If you’re an NFL team with a good tight end, and you’re watching film on the 2012 Denver Broncos, you may think the possibilities are endless. In four of the Broncos’ first six games, opposing tight ends have had at least one touchdown catch.
Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers had 4 catches for 50 yards and a score. The Atlanta Falcons‘ Tony Gonzalez had 7 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown in week two. Owen Daniels of the Houston Texnas had only 3 catches for 26 yards, but he also got into the end zone. Finally, we all remember what Antonio Gates did in week six when he had 6 catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
This week, the Broncos face big tight end Jimmy Graham.
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” Drew Brees said. “For a guy who’s 6’6,” 270 (pounds), tell me who wants to cover that guy, especially the fact that he can run like a deer. He’s just a playmaker. You watch his development over the last year and a half, and he’s still a very young player, but just continues to get better and better, and (he’s) definitely a big part of what we do.”
Graham is averaging 50.4 receiving yards per game, and has 3 touchdown receptions on the year. Of his 25 receptions through five games, 17 of them have gone for first downs.
“Certainly Jimmy Graham is one of those guys that can cause matchup problems for you,” Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “If in fact he’s healthy and playing well, he’ll need some attention.”
Graham sat out a few weeks with an ankle injury, but he returned to practice Wednesday and did individual work, running routes and catching passes. Thursday’s practice saw much of the same from Graham.
If there’s anyone that can step away from the sport and come back with a vengeance, it’s Graham. He played basketball for all four years of college at the University of Miami, and then played one year of football while he was taking graduate classes.
“I think it’s pretty impressive that the guy can go (from) not playing football for four years, and playing very sparingly in his fifth year at Miami, and then developing so quickly,” Brees said.
Last year, in just his second NFL season, Graham became the first Saints’ tight end to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in one season. He had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns that year.
“He has this fire that burns within him that’s much more mental than it is physical,” Brees said of his teammate. “He’s never satisfied with where he’s at.”
If Graham plays, the Broncos have a big task ahead since Drew Brees can find anyone on the field at almost any time, especially a big tight-end like Graham.
The Broncos will have to play Graham like they played Rob Gronkowski who was limited to 4 catches for 35 yards. They were physical with him off the line and used a linebacker and safety in the double team coverage effort.
Brees and the Saints’ receivers will get their big plays in. It’s more about limiting yards after the catch, and keeping them out of the end zone.