When the Saints signed tight end Jimmy Graham in July the day before training camp began, there were a lot of questions about how Graham would play after taking a year off of football.
Those questions seem to have gone away as Graham is showing flashes of who he was in his prime.
In Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Houston Texans, Graham made a monster catch and ignited the crowd in the first quarter. That catch later led to a touchdown strike from quarterback Jameis Winston.
At his peak, Graham was one of the most sure-handed pass catchers in the league. The Saints TE formed an incredible connection with Drew Brees, as the duo crushed everyone in the league. Graham would bounce between teams after New Orleans, being productive everywhere he went.
Saints head coach Dennis Allen said at the beginning of pre-season that he needed his veteran players to show flashes that they still have it after Sunday’s game. Allen certainly feels that Graham is ready.
“This is the Jimmy, probably since the Charger practices, I started to see some signs of the mental picture that I have of Jimmy Graham and then again you know I saw it this week in practice and I saw it carry over into the game,” Allen said. “So that was a positive. We’ve said that we don’t have to see it every day from these guys, particularly the veteran players, but yet at some point, we have to see it. So and we saw it tonight.”
Graham was out of the league last season and his return to action hit a bump earlier this month when the team said he had a “likely seizure” that led to him being disoriented. He missed the team’s second preseason game as a result, but all appeared to be well in the the Saints’ preseason finale against the Texans
Graham caught a three-yard touchdown from Jameis Winston and said after the game that the feeling of scoring touched off memories of his initial run in New Orleans.
“It just reminded me of all the amazing moments I had here in front of these fans, with my teammates and with this coaching staff, so many special moments and wins,” Graham said, via the team’s transcript. “I’m looking forward to continuing to capitalize and let this feeling become even bigger. I’m looking forward to the regular season. It’s been an amazing training camp and I can’t say enough about how good this team is at every position and how awesome iron sharpening iron is.”
The Saints also have Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau, and Taysom Hill at tight end, but Graham’s efforts in the preseason have positioned him for a chance to add a few more Superdome memories to the ledger.
The longtime veteran, who didn’t play in 2022, shined, snagging three passes on four targets for 34 yards and a touchdown. Those grabs included a nice 25-yard back-shoulder grab and a 3-yard TD from Jameis Winston, in which Graham posted up a defender in the end zone. Those two plays highlight what Graham can bring to the Saints offense if he makes the 53-man roster: Contested catches and red zone acumen.
“Yeah, I think that was one of the things that we’ve said this,” head coach Dennis Allen said when asked about Graham, per the official transcript. “We’d like to see it every day from these guys, particularly veteran players, but at some point, we have to see it. We saw it tonight.”
“He is a living legend,” Winston said. “It is a blessing to be able to throw him the ball and watch him go out there and make spectacular catches.”
The Saints seem likely to keep four TEs (especially with Hill’s involvement in other positions), and Sunday’s performance could have clinched the gig for Graham. But with the deadline to reduce rosters to 53 by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, it’s no given.
“It just reminded me of all the amazing moments I had here in front of these fans, with my teammates and with this coaching staff, so many special moments and wins,” Graham said of making plays Sunday at the Superdome. “I’m looking forward to continuing to capitalize and let this feeling become even bigger. I’m looking forward to the regular season. It’s been an amazing training camp, and I can’t say enough about how good this team is at every position and how awesome iron sharpening iron is.”
If Graham indeed secured a roster spot, he could play a sizable role in the Saints’ red-zone operation after proving he can still make contested catches. Graham could steal some of the end-zone targets from Johnson, who is coming off a seven-score 2022 season and is pegged for a breakout campaign.
Graham signed with the Packers in 2018 and then joined the Bears in 2020. Over the course of those four seasons, he combined for just 157 receptions, 16 for scores. He didn’t play in 2022 and if he makes the Saints’ final roster, there could be some NFL Comeback Player of the Year talk down the road.
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