NFL

Former All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham Is Quietly Reviving His Career in Chicago

Jimmy Graham is quickly giving the Chicago Bears a solid return on their investment.

There appeared to be mass confusion in the media and among Bears fans in March, when the team signed Graham — a former All-Pro tight end — to a multi-year contract. Graham looked old and slow in his two years with the Packers, nothing like the dangerous weapon he was with the New Orleans Saints in the early 2010s.

Good news for Graham and the Chicago Bears, then. Chicago took a risk and, with Graham showing flashes of his old form, the decision is paying off.

Jimmy Graham was a star tight end in his prime

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A former basketball player at the University of Miami, Graham pursued a football career and joined the New Orleans Saints as a fourth-round pick in 2010. 

Graham showed enough in 2010 (31 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games) that the Saints made him a focal point of the offense in 2011. That decision paid off for Drew Brees and friends.

From 2011-14, Graham turned 355 catches into 4,396 yards and 46 touchdowns; that amounted to averages of 89 receptions, 1,099 yards, and 12 touchdowns per season. 

Graham made three Pro Bowls in New Orleans and earned first-team All-Pro honors after the 2013 season. New Orleans traded Graham to Seattle in 2015, though, in a career-altering move.

Graham made two Pro Bowls in three seasons with the Seahawks but never truly looked like the game-changing weapon he was in New Orleans. After the Seattle stint, Graham caught five touchdowns over two disappointing seasons with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Graham has been a touchdown machine in Chicago

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Considering how bad Jimmy Graham looked in Green Bay, it was easy to wonder what the Bears thought when they signed Graham to a two-year contract worth $16 million in March. 

Graham also received $9 million guaranteed and a no-trade clause. It has only been five games into Graham’s career with the Bears, but the early results are better than expected. 

Graham turned 17 catches into 169 yards and four touchdowns for the Bears, who sit at 4-1 and are primed for an unexpected playoff run. 

Graham’s most recent touchdown was one of beauty. The veteran tight end used his size to snag a one-handed touchdown catch from Nick Foles in a 20-19 upset victory over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

Graham’s four touchdowns are tied for third in the league. Buccaneers star Mike Evans has six receiving touchdowns and Packers tight end Robert Tonyan has five lot touchdowns, as of Oct. 9, 2020.

Jimmy Graham is quietly reviving his career in Chicago

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If the Jimmy Graham that showed up in the Bears’ first five games is who they have for the rest of the year, Chicago should feel good about their chances.

At this stage in his career, Graham isn’t going to stretch the field the way he did in New Orleans. Graham only topped 33 yards once this year — a six-catch, 60-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Falcons in Week 3 — and has played less than 80% of the Bears’ offensive snaps in four straight weeks.

But if Graham’s role is the dangerous red-zone weapon who will give a team three to five catches per game and score a touchdown, that is an ideal position for someone who clocks in at 6 feet 7 inches and 265 pounds.

Chicago travels to Carolina in Week 6 and the Rams in Week 7. Graham faces his old Saints team on Nov. 1, his first game against them since 2016. Graham caught three passes for 34 yards that game, a 25-20 Saints victory in New Orleans.

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