New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is dealing with a partially torn plantar fascia and only played in 20 of the team’s 73 offensive plays in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Graham still caught three passes for 37 yards and collected two touchdown catches.
Graham didn’t start the game and he typically only entered on offense when the Saints got into the red zone or were in short-yardage situations. His limited playing time didn’t seem to slow down the Saints, however, who scored 35 points and tallied 386 yards of total offense and 21 first downs.
According to Dr. Dave Siebert, who just happens to moonlight as a medical analyst here at Bleacher Report, Graham’s foot injury isn’t likely going to heal as he continues to go through the rigors of playing each week in the NFL.
By playing through a plantar fascia tear, Graham will continue to stress an already-damaged and weakened area of tissue.
In other words, his body's healing process will probably struggle to keep up with the demands an NFL season places on his foot. The resulting risks include further damage or a complete tear.
"It's just how much pain can you endure?" Graham told Katherine Terrell of the Times-Picayune. "And you know, I'm pretty good at that."
It sounds as if Graham’s going to fight through the pain for as long as he can, possibly even the entirety of the remaining weeks of the season, according to Will Carroll of Bleacher Report.
The Saints are hoping they can keep Graham healthy enough to stay on the field and have this procedure done after the season.
What that means is Graham will likely take it easy in practice and only participate on a limited basis. He’ll probably either be a game-time or true questionable decision as New Orleans approaches its game each week.
On the field, Graham’s future participation each Sunday will look a lot like his Week 8 game against the Bills, limited but effective work. He’ll probably line up in the slot mostly and run simple routes that require little or no planting and cutting.
Graham lined up to the left in the slot for his first reception against the Bills.
He ran a simple flare route into the flat and caught the ball at the line of scrimmage and then turned up the field to gain yardage. Graham’s only real plant on the foot was after the reception to turn to run, and he did that without a defender close to him
Graham’s second reception was his first touchdown catch. He lined up in the slot to the left side in the red zone.
As you can see, Graham ran a post pattern and didn’t make a terribly hard cut on his foot to get by Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes. The impact at the 2-yard line and the push as Graham drove into the end zone probably hurt a bit, but the joy of scoring a touchdown was likely enough to endure that pain.
Graham’s third and final catch came in the third quarter in the red zone. He was lined up to the right in the slot.
Graham ran a six-yard button hook and turned toward the end zone for the remaining yardage. The cut on his hook wasn’t terribly hard on his foot; the worst of the play likely came when he turned to run for the end zone and then dove for the score.
With pain management and proper rest and snap-count limitations, Graham could keep up like this for a while, maybe even the rest of the season. He’s said he has a high tolerance for pain and head coach Sean Payton seems to have found ways to involve his tight end in the game plan and still wreak havoc on defenses, even if Graham doesn’t touch the ball as much.
The only issue will be if Graham’s partially torn plantar fascia completely tears. At that point the Saints might have to shut Graham down. Until then, a Jimmy Graham that plays just 27 percent of the time is still far superior to most tight ends in the business.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.