As Daniel Graham returns to his hometown, he joins a team that could likely use the boost a tight end of his ilk could provide.
That’s because the Broncos, a team that once used the tight end like no other, are coming off a season in which they got fewer receptions, yards and first downs per game from tight end than at any time this decade.
(Before I go any further, I must note the discrepancy in tight-end receiving totals from the games Jake Plummer started last year versus the ones in which Jay Cutler took part. In Plummer’s 11 starts, Broncos tight ends collectively averaged 2.4 receptions, 22.7 yards, 0.1 touchdowns and 1.4 first downs a game. Cutler’s five starts saw those averages skyrocket to 3.4 receptions, 53.4 yards, 1.0 touchdowns and 3.0 first downs per week, numbers that compare favorably to the performance of Broncos tight ends in previous years, particularly between 2000 and 2003.)
But back to the decade-long numbers. Granted, Shannon Sharpe’s exploits are now four years in the past. But the Broncos’ utilization of tight ends went far beyond the man who amassed more yardage, receptions and touchdowns than anyone else at the position. In fact, it was during the two seasons when Sharpe played for the Baltimore Ravens that the Broncos had their best per-game numbers from the position — 6.4 receptions (2001), 70.3 yards (2000), 0.8 touchdowns (2001) and 3.6 first downs (2001).
Graham’s receiving numbers don’t put him among the league’s pace-setters at his position, but the Patriots shuffle tight ends in and out of the lineup the way most teams do defensive backs.
Nevertheless, since Graham entered the league in 2002, his 120 receptions rank 24th among tight ends. But his 1,393 yards place him 18th; his 17 touchdowns are 10th-best and his 11.6 yards per reception is sixth among tight ends with at least 100 receptions since 2000.
It’s too early to tell just what kinds of numbers Graham will amass in the Broncos’ offense — although his receiving totals at the University of Colorado seem to show that he is capable of some spectacular tallies when given the opportunity to catch the football. But Graham’s first charge in joining the Broncos is obvious — to help the tight ends as a collective return to the productivity they displayed four, five, six and seven years ago, years when the Broncos demonstrated how to make tight ends indispensable to an efficient offense.
By the numbers at tight end, this decade:
First Downs/Game: 3.5
First Downs/Game: 3.6
First Downs/Game: 2.8
First Downs/Game: 3.1
First Downs/Game: 2.6
First Downs/Game: 2.4
First Downs/Game: 1.7