A look at the New Orleans Saints' tight ends through the first six weeks of the 2013 season:
Looking back: Jimmy Graham was sensational over the first five weeks, doing things no tight end had ever done in NFL history (including winning the NFC Offensive Player of the Month honor). Graham caught 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns. And even after being held without a catch in Week 6 at New England, he’s still leading the NFL in receiving yards.
That New England game was rough, though. Not only did the Patriots find a way to shut Graham down defensively with physical cornerbacks and double teams, but Graham also left early with a foot injury. Early indications were optimistic that Graham won’t miss much time, if any. But obviously a foot injury is a huge concern for an athlete like him.
Veteran backup Benjamin Watson has been used more as a blocker than a receiver so far -- though the Saints did go to him a few times at New England while the defense was so focused on Graham. Undrafted rookie tight end Josh Hill seems to be doing a decent job as a backup blocker and special teamer.
Looking forward: The Saints could probably survive in the short term if Graham needs a few weeks to get back to 100 percent. Their offense is deep enough to go to other options -- especially if they get receiver Lance Moore back soon from a hand injury. And Watson is no slouch. However, a long-term injury would put a serious dent in their offense.
The Saints simply aren’t as special without Graham in the kind of “beast mode” he was in for the first five weeks (and throughout 2011). Last year, Graham wasn’t quite as dominant while dealing with a wrist injury all season. They’re hoping this new injury won’t bring him back down to earth in a similar fashion.
Snaps played (out of a possible 415): Graham 309, Watson 188, Hill 13.
ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “Everything about Jimmy Graham impresses me. I think he might be the most difficult guy to cover in the league. ...You saw flashes from Watson (at New England). Obviously (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick didn’t game plan against Watson. He was able to make plays against linebackers. He’s still that guy that if you put a poor coverage player on him, he can hurt you. But you don’t want him being a featured player.”