When Jeremy Shockey was released this off-season, that basically said all we needed to hear about what the Saints coaching staff thinks of tight end Jimmy Graham. His 31 reception, five touchdown season was promising but I think we can all agree we're expecting much more from him this season. No doubt he's headed to the starting lineup permanently, and with the increased reps he'll see I think it's safe to say his reception total for the year could easily more than double (assuming we have a full season).
Graham, like another tight end Drew Brees used to play with, was a basketball player and he's making a quick transition to football mostly thanks to his superior athletic ability. That other player is of course is San Diego Charger Antonio Gates. Gates is 6'4" 260 lbs. while Graham is 6'6" 260 lbs. Like Graham, Gates had a decent rookie season with 24 catches for 389 yards and two touchdowns.
After that rookie season, the Chargers made Gates their full time starter and Gates responded by having the best two years of his pro career in 2004 and 2005 with Brees as his quarterback. Gates is still a premiere receiving tight end in the league, if not the best, and he's been to seven pro bowls. Statistically, though, he hasn't quite been able to duplicate those two magical seasons with Brees. From a sheer numbers perspective (81 catches, 964 yds, 13 TDs in 2004; 89 catches, 1,101 yds 10 TDs in 2005), Gates was never better than when he played with Brees.
My point is: if you're healthy and you're a freak athlete, Brees will get you the ball. Shockey was neither of those things while with the Saints, which is why he never fully blossomed in New Orleans. Gates was in San Diego during Brees' time there, and I fully expect Graham to experience a similar path statistically if he can stay away from getting banged up.
Graham is fortunate in that he plays in an offense with a playcaller and a quarterback that will help him maximize his talent like no one else. The opportunity for him to make the Pro Bowl in just his second year and put up huge numbers is there for the taking. I expect Graham to put up 80+ receptions and double digit touchdowns in 2011. If he doesn't, then it would only be due to injury.
Do you see big things from Graham this upcoming season like I do? Do you think a Pro Bowl berth in year two is realistic?