The Fantasy Face-Off series has been pitting two similarly priced players against each other. This battle is a different debate as these two tight ends are almost 40 spots apart in Best Ball ADP. Drafters will have to decide if 2017 will be another productive Jimmy Graham fantasy season, requiring a mid-round pick, or if they should wait to grab Eric Ebron with a late round selection.
Welcome back to the top tier, Jimmy
Seeing significantly less volume than the other top fantasy TEs, Graham finished as 2016’s TE4. His season was propelled by a career best, and league-leading,1 14.2 yards per reception.
His end of year stats and per game averages are a bit skewed by a Week 1 performance in which he only played in 21 percent of the snaps. If you remove this outlier, Graham fits nicely with the top tier of TEs.
Brace Yourselves, Touchdowns Are Coming
What has me most excited about Graham’s 2017 is his upside. Before coming to Seattle, he had a TD rate of 8.6 percent, but over the last two seasons, it’s fallen to 4.7. Part of this is because of what happens when Seattle gets inside the 20, and most importantly, the 10-yard lines.
While Graham received 20 targets in the red zone last year, third most by TEs, just three of those came inside the 10. Those three targets represent a 10 percent target share. For whatever reason, the five-inch-shorter, fifty-pound-lighter Jermaine Kearse out-targeted him 10-3 inside the 10.2 For crying out loud, he saw the same amount of looks inside the 10 as 175-pound, owner of 36 targets on the entire year, Paul Richardson. Hello! Graham’s 6-foot-6, 260 pounds! Just throw it up to him!
While it seems obvious Graham should get an increase in volume, drafters can also hang their hat on Graham seeing some regression when it comes to efficiency in the end zone. Josh Hermsmeyer’s Air Yards gives us this stunning visual of how inefficient Graham has been on end zone targets since being traded from New Orleans (top) to Seattle (bottom).
Playing around with the features in the Screener App, we can see just how much Graham has underperformed in the red zone.
Graham nearly posted a 200-point season with almost no production in the red zone Any increase in these targets and/or efficiency, and he could erupt in 2017.
The Dagger – QB Regression
What could make this all come together for Graham is a bounce back season for Russell Wilson. His 6.1 percent touchdown rate through his first four seasons is third best in the modern era; that rate dropped to 3.8 in 2016. This led to a career low AYA and QB rating. We can again look to the red zone to explain these struggles.
Last season is the clear outlier on his red zone resume. If elite Russell Wilson returns, Graham’s fantasy production could soar.
The Case against Eric Ebron
For starters, Ebron has never proven that he can be a consistent touchdown producer. Over the last six years, three in college and three with Detroit, Ebron has a combined 15 touchdowns. Graham once scored 16 in a season!
There is a ton of uncertainty with the Detroit passing game this year. Detroit has made it a point to funnel a great deal of their targets to the running backs. Then you have a volume-dependent wide receiver, to go along with an air yards market share dominator, and a touchdown scoring third-round rookie WR. It’s more than a little presumptuous to give Ebron a significant portion of Anquan Boldin’s vacated targets, and that’s even if he doesn’t come back. Ebron was at a 17 percent target share last year, how much more can that grow?
In 2015, Ebron’s aDOT3 was only 5.7 yards, while last year it rose to 8.0. Interestingly enough, Boldin’s aDOT was also 5.7 last year. If that is a defined role that Ebron goes back into, he may miss his expected yardage totals.
Coming off a TE4 finish, there are still plenty of positives going forward for Graham. Locked in with a solid floor, there’s optimism for more volume down by the goal line that could easily get Graham back into double-digit TDs again. Sprinkle in some improved efficiency for him and Wilson, and Graham could have a monster season. On the other hand, there remain a lot of questions for Ebron.