FOXBORO, Mass. — Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes all of last season. He caught that many with one hand Monday night.
Graham’s eight-catch, 103-yard, two-one-handed-touchdown performance in the Seattle Seahawks’ 31-25 win over the Buffalo Bills was the latest evidence that the tight end’s underwhelming 2015 was an anomaly, not the new expectation.
After a tremendously productive half-decade with the New Orleans Saints, Graham’s maiden voyage in the Pacific Northwest was a major disappointment. A torn patellar tendon ended his season in late November, and in the 11 games he did appear in, he topped 75 receiving yards just twice.
Compare that to his time with the Saints, during which he played in 79 of a possible 80 games, led all NFL tight ends in receiving yards and ranked second in both catches and receiving yards behind Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski, respectively.
Graham has looked much more like that dominant force this season. After missing training camp and posting modest numbers over the first two weeks of the regular season, he quickly emerged as one of Russell Wilson’s favorite targets, averaging 5.7 catches and 82.0 receiving yards over the last six games.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team will host the Seahawks this Sunday night in a Super Bowl XLIX rematch, had high praise for Graham during his Wednesday morning news conference.
“He’s a great player,” Belichick said. “He does everything well, really. He’s good after the catch. He obviously has great hands. He’s a tremendous red-area, goal-line-type receiver. He can hurt you vertically. You’ve got to be careful about giving him a lot of room, because he can take a short play and turn it into a long run.”
Belichick compared Graham’s talents to those of Patriots counterparts Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, two 6-foot-6 athletic freaks who are matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Graham, a former Division I college basketball player, is listed at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.
“Kind of like the tight ends we have — they’re never covered,” Belichick said. “Even when you’re draped all over them, there’s somewhere where they can reach the ball where the defender can’t. And Seattle has a quarterback who can put the ball where the defender can’t reach it and Graham can. Whether it’s with one hand, two hands or whatever.”
Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who lines up against Gronkowski and Bennett on a daily basis in practice, offered a similar scouting report. He specifically pointed to Graham’s two circus touchdowns against Buffalo, which came while Robert Blanton and Nickell Robey-Coleman had him blanketed in coverage.
“When you combine all three of those guys, they’re all very good at going vertical, getting down the field,” McCourty said. “Their size is really what makes it really tough to cover all three of those guys, because once they get vertical and it’s any type of jump ball — you saw Monday night a ball that, for a corner, is just out of your reach.”
“He’s a tough matchup,” Belichick concluded. “He’s a very tough matchup.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports Images