Saints beat Dolphins to Graham in 2010

METAIRIE, La. -- It’s been well-chronicled that the Miami Dolphins missed out on quarterback Drew Brees when he was a free agent in 2006. The Dolphins might have wound up with tight end Jimmy Graham, too, if the New Orleans Saints hadn’t snagged him first in the 2010 NFL draft.

With Graham on another tear to start his fourth NFL season (23 catches for 358 yards and four touchdowns), Saints coach Sean Payton was asked Friday to think back to when the team took a chance on the converted basketball player with little college football experience. And Payton recalled the story of when his mentor Bill Parcells -- then an executive with the Dolphins -- called him “30 seconds after the selection” to applaud the pick.

The Saints took Graham late in the third round, and Parcells told Payton he was eyeing him in the fourth.

“I could tell that was someone he had targeted,” Payton said. “And that makes you feel good rather than him saying, you know, ‘What did you take him for?’”

To his credit, Payton didn’t try to claim that he knew something nobody else did about Graham three years ago. Payton was asked Friday if there’s ever any part of him that thinks back to the pick and says, “I knew it.”

“No, listen, that might happen occasionally. But it wouldn’t be the case with Jimmy -- to our scouts’ credit,” said Payton, who praised the scouts who spent time researching Graham for having a strong conviction on things like his work ethic and his desire to be a football player.

“There’s a part of you as a coach that’s skeptical at first, just because of the experience or maybe a lack of playing time,” said Payton. But he said all that faded away after the group meetings with scouts and coaches, to the point where the Saints ended up with a second- or third-round grade on Graham.

The Saints were even more confident that Graham would bounce back this year after a slightly-down year in 2012 (by Graham’s lofty standards, anyway). Graham battled a wrist injury all season and struggled with dropped passes (a league-high 14, according to ESPN Stats & Information). But after a postseason surgery, Graham came back and said he was "the hungriest I've ever been" to elevate his game.

After Payton returned from his suspension this offseason, he called Graham to let him know he holds him up to a high standard. But Payton said Graham didn’t need any extra prodding.

“He’s a tremendous worker. He really wants to please and it’s important to him -- along with the physical skill set and the ability. Those are all great combinations,” Payton said. “So there wasn’t any magical meeting or sit down. It was A, him getting healthy, and then getting ready for a good offseason and the work that he puts in, which is a credit to him. He goes really hard.”