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Jimmy Graham is set to shatter Packers’ tight end receiving records this season

If health stays on his side, Jimmy Graham is poised to do things that the Green Bay Packers have never seen from a tight end over the course of a full season. After last week’s five-catch, 104-yard performance against the San Francisco 49ers — Graham’s first 100-yard game since 2016 — Graham has put himself on pace to shatter several Packers’ single-season receiving records at the position.

The fact is, he’s become more than just a red zone weapon in recent weeks, getting open up the seam and making things happen in the open field. After a 2017 that saw Graham average a brutal 9.1 yards per reception, that average is up to 12.9 this season, which is actually a bit above his career average of 12.3.

All told, Graham has caught 27 passes on 45 targets, picking up 349 yards and scoring one touchdown. The scores should come — the Packers’ offense has been uncharacteristically poor in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns — but the other numbers are impressive.

It’s all the more impressive considering the fact that Graham was essentially taken out of the game in week one by the Chicago Bears, finishing that game with just two catches and eight yards. In the last five games, Graham has seen no fewer than six targets, and he has at least five catches in four of those contests. With games of 95, 76, and 104 yards in that stretch, the big plays are showing up, with the Packers doing what the Seahawks would or could not a year ago: getting him the ball in space with room to run.

All told, Graham’s numbers through six games have him on pace for these stats over a full 16-game season:

  • 120 targets
  • 72 receptions
  • 931 yards
  • 3 touchdowns

Those first three numbers would shatter previous highs from Packer tight ends. Only once in Packers history has a tight end even caught 60 passes in a single season: Jermichael Finley’s 61-catch season in 2012. Finley also set the team record in targets in 2011 with 92. Meanwhile, Paul Coffman’s 1983 season is the high-water mark for receiving yardage by a tight end, as he put up 814 yards on 54 receptions. (Finley comes in second for his 2011 season with 767.)

This all comes as questions about Graham’s athleticism are swirling. It does look on film like he has lost a bit off his top-end speed — he certainly wouldn’t run a 40-yard dash in the 4.53-second time he posted at the 2010 NFL Combine. Still, he remains a huge target for Rodgers with his 6-foot-6 frame, and he is still plenty athletic to be a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties. And let’s face it: it’s not like Richard Rodgers was a burner.

And for those curious: Graham is out-pacing former Packer Jordy Nelson in targets, receptions, and receiving yards so far in 2018.

Those touchdowns should come as Rodgers’ mobility improves with further recovery from his knee injury. But it’s the between-the-20s work that is most encouraging to see from Graham this season, and he could threaten to be the Packers’ first 1,000-yard tight end.

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