The average fantasy football season is a 13 or 14 week race to make the playoffs and hope your team is healthy and ready to win a championship. (Hard-hitting analysis, right?) It’s also a battle to find an advantage at as many positions as possible, so your team scores more points than the teams you compete against. (Shocking revelations.) So that’s why I advocate that you take Jimmy Graham in the first round of your fantasy football drafts this year. (Wait, what?)
No other player at any other position provides the relative advantage at his position that Graham does. And with uncertainty surrounding many of the league’s top running backs, and the inevitable rise and fall of skill position players in today’s cutthroat, injury-riddled NFL, securing a guaranteed advantage at a position like tight end (which usually only requires one starter per team in most standard leagues) is an advantage that you will take to the bank every weekend, and an advantage that can win you a fantasy championship.
Consider the tight end position as a whole, and you’ll start to see the advantage without digging into the stats. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are alone as the two best players in the NFL and in the fantasy game to line up at the position, with players like Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Vernon Davis coming in a somewhat distant second place.
And there have not been many surprises over the past two years at the position, as the Patriots and Saints have been the only teams to reliably provide top-tier talent at tight end. In 2011, Rob Gronkowski busted onto the scene with an absolutely incredible fantasy season, with Graham not far behind, and the next closest active player, Tony Gonzalez, coming in almost 70 points behind Graham, and 110 behind Gronkowski. Having Gronk or Graham in 2011 meant you would have a 5-8 point advantage on any given week against players with good tight ends, and would be even more dominant against players stuck with Jermaine Gresham and Fred Davis.
Last year the pack closed in on Gronk and Graham, but extenuating circumstances, rather than a decline in skills, led to this newfound parity. Jimmy Graham found himself stuck on a “lost puppy dog” offense without Sean Payton around to direct traffic, and he was also dealing with a wrist injury that led to an increase in dropped passes.
Everyone is aware of the maladies that afflicted Rob Gronkowski late last season, as he struggled to see the field for two months to end the season due to injury. He had yet another incredibly impressive year on a per-game basis, but was held back by his injuries.
And that’s why Graham is the right choice this season for your fantasy team, and why he’s a first round pick. Gronk may miss the first few weeks of the season, with Stephania Bell of ESPN.com predicting in an interview with SiriusXM Radio’s Fantasy Sports channel that he would appear first in game five of the NFL season. A four game loss for a player means almost a third of the fantasy regular season is out the door with zeroes on the board, something that simply will not set up your team for success.
So Graham will stand alone, with a four game head start on Gronkowski, atop the tight end rankings, and he’ll continue to get incredible opportunities to score fantasy points in 2013. The Saints offense is very receiver-friendly for the fantasy game, as Lance Moore, Marques Colston, and Jimmy Graham all received high marks using Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus’ “oTD” statistic, which measures the likelihood of a receiver scoring a touchdown based on where he is targeted on his pass routes. Graham will be fully healthy, and Sean Payton will be wearing the headset once again in New Orleans, so a return to 2011 form for Graham is a likelihood rather than wishful thinking.
And Graham stands out from his fellow tight ends in another way that is important to note: Even without his touchdowns, Graham is still an incredible fantasy football option, especially in point per reception leagues. In 2011, Graham was targeted almost 150 times, and turned that into 99 catches. Two years ago his 99 catches for a total of over 1300 yards were good for around 230 points on their own (without touchdowns included at all), which would have been a top five performance in 2012 in a PPR league. So unlike Jason Witten, who hauled in a good amount of passes last season and failed to find the end zone, thus dulling his fantasy appeal, Graham has a “touchdown independent” level of dominance at his position, but is still statistically more likely to catch touchdowns thanks to the precision offense he is a part of with the Saints.
So when you’re forced to decide between “boom-or-bust” CJ Spiller, “injury prone and less-than-4 YPC” Trent Richardson, and the other lackluster options in the middle to late first round of your fantasy draft, take a surefire advantage over your league from the start instead, and take Jimmy Graham in the first round of your fantasy drafts.