Seahawks don’t need to replace Jimmy Graham’s targets in new offense

The Seahawks featured Jimmy Graham in the past three seasons, and replaced him with blocking tight ends. They really don’t need to replace his targets.

Jimmy Graham was targeted a lot in the Seahawks offense. When you trade the linchpin of your offensive line and a first round pick for the guy, you better use him. Seattle got a fourth round pick back along with Graham, but it was still a lot to give up.

We all know how it worked out. Overall, Graham played well, but never matched his numbers with the Saints. He was never going too, either, as it took a ridiculous number of targets to get his catches. After his rookie season, Graham averaged 140 targets per season. In the three previous seasons the Seahawks averaged 415 targets per season. Zach Miller averaged 55 targets over 2012 – 2013, while Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet combined for 64 in 2014. There was no way the Seahawks, a running team, were going to throw the ball 80 more times to accommodate one player, no matter how great he was.

In fact, Seattle threw just 31 more passes in 2015. Graham’s targets dropped from an average of nearly nine per game down to  a bit under seven. From 8.75 to 6.73, for all you fans of precision. Or about two targets per game, for all of us regular people. The drop in targets hardly explains Graham’s spectacular failure to pile up the points with the Seahawks.

In his first season in Seattle, he managed exactly as many touchdowns as Cooper Helfet had in 2014. Yes, the former backup tight end with four career starts scored twice in 2014, the same as Graham did in 2015. The Seahawks didn’t solve the Jimmy Graham red zone problem until last season, when he found the end zone ten times. Unfortunately, he didn’t find the ball as often has he should have, as his catch rate dropped under 60 percent for the first time in his career.

Do the Seahawks really need to replace all those targets?

Graham was never going to have the stats he did in New Orleans, as the offenses of the Seahawks and the Saints are so different. Even at what should have been reduced expectations, it’s hard to say that Graham delivered on his potential. In fact, he fell far short. So the bar to replace Graham’s performance isn’t as high as his reputation would lead you to think.

Ed Dickson is the most likely player to start at tight end in 2018. Known primarily for his blocking skills, the man can catch a football when necessary. In his second year in the league, he caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns with the Ravens. Last year he was pressed into the primary receiving tight end role for the Panthers as Greg Olsen battled injuries. Dickson responded with 30 catches for 437 yards. Unfortunately, he only took one of those to the house. But if the Seahawks get some combination of Dickson’s two years when he was actually targeted, they’ll be well on their way to replacing Graham’s production.

Add in Nick Vannett, an outstanding career 15 of 19 on his targets, and rookie Will Dissly, who caught 21 catches for two touchdowns as a senior, and you could easily recreate Jimmy Graham’s lost production. Here’s the thing, though. They don’t need to have all those receptions.

DJ Fluker of the Seahawks

SAN DIEGO, CA – AUGUST 19: Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker #76 of the San Diego Chargers lines up against the Arizona Cardinals. The Chargers won 19-3. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

No, it’s all about the running game now

The Seahawks have clearly committed to re-establishing the running game. Their two new tight ends are known for their blocking skills more than their hands. They drafted a running back in the first round. Well, not just “a” running back; Rashaad Penny was the NCAA rushing leader, and looks like he could be a beast.

They signed road grader guard D.J. Fluker. Or is he a bulldozer? Hmmm… Anyway, right now there are four fullbacks in rookie camp. My money is on undrafted free agent Khalid Hill making the team. Whether it’s Hill or not, everything points to more running plays this year.

It’s clear Pete Carroll means to get the running game back. From the coaching changes to the draft and through the free agent pickups, it all points to getting back to smashmouth football. Russell Wilson doesn’t need to throw the ball 550 times for Seattle to win.

The Seahawks don’t need to replace Jimmy Graham’s numbers. They need to win, and that starts with the punishing ground game they’re developing now.