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Jimmy Graham will make the Packers even tougher to defend in the red zone

Tight end Jimmy Graham (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The Green Bay Packers broke with their traditional conservative approach to free agency by agreeing a deal with one the biggest names on the market, Jimmy Graham. The Pro Bowl tight end was believed to be interested in a reunion with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, but instead will join Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

Graham’s combination of size and athleticism made him one of the premier receiving tight ends in the league during his eight years in the NFL. He’s a quarterback’s dream at tight end because he uses those traits to give the quarterback a big catch radius.

Here, Graham splits a few yards outside the right tackle and runs up the seam.

As Graham releases, the Giants drop a linebacker into coverage, who trails Graham up the seam on his inside hip. While the linebacker takes away the inside lane, quarterback Russell Wilson throws to Graham’s outside shoulder, trusting that Graham could make the adjustment. Graham does just that, adjusting his body to make the catch for a 20-yard gain.

The Seahawks struggled to use Graham correctly for most of his time in Seattle. But toward the end of the 2017 season, the Seahawks were utilizing him more while in the red zone.

This time, Graham motions left to the slot. From there, he runs a fade against Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The Seahawks run a pick play designed to create traffic for Jenkins as Graham runs his fade toward the end zone pylon. While Jenkins initially hesitates as the outside receiver approaches, he recovers well to get himself in position to contest the catch. However, the ball was again thrown to Graham’s back shoulder, and he makes a great adjustment in the air to pull in the catch in front of Jenkins for a touchdown.

The combination of Graham and Rodgers could be lethal in the red zone. Rodgers is one of the most accurate passers in the NFL, with the ability to fit the ball in the tightest of windows while throwing with incredible anticipation, while Graham is one of the best red-zone threats in the league.

Rodgers shows good patience on this play, allowing the route time to develop before throwing a great pass with great trajectory to drop over the shoulder of his receiver. It’s a perfect fade that results in a touchdown for the Packers.

With Graham, the Packers can isolate him on one side of the field and try to force a linebacker or safety to cover him on fade routes in the red zone. With Rodgers’s accuracy and Graham’s ability to go up and get it, the Packers will be tough to defend in the red zone.

After signing Graham, Green Bay opted to cut wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who used to be the team’s top vertical threat before suffering various injuries. While Devante Adams will be largely responsible for replacing Nelson in the offense, Graham can take over plenty of the passes that went to Nelson. The Packers’ offense relies on the receivers to win one-on-one or Rodgers’s ability to throw them open with back-shoulder throws. That fits Graham’s style of play perfectly. They can move Graham around to isolate him against certain defenders, knowing that he has the ability to win the majority of his one-on-ones or at the very least, has the ability to go up and get the ball over just about any defender. So while Graham is technically a tight end, he’ll be able to cover much of what was lost by cutting Nelson.

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