Midseason Report Card for Jimmy Graham and the Seahawks Tight Ends

With the Seahawks off this week on bye and the club's regular season at the halfway point, it is a logical time for midseason grades.

Each position is assigned a classic "A-F" grade as is each individual player. A's are rewarded for exemplary Pro Bowl-caliber play. B's are given for very good to good play - better than the league average. C's are given for average play and D's for significantly below average play. Failing grades are reserved for players who, frankly, shouldn't be on the roster.  

The quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks were graded earlier. Next up is Jimmy Graham and the Seahawks' tight ends. 

Tight Ends: Given the injuries suffered to young standouts Paul Richardson and Jeremy Lane in the post-season and the looming losses of key personnel in free agency, some theorized that the Seahawks' window of opportunity to reach another Super Bowl was already closing - until, that is, John Schneider pulled off the aggressive trade for Graham, formerly the New Orleans Saints' All-Pro tight end. Seahawks fans were thrilled and even scouts from rival teams I spoke to on the road while covering the 2015 NFL draft were left dazzled by Seattle's relentless and creativity. Seahawks fans could only dream of a big-bodied target like Graham, imagining the type of production in Seattle that he he'd enjoyed in New Orleans - like his magical 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns receptions - performance in 2013. 

After some terrific days of practice in training camp, the expectations for Graham seemed to grow larger by the day, which is why the reality of his acclimating into an offense that had traditionally featured tight ends mostly blocking and only occasionally serving as complementary receiving threats caught so many by surprise. 

With each passing week, the Seahawks grow more comfortable with how best to use the freakishly athletic 6-7, 265 pound Graham.  He's been increasingly split out wide as a massive wide receiver rather than pinned inline as a traditional blocker, where he's mostly struggled. Lining Graham up outside has forced opponents to be more intentional when double-teaming him, making it an easier read for Russell Wilson and potentially clearing up more room up the middle for Seattle's running backs, receivers and "other" tight ends to exploit. When Graham is given single coverage outside, he's an obvious mismatch that Wilson is still learning to exploit. His numbers this season (38 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns) are way down but some of that is due to simple lack of opportunity. Graham saw nearly three times as many targets throughout much of his time in New Orleans.  

In terms of size and athleticism, Graham has been as expected. He is quick off the ball, accelerates smoothly and has the body control and hand-eye coordination to contort in space to make the difficult reception look easy - all traits that helped him become an NFL superstar with Drew Brees and New Orleans. 

While Graham is remarkably gifted, he's not particularly physical. He's struggled getting free from aggressive defenders, is too easily brought down by arm tackles after the catch and provides little in the running game. Graham is competitive and strong and has improved in this area this season but his inability to seal the edge has played a role in Seattle's outside run game falling off a bit this year.

Graham has been effective this season but to this point, it would be hard to characterize his addition as a rousing success. His grade is boosted by the promise of upside in the second half, as he's become an increasingly critical part of Seattle's offense in recent weeks.  

Though he rarely gets mentioned on a national scale, Luke Willson has been very effective when given the opportunity. Like Graham, Willson is more of a big wide receiver than a traditional in-line blocker. He, too, offers rare straight-line speed for a player of his size, clocking in at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 6-5, 251 pounds during his pre-draft Pro Day March 18, 2013. He's faster than quick, showing less than ideal agility and balance to run double-moves. 

The former hockey player has some grit to him in the running game but is at his best running posts down the seam, like the touchdown he caught last week to start Seattle's scoring against the Dallas. He has developed into a more reliable pass-catcher, though he will still drop the occasional pass with defenders closing in.  He's done well this season as a key complementary threat and the Seahawks would be wise to continue incorporating him into their attack.  

Cooper Helfet lacks his teammates' remarkable traits and at 6-3, 239 pounds serves more as a "move" tight end or even H-back in Seattle's scheme. He doesn't have a catch yet this season. He is a reliable route-runner and may be pound-for-pound Seattle's most aggressive blocker among the tight ends. He also possesses soft hands. 

Will Tukuafu is primarily a fullback and was graded there but he does occasionally line up at tight end, giving Seattle a blocking specialist on the edge, when necessary.    

Jimmy Graham Grade:  B-

Luke Willson Grade:  C+

Cooper Helfet Grade: C

Overall Position Grade: B- 

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