Packers: Three questions facing Jimmy Graham in 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Jimmy Graham /
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Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham
SEATTLE, WA – DECEMBER 31: Tight end Jimmy Graham /

2. How will the Packers use him?

Graham tore up the league in his final four seasons with the Saints, averaging nearly 89 catches a season for 11.5 touchdowns and almost 1,100 yards.

In three seasons with Seattle (including only 11 games in 2015), though, Graham’s numbers dropped to less than 57 receptions, under 700 yards, and six touchdowns per season.

Much of that was due to a severe dip in targets for Graham. He averaged 137.75 targets in his final four seasons with New Orleans, but never hit triple digits with Seattle.

The Packers rehired former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin this offseason, who helped guide the Packers’ offense to a record-breaking 2011 campaign. An integral ingredient of that 2011 season was Jermichael Finley, who caught 55 passes for 767 yards (a 13.9 yards per reception average) and eight touchdowns.

Expect Graham to be used similarly to Finley in 2011, rather than to Jared Cook in 2017. Cook excelled with straight-line speed. While Graham is plenty fast, he’s more likely to win by dominating defenders at the catch point and breaking tackles after the catch.

The signing of Marcedes Lewis all but ensures that Graham will play a nominal role as an inline blocker. He’ll spend extensive time split out wide and in the slot as a receiver, where he should be able to employ his huge frame on in-breaking routes.

Additionally, the days of Richard Rodgers and Jordy Nelson gaining one yard on the quick out route are over. Graham should take over as the receiver of choice on those routes, which Finley used to excel on.

Graham’s biggest impact may come in the red zone, where the Seahawks used him to great effect. In single man coverage, Aaron Rodgers will look to hit Graham on slants and fades. Tony Romo told Peter Jackel of the Journal Times how dangerous he could be inside the 20:

"“You’re going to see old-school Jimmy Graham. With him paired with Aaron Rodgers, you’re going to see a little different animal. In the red zone, that will be almost unstoppable.”"