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Is Jimmy Graham Worth A First-Round Pick?

by Donald Gibson
Jul 14, 2014 2:37 PM EDT

Jimmy Graham, the Saints tight end (or giant wide receiver or some weird hybrid position), was extremely valuable to the Saints and a billion fantasy teams in 2013. Graham finished as the top tight end by a mile with 211 standard league points/297 PPR league points. The closest to him in standard leagues was Vernon Davis with 156 points (a 55 point difference) and the closest in PPR leagues was Tony Gonzalez with 212 (an 85 point difference). Needless to say, Graham was the best tight end in 2013 and the unanimous number one tight end for 2014. Most preseason rankings have him between number seven and number twelve overall. Is he, however, worthy of a first-round pick?            

The reason Graham is so valuable is that he is a tight end: a position that isn't very deep and generally doesn't contribute as much as a quarterback, running back, or receiver. Graham would have finished as the fourth ranked wideout in standard and the sixth ranked wideout in PPR. I ran an analysis of the top 15 tight ends (PPR scoring) to determine how valuable Graham truly was compared to his peers.

Quick statistics lesson: I used Z-scores to determine players' value. A Z-score is when you take the score in question and subtract the average score for some group (here, the top 15 tight ends of 2013) and divide that score by the standard deviation (a complex statistic that tells you how spread out a certain data set is) Basically, Z-scores tell you how many standard deviations (how far) your data point is from the average.

I have a feeling most people skipped that paragraph. Anyway, the average score (PPR, remember) for the top 15 tight ends was 181.1 and the standard deviation was 44.7. The Z-score for Jimmy Graham was 2.59, which means he was 2.59 standard deviations above the average. Go ahead, check my math if you want! The closest tight end to him was Tony Gonzalez whose Z-score was 0.69. That makes Jimmy Graham extremely valuable as his score is almost two full standard deviations higher than the number two tight end. Compared to the average of the top 15 tight ends, Jimmy Graham was disgustingly better.

I know, I know. "I don't care about 2013. I went 0-16 in fantasy, and I don't want to think about it anymore. Let's look to 2014." Okay, fine. No need to be rude. The Saints lost Lance Moore, but brought in rookie wideout Brandin Cooks. Sproles is gone also, which opens up a lot of receptions that could go Graham's way. But, again, is he worth a first-round pick?

I'm going to say no. Graham is great and no doubt the number one tight end on the board, but listen to this. Defenses figured out the Saints passing attack last year, specifically its emphasis on Graham. In the Saints' first eight games last year, Graham had (PPR scoring) 180 points which is good for a little more than 22.5 per game. Pretty amazing. The final eight? Only 117 points, or a little over 14.5 per game. Solid, but not first round worthy. I saw a lot of games where Graham faced bracket coverage and simply got double-teamed all game. Granted, he's pretty unstoppable, but defenses clearly figured him out to an extent. I just don't have first-round confidence in Graham and his ability to consistently produce based on defensive schemes and all the mouths to feed in the Saints' offense. I'm sure Graham will pay dividends to any fantasy owners that draft him, but I just don't think taking a tight end and leaving a top-flight running back on the board is a wise move in a draft where running backs aren't very deep.

Don't overreact. I don't think Graham should go in the first, but he shouldn't stay on the board much longer than that. I think he should go between 12 and 16 overall, so early - middle second round. Running backs are front-loaded, so Graham owners should take a running back either immediately before or immediately after selecting Graham (depending on when you take him). Personally, I'd rather worry about running backs and wide receivers early and try to grab a Thomas, Gronk, Davis, Cameron, or Olsen later in the draft. Thanks for reading, and let me know your opinions!