Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2017 season. Today, we continue the Top 10 list by focusing on tight end Jimmy Graham, a player Seahawks coach Pete Carroll described as "a big highlight for us" in offseason workouts. The list continues Friday with a look at one of the starting jobs that's up for grabs on defense.
By almost any measure, Jimmy Graham had a pretty impressive 2016 season. He caught 65 passes for 923 yards, both franchise bests for a Seahawks tight end, as well as six touchdowns, and as both head coach Pete Carroll and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable were quick to point out last season, Graham also improved significantly as a blocker. Graham, who earned Pro Bowl honors for the fourth time in his career and for the first time as a Seahawk, also posted a career-best yards-per-catch average of 14.2.
Those numbers are all impressive enough on their own, but when you factor in that Graham was coming back from a torn patellar tendon, an injury that has proven to be very challenging to come back from for other players, last year was an even more encouraging second season in Seattle for a player who established himself as one of the league's best tight ends while playing in New Orleans.
Graham arrived in Seattle in a 2015 trade that sent center Max Unger and a first-round pick to the Saints for Graham and a fourth-rounder, and given the price paid to acquire him, as well as his prolific pass-catching numbers in New Orleans, expectations were high. Then, just when it appeared he, Russell Wilson and the rest of the offense were starting to click, Graham went down with a very significant knee injury. Graham missed all of Seattle's offseason workouts and most of training camp last season, and while he made it back for Week 1, he was not all the way back to being the player he was before the injury.
This offseason, instead of dealing with a long, grueling rehab process, Graham has been able to continue to build his chemistry with Wilson, while also getting himself ready to head into camp in a much better place physically than he was at this time last year.
None of that guarantees a monstrous season for Graham, but it is easy to understand why Carroll has been so excited about what he has seen from Graham this offseason, calling it "a big highlight for us."
"It's really one of the beautiful things that's happening this offseason is that Jimmy has a chance to work out and get better," Carroll said in March at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Last year, he was just rehabbing. If you can imagine at this time last year, he was looking at that scar and wondering if he's ever going to be able to run again. He barely made it back to camp, then barely made it into the season, then had a marvelous season under all of those circumstances. Under any normal circumstances he had a marvelous season. In communicating with him, he feels great. He's thrilled about the chance to work out, he's going to be working Russell (Wilson) wherever they get together and do their thing; they're looking forward to that. They didn't have the chance to do that last year. He couldn't run; he couldn't work out. And the amazing thing is that he had such a good season under those circumstances, so we're really looking forward to what comes up, and I know he is too and everybody's pumped up about it."
If the offensive line takes the step forward that coaches and players are optimistic about happening (more on this next week), there are a lot of reasons to be very excited about Seattle's offense in 2017, and Graham is a big part of that. If a healthy Wilson, supported by what Carroll expects to be an improved running game, is throwing to an even better version of Graham, as well as another Pro Bowl pass-catcher in Doug Baldwin and the rest of Seattle's weapons, the Seahawks have a good chance at getting back to being one of the league's most explosive teams on offense.
Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham celebrates an 18-yard second-quarter touchdown catch from quarterback Russell Wilson against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.