player for the first couple years. Funny though, because before Nelson became the Jordy Nelson we all came to know and love, we saw tight end Jermichael Finley see 92 targets from Rodgers. Provided the Packers don’t go out and add another perimeter wide receiver, we could see Rodgers make another adjustment to his game.
While it might seem like I’m being harsh on Graham, he’s still likely to finish inside the top-eight fantasy tight ends because of his red zone presence. At the tight end position, there are maybe five guys at the top, and then there are the rest. While I don’t want to say that Graham is just a streamer, he’s not in the every-week performer category, either. Knowing how psyched the fantasy community is about Graham uniting with Rodgers, he’s likely to be drafted inside the top-five at tight end in drafts. If that’s the case, you should feel free to let someone else have him. If you are dying to own some Graham stock for that game he scores multiple touchdowns, snag a few shares in best-ball, because he’ll be better in that format.
Miss any of the other big-name free agent signings? We’ve got you covered with the links below.
Allen Robinson to the Bears
Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs
Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
Case Keenum to the Broncos
Trey Burton to the Bears