Jimmy Graham is the Queen On Your Redraft Chess Board
[Editor’s note: Credit for calling Jimmy Graham the queen on the chess board may go to Sigmund Bloom. We’ve heard Bloom call Graham the queen, although various other internet pages also call the new TEs the queens on the chess board. In any case, we’re self taught hacks and not etymologists here, so figuring out who deserves credit is probably above our pay grade.]
In chess the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, having unlimited movement in any of the eight directions. The versatility in which she operates gives her the potential to attack in a multitude of ways. Drafting Jimmy Graham can give an owner a similar benefit to playing a chess match with a queen advantage. The question in many drafts, however, is where to draft him. Graham is a unique talent because of his scoring potential from a position that is often overlooked.
Much like a queen’s movement diversity in chess, Graham’s value to owners who draft him extends beyond simply scoring points. Drafting him can offer owners advantages in the draft and during the season that are unmatched by any other player in fantasy football.
The most obvious reason to draft Graham is the point differential advantage one would get compared to other owners. On average the top tight end scores 16 percent more points than the next highest scorer at the position. The RB1 can only boast an advantage of 13 percent on average. Trying to figure out which running back will give you that advantage on a year-to-year basis is another problem in and of itself. No RB has finished in the top spot in back-to-back years since 2007. To put things into further context, Graham gave owners a 3.5 ppg advantage over Julius Thomas the TE2 last season. That number went up to over 8.1 ppg when compared to the TE12.
If Graham played RB in 2013 he would have finished as the RB7. Conversely he would have ranked fourth at wide receiver. In a league where yards are more replaceable than touchdowns, since 2011 Graham has led the NFL in receiving TDs regardless of position with 36. In that time he is averaging 90 catches, 1,169 yards, and 12 TDs per year. That number could easily be higher had Sean Payton not been suspended in 2012. If we cherrypick Graham’s stats a bit and just use his last two years under Payton, he is averaging 12.96 ppg. When looking at 10-year fantasy scoring averages, those numbers would place him as the RB9 or WR3. Trying to pick the RBs that will finish ahead of Graham could be a difficult task. I feel much more comfortable predicting Graham’s outcome.
Waiting to draft TEs has been a popular strategy among drafters for a while. It is often thought that TE production can be substituted among multiple players while using minimal draft equity. The TE position as a whole is less scarce than both WR and RB due to lineup requirements, making the late round TE strategy viable. Scarcity, however is what gives Graham his value. The only other TE that has shown Graham’s scoring ability, Rob Gronkowski, is a walking (mostly limping) injury risk.
The talented Mr. Siegele wrote a piece explaining why the flex wins championships. Filling the flex position often becomes a race to get the best RB or WR available in your draft. During the season however, injuries and bye weeks can leave owners filling the that position with some questionable or risky players. While Graham’s true advantage is the point differential in the TE slot, pairing Graham with a late round TE can cover you through byes, injuries and even the dreaded draft bust we all have from time to time.
There often comes a time during the drafting process where the talent doesn’t quite match the asking price. You may find yourself taking a player a bit too soon or questioning drafting a player with injury risks. For me it seems like that time comes around the fifth round and later. If you are uncomfortable with the selections available, Graham’s scoring and ability to operate in the flex allows you the versatility during the draft to change strategies if you need to. You don’t have to be worried about getting locked out on a RB or WR run. Drafting another top flight TE prospect like Jordan Cameron or top sleeper like Greg Olsen can allow you to have a top flex option while widening the gap at TE between yourself and the rest of the league even further. The two best teams that I have had in the last few years actually rostered Gronk and Graham together. The lineup stability Graham gives you is unparalleled by any other player.
The TE Sim Score App places Graham’s 2014 projections at 8.8 ppg, 9.9 ppg, and 12.3 ppg. His floor is still higher than what the TE3 has averaged over the last 10 years, while his median projection places him at his 2012 numbers. The app does not take into account Payton’s suspension in 2012. As I stated earlier, I think Graham’s numbers would have been more in line with 2011 and 2013 had Payton been there. That being said Graham’s ceiling could be even higher than what the app has which basically predicts a repeat of 2011. If Kenny Stills makes the jump and Brandin Cooks is as good as we think he is, then Graham could have an even better year. Drew Brees has thrown for more than 5,000 yards and at least 39 touchdowns each of the last three years. A big part of that consistency has been due to Graham, who scored 10 or more points in 12 out of 15 games last year while playing through injuries.
One of the knocks against drafting Graham in 2014 has been the possibility of a holdout. While there is likely an appeal to be filed, and arbitrator has ruled that Graham is indeed a TE. I actually think that the Saints and Graham will work out a deal by the July 15 deadline. If not, I can’t see the situation lingering much longer.
Graham is a unique talent, playing in a high-powered offense with an elite quarterback. Add in his consistency and versatility and there isn’t much more you can ask for in a first round pick. I currently have four RBs and two WRs ranked ahead of Graham going into drafts. Draft order and player selection will likely dictate whether I choose to draft Graham, but I am confident that he will be at the top of his position group. The constant turnover at other positions makes the practice of drafting Graham more comforting. In chess it is still possible to win without your queen. In fantasy football you can still win without Graham, but the advantage of having the only queen on the board can sure swing the odds in your favor. Play with the Snake Draft Planner to see possible outcomes.