New Orleans is set to return from its bye this week, but the Saints look like they will be without All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham a little longer. Graham sprained his shoulder two weeks ago against Tampa Bay and even with a week off to recover, reports are that he could miss up to three more weeks because of the injury.
Graham’s loss to the Saints cannot be understated, as he leads the team in targets (46), receptions (34), yards (376) and touchdowns (3). His value in fantasy is even greater, as his per-season averages over the past three years look like this: 90 rec., 1,169 yds., 11 TDs. Those numbers are outstanding for a wide receiver, let alone a tight end, which is why Graham was a consensus first-round pick entering this season.
The good news is that it appears Graham will be back in about a month, but that’s still a lot of production for a fantasy owner to try and replace. While it’s impossible to find someone on Graham’s level that figures to be available in most leagues (i.e, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski don’t count), here are five options to consider:
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce may be the hardest to acquire of this list, considering he’s already a top-10 fantasy TE this season. However, the Chiefs are coming off of their bye, so this also could be an opportune time to add this talented young target. Kelce was generating some buzz regarding his potential entering this season and after somewhat of a slow start, he has responded. He has caught a touchdown pass in each of his past three games and is quickly establishing himself as one of Alex Smith’s most trusted targets. Kelce isn’t the second coming of Jimmy Graham, but there are some similarities in their skill sets and how they are used in their respective offenses.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Ranked as a top-10 fantasy TE entering this season, injuries have once again have prevented Reed from realizing his immense potential. The talented second-year tight end suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener, which opened the door for Niles Paul (23-326-1) to emerge. But Reed returned to the lineup on Sunday and was an immediate factor, if not force, in the Redskins' passing game. He led the team in both targets (11) and receptions (8) while finishing second in yards with 92. Likely forgotten because of the extended absence, Reed is one of the few options out there whose potential reward outweighs the injury risk he carries.
Owen Daniels, Baltimore Ravens
Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve, leaving Daniels as the Ravens’ No. 1 tight end. His numbers haven’t been that impressive (21-217-2), but his familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak can’t be overlooked. Kubiak has always shown a tendency to involve tight ends in his offense, going back to when Daniels and Kubiak were with the Texans together. As long as Daniels continues to see targets come his way (averaging 4.5 per game), he should remain a viable starting fantasy option.
Jace Amaro, New York Jets
The Jets’ second-round pick, Amaro was expected to add an element to the offense that has been missing for some time. Six games into his rookie season, Amaro may be ready to be that impact player he was drafted to be. In Sunday’s loss to Denver, Amaro led the Jets in targets (12), receptions (10) and yards (68), while also catching his first career NFL touchdown. Geno Smith needs to find targets he trusts and Amaro, who was a pass-catching magnet at Texas Tech, could help fill that void. One thing’s for certain about Amaro, he’s not out there to block, so any time he’s on the field he should have an opportunity to make a play.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts also have Coby Fleener, who was Andrew Luck’s teammate at Stanford, at tight end, but so far Allen has been more productive. Allen is fourth on the team in receptions (18) despite seeing fewer targets than running back Ahmad Bradshaw or No. 3 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Allen and Luck have been successful on 67 percent of their attempted connections (18 of 27) for 253 yards and four touchdowns. Allen’s athleticism and big-play ability is evident in that he’s third on the Colts in yards and trails only Bradshaw in touchdown catches. Allen may not be a full-time starter, but he’s a big enough part of the Colts’ offense to be productive. He’s currently ninth among TEs in fantasy points.
And what about the Saints?
In most cases, it’s typical to first look to the next man on a team’s depth chart in the case of an injury. However, Jimmy Graham is no ordinary tight end, so there’s no obvious replacement for him when looking at the Saints’ roster. Benjamin Watson figures to see the biggest increase in playing time and opportunities, but the 11-year veteran has been targeted a total of 12 times this season, producing nine catches for 64 yards. Josh Hill, who has two touchdown receptions among his seven total catches, and recently signed Tom Crabtree also could factor in, which only adds to the confusion regarding this situation. While Watson could be someone to keep an eye on moving forward, the five tight ends mentioned above are considerably more appealing when it comes to potential fantasy replacement options.