When Jimmy Graham signed a 3-year, $30m contract in 2018 with the Packers, nearly every fan of the Packers was thrilled about the signing. This offseason, there were many fans calling for a release. What has happened in-between?
Well, to start with, Jimmy Graham didn’t have a great season. He finished with 55 catches out of 89 targets, 636 yards and two touchdowns. His catch percentage (61.8%) and yards/reception (11.6) were average, compared to his career statistics.
What bothered most of the fans and experts are the two touchdowns. In 2017, he finished with 10 and everyone was hoping for more than that. After Jordy Nelson being released, the Rodgers-Graham connection was the No.1 topic in Training Camp. Every catch of Graham was discussed. A 6-7 target for Aaron Rodgers, one of the most precise quarterbacks in the NFL, how could that not lead to multiple touchdowns?
So the two touchdowns were a disaster. But wait a second. These two touchdowns don’t mean that Graham will not be able to have a breakout year (at least in Green Bay) in 2019.
First of all, Aaron Rodgers did only try to pass the ball 73 times (31 completions!!) in the redzone in 2018 (10th/21st in the NFL). That’s well below Patrick Mahomes (66 completions with 103 attempts), Jared Goff (59/101) and even Eli Manning (41/86) and just slightly more than Kirk Cousins (48/72) and even Case Keenum (36/69). If you now consider the Packers did only run the ball in the redzone 18 times with Aaron Jones and 14 times with Jamaal Williams (compared to 64 attempts by Gurley and 50 by Barkley), there is clear evidence that Graham didn’t even have the chance to score that many touchdowns.
If you now consider the fact that Graham was still the second-best receiver in yards and touchdowns (MVS had also 2), you’ll see that this season was bad by the whole team, but not specifically by Graham himself. He did indeed fail to meet the expecations, but he wasn’t worse than the whole offense around him.
I’m not saying he couldn’t have played better. He failed to convince – no question. But at least in some parts he was a victim of the surroundings. And he showed great character, when he played games with a broken thumb (as a receiver!). Yes, that might not have been the best idea, but then again that’s a decision of the coaches and not his fault.
So, why do I think that Graham will have a great year in 2019? Well, let’s start with the coaches: The Packers have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur, who will bring in a new, modern offense that is similar to McVay’s offense in Los Angeles and Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco. And I’m 100% sure the Packers will have more red zone appearances this year than last year. This simply means more chances for Graham.
Besides that, LaFleur said he’ll concentrate more on the run game – a statement that all teams in the NFL will listen to. Now, a good running game always opens up opportunities in the passing game. The defense will always concentrate on Davante Adams in the passing game, which also could mean more opportunities for Graham.
And third and last, if Randall Cobb should be gone, there are exactly two experienced receivers on the roster: Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham. It’s known that Rodgers needs some time to get new receivers synchronized with his rhythm and playing style, a problem that he doesn’t have with Graham.
All in all, I expect a big jump in production and more important in touchdowns out of Jimmy Graham. I could also be wrong, but there are many signs at least hinting towards that. Let’s hope for a Graham-season like 2013: 1215 yards, 14.1 yards per reception and 16 touchdowns. It doesn’t seem impossible.