New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is expected to play Sunday against the Detroit Lions despite still being bothered by a shoulder injury sustained in week 5 against Tampa Bay. Graham may not start Sunday, but is expected to feature, particularly as a red zone threat against an upstart Lions team on the road.
Initial reports suggested that Graham, who has caught 34 passes for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns this season, could be facing up to three weeks on the sidelines with the injury, but the dynamic playmaker should be available in some capacity today.
The Saints released veteran tight end Tom Crabtree Saturday, another strong indicator that Graham should play today. Crabtree had been signed two weeks ago as insurance in the event that Graham were to miss a period of time with his injury. The team promoted linebacker Todd Davis from the practice squad in a corresponding roster move. Jimmy Graham is expected to play on Sunday.
Even if Jimmy Graham is not starting, or an every down player Sunday, he will still be an effective weapon in situational football. The Lions know all to well what benefits a high-profile decoy can bring to the table, as their own wounded star Calvin Johnson has played that role at times while battling through multiple lower-body ailments this season. Johnson's status for this game remains unclear at this point.
Last season, while dealing with multiple injuries, Graham finished the year with 6 scores over the team's last six games despite playing less than 70 percent of the offensive snaps. The likes of Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill helped fill in, as they should do on Sunday. Graham's on-field presence, especially in and around the red zone will command the Lions' attention and could make things less cluttered for Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and the Saints' running game, which is expected to welcome Mark Ingram back after several weeks out of action with a broken hand. Fullback Erik Lorig, also back in the mix after a leg injury that had him sidelined since training camp, can fill in as an emergency tight end, with Austin Johnson capable of handling blocking duties in the backfield.
The 2-3 Saints, fresh off of their bye week and a week 5 triumph over divisional rivals Tampa, are looking to put their lackluster start to the 2014 season behind them. Beating a very good Lions team on the road at Ford Field would be a major step in that direction, and a statement that New Orleans is still very much in the mix for the NFC South crown. Having Jimmy Graham at their disposal, even in a limited capacity, can only help strengthen their chances of emerging victorious in week 7.