NFL free agency has just begun, but it’s the trade of Jimmy Graham from New Orleans to Seattle that’s rocked the fantasy football landscape. While not the only trade that was announced as the new league year kicked off with a bang, this one carries the biggest fantasy implications.
The most productive tight end in the NFL over the past four seasons, Graham has caught 355 passes for 4,396 yards and 46 touchdowns since 2011. Much of Graham’s success was due to his status as Drew Brees’ No. 1 target in the Saints’ pass-happy offense.
As talented as Graham is, it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t see near the same volume of targets with the Seahawks, who operate a much more run-oriented, deliberate (some would say conservative) offense. Marshawn Lynch’s presence has a lot to do with that, but so does a defensive-minded philosophy that has resulted in back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl.
Consider that Brees led the league with 659 pass attempts last season, while Russell Wilson finished 19th with 452. That’s a pretty big gap. While Graham immediately becomes Seattle’s top pass-catcher, it’s just not in the Seahawks’ m.o. to throw a ton of passes.
This trade doesn’t change the type of player Graham is, as his addition could be a difference-making move in Seattle’s quest to return to the Super Bowl for the third straight season. However, fantasy-wise, this trade definitely impacts Graham’s value in a negative way.
Had Graham remained in New Orleans, there would have been an interesting debate between him and New England’s Rob Gronkowski for which should be the first tight end taken in a fantasy draft. Now, Gronk is clearly the No. 1 choice at his position because of Graham’s change of scenery.
And while Graham’s numbers will go down, there’s no reason to expect them to plummet. Between this trade and Julius Thomas signing with Jacksonville, how everyone lines up behind Gronk in the rankings figures to be a fluid situation. At this point, the safest think to assume is that it will take a lot more upheaval across the league to knock Graham from top-five status among his TE peers.
As for the quarterbacks…
It’s fair to say that Brees’ loss is Wilson’s gain, but exactly how much will either be impacted? Even though Brees loses a dynamic, explosive target that is a matchup nightmare and was a great fit in New Orleans’ offense, don’t expect the Saints to change their spots.
Brees will still throw a ton of passes and the beneficiaries figure to be Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston, along with whomever the Saints get to replace Graham at tight end. While the loss of Graham may seem like a big blow, I am still comfortable ranking Brees as a top-five fantasy QB.
As for Wilson, don’t expect him to become a gunslinger now that he has Graham to throw to. That’s not how the Seahawks operate, and given their results since Wilson became the starter, there’s no reason for them to change their ways. Also keep in mind that even though he didn’t throw a ton of passes, Wilson provides value with his legs, which is why he finished sixth in fantasy points this past season.
Guess who finished fifth? That’s right, Brees. And that’s exactly how I have them ranked at this point headed into 2015.