As if the most dynamic player on one of the game's most dynamic offenses wasn't already, well, dynamic enough.
In response to a defensive wrinkle or two designed to slow down their 6-7 265 tight end, the New Orleans Saints have grabbed the bull by the horns and drawn up a few responses of their own from a schematic standpoint in an attempt to further maximize Jimmy Graham's already-immense production.
Teams like the Saints' week 1 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, are likely to try and cop an idea established by the New England Patriots a season ago, where Bill Belichick had corner Aqib Talib stick to Graham in man coverage with zone in the background, as opposed to matching him up with a safety or linebacker.
The Seattle Seahawks employed a similar strategy to success, making as much contact as possible with the tight end off the line of scrimmage, using outside 'backers and defensive ends to jam him and disrupt his routes and timing with quarterback Drew Brees. Unleash the beast: Jimmy Graham looks primed for even bigger things in 2014.
“I wouldn’t say New England covered me with a corner. I would say they were jamming me on the line with someone who can jam well, and then playing zone behind it,” Graham said earlier this week. “When you have help over the top and then you’ve got a linebacker scraping to help and you’re getting jammed man to man, it makes the picture cloudy of what you’re supposed to do. Especially when you run a lot of routes like me and Marques Colston, where you have a lot of options. So when teams do that, it just kind of clouds that picture up."
The Saints certainly have options, and a passer who is able to find the open man at all times, regardless of the name on the back of his jersey. While Graham and Colston will always be the focal points of an opposing defense's game plan, the likes of rookie Brandin Cooks, deep threat Joe Morgan and a three-pronged rushing attack spearheaded by Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and khiry Robinson give New Orleans the weapons it needs to make teams pay the price for putting too much emphasis on just one or two players. Graham also has the added benefit of working under one of the game's premier offensive minds in head coach Sean payton.
“Sean’s great with (generating new ideas) in the offseason. Always does something new, implements new wrinkles,” said Graham, who added that his chemistry and close relationship with his quarterback is also paramount to his and the team's success.
"Drew being the quarterback he is, he finds the open guy. He doesn’t key on one guy or two guys, he finds the open man," said Graham. "I think I definitely have a chapter in his book. I’m definitely on his page … or whatever you want to call it. He looks for me, and he understands my body language. That’s a very important thing when you’re in between the linebackers and safeties.”
As far as week 1 is concerned, Graham, a perpetual thorn for Atlanta, will look to poke his way right back into the side of the Falcons' defense. Over the course of his last seven outings against the NFC south rivals from Georgia, Graham has compiled 35 catches for 500 yards and 7 touchdowns. Having led the league in touchdown catches (16) a season ago, Graham will look to get the 2014 season off with a bang Sunday afternoon.
If Atlanta dares to give him free releases and does not offer help to jam him off the line and disrupt his routes, it could be a long day for their defense. The team knows it has a matchup dilemma with Graham, so any added attention should only make things easier for the likes of Colston, Cooks and the Saints' rushing attack. 2nd-year corner Desmond Trufant or safety Dwight Lowery could be called upon to help slow Graham down, but slowing him down is about the best an opponent can hope to do without a Talib or a Legion of Boom to fall back on.
With Payton at the controls, Drew Brees under center, and an offense that, as a unit, only continues to improve over time, Jimmy Graham is poised to deliver yet again in 2014. Fresh off a long-term contract which brough an end to a drawn-out franchise tag designation saga, Graham only has to concern himself with football now.
And quite frankly, Jimmy Graham is pretty good at football.