The Seahawks’ trade for Jimmy Graham in 2015 was met with a lot of raised eyebrows and just about everyone critiqued Graham’s every move in the offense last season.
When he suffered a torn patellar tendon against Pittsburgh in Week 11, the critics of the deal said, “I told you so.”
They said it again as the offense took off without Graham, setting team records behind Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin.
So, as Graham came back from the injury this year, the big questions were: (1) Would he be able to return to his old self, (2) would he and Wilson find the rhythm they had just discovered when he was hurt and (3) how would his return affect Baldwin?
The wins over the Niners and Jets provided answers to all of those queries.
Granted, it is a small sample size, but Graham’s knee has appeared to hold up just fine – despite plenty of big hits – in the first four games. He has surpassed 100 yards in each of the past two games, showing all of his former Pro Bowl form.
As Pete Carroll said last week, “As hard as it was and as many dark days as he had, he never gave up on the thought that he knew he could get back and be back here and play at a really high level.”
The Hawks are good at bringing people back from injuries, and it looks like they got it right with Graham.
“It’s really important for us to understand the individuals, and that’s why all of this is so important to get to know these guys so you can figure out what they need and what they don’t need and how to keep them from putting themselves in harm’s way,” Carroll said.
“I’m doing this like these guys are my own kids. What would you tell your own son? And how would you look after them so that they’re safe for the long haul? … We’re here for the long haul and we know that by caring so much for the people here in the program, we’ll help them find their best and they’ll find their ways to do the extraordinary things that some of the people can do.”
Graham has certainly rediscovered his best, going over 100 yards in the wins against the 49ers and Jets, showing the skill that made him a Pro Bowl player in New Orleans and had him on pace for the best season by a Seahawks tight end last season.
Against the 49ers, Graham caught six of nine targets for 100 yards and a touchdown. Against the Jets, he caught six of eight for 113 yards. Overall, he has caught 16 of 22 for 266 yards and a score, putting him on pace for 64 catches, 1,064 yards and four TDs. But, based on his performance the past two weeks, you can expect a bigger season than that.
Last year, before getting hurt, he caught 48 of 73 passes for 605 yards and two scores. His best games were against Chicago, when he caught seven of eight for 83 yards and a TD, and against Carolina, eight of 12 for 140 yards.
As disappointing as those results were to some, Graham still finished his 11-game season with the third-most catches by a tight end in team history and the second-most yards. This year, he is on pace to blow away John Carlson’s 2008 records (55 catches, 627 yards).
Despite the time off the field due to the injury rehab, Graham has managed to get in sync with Wilson, who really has learned just to toss it up to the 6-foot-7 receiver.
“Jimmy Graham is a bad, bad man,” Wilson said. “He can do anything. He can make any play, any catch. He’s a special player.”
Carroll said Wilson and Graham needed a little time to get to this point.
“It isn’t just an automatic thing,” he said. “Last year we were just working and just trying to fit things together and all. We could see the potential but never really felt the connection like it is now. It’s obvious now. It wasn’t any fault of anybody’s; it just takes time.”
“It’s fantastic, the accomplishment that this is for Jimmy to have made it back and to look so good and so close to his ability level that I think we’re think ready to go. It really could help our team in general.”
A lot of people wondered if Graham’s return would marginalize Baldwin. Those concerns certainly were quelled vs. the 49ers, as both players hit 100 receiving yards in the first half and Baldwin ended up with a career-high 164 yards. Against the Jets, Baldwin was second on the team with four catches for 54 yards.
Baldwin is happy to see Graham back.
“We have opportunities where if they want to focus on me, then they’re going to leave Jimmy wide open or Jermaine (Kearse) wide open,” Baldwin said. “And if they focus on them, we have other options. It’s great for our offense because now we have so many weapons that they have to account for.”
After the win over the Niners, Carroll said, “Nothing is going to change. We’re not just going to turn the whole offense and throw to the tight end all the time. That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re just going to play offense and do what we want to do. It’ll just fit better now.”