Sep 21, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Josh Hill (89) catches a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
After the signing of TE Tom Crabtree, question began to surround the status of New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham, who suffered a first-quarter shoulder injury during last Sunday’s win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Is it more serious than originally anticipated? Is he done for the season? Is the Black and Gold’s offense doomed?
Head coach Sean Payton finally came out and said that the sprained shoulder was not a big concern, making his Week 7 status against the Detroit Lions seem questionable, but not doubtful. However, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and NFL Network reported that the Saints’ All-Pro tight end is expected to miss 2-3 weeks, which is unfortunate, but not all that bad for New Orleans.
The absence of Graham may be a little bump in the road, but it is no Lakeview pothole for those of you who know what I’m talking about. Luckily for Drew Brees and company, Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill serve as excellent backups to Jimmy.
Watson, a former first-round pick by the New England Patriots out of the University of Georgia, should excel in a starting role with the Saints. At 33-years old, he runs on high-mileage fuel and is certainly no Jimmy Graham when it comes to play-making ability, but the ten-year veteran is still very reliable and consistent in the passing game, and one of the best backups in the league.
Josh Hill, who serves as the No. 3 tight end, agreed to terms with the Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft. He appeared in 14 games as a rookie last year with the three starts, totaling six catches for 44 yards and a score.
With a full season under his belt, opportunity knocked at training camp. Through five games this season, the former Idaho State Bengal has already caught 7 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With Graham now likely sidelined for a couple of games, Hill will have the chance to step into the spotlight for the Crescent City’s high-powered offense.
The 6-foot-5 monster of a pass catcher will serve as an excellent red-zone target for Brees. He’s got the hands, the versatility, the smarts and even possesses excellent play-making ability. His blocking could use a little work, which is why Watson should see more playing time, but Hill will certainly play a big role in the offense, especially over these next few weeks. Tom Crabtree may also see some limited time on the field, but his signing is likely for insurance purposes.
Losing Jimmy also opens up the opportunity for some of the other wide receivers who have yet to make an impact this season. For me, Joe Morgan comes to mind. With a career average of 37.9 yards per catch, the Saints have failed to utilize him in 2014, but the team has also failed to display the deep passing attack that they’re so notorious for.
Against one of the top run defenses in the league, the Black and Gold may have to figure out how to get the deep ball going when they travel to the Motor City on Sunday to take on the Detroit Lions. With Graham out, could the speed of Morgan, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks finally be on the field all at once? Something like that could be quite dangerous for opposing defenses.
RB Mark Ingram said that he plans on making his return in Motown after suffering a broken hand against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2. While he will likely be eased back into action, Marky Mark can still add a spark to the offense, while Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas continue to run the ball well.
The injury to Jimmy is unfortunate, but it is not discouraging. Just remember — New Orleans won a Super Bowl without him. If anything, it’s the turnovers and lack of time on the field that is hurting an offense that still ranks No. 2 in the NFL just behind the Indianapolis Colts.
Number 80 will be missed, but he is not needed in order for the Saints to get back to playing their brand of football. Jimmy Graham or no Jimmy Graham — it’s time to get that first road win on Sunday.