New Orleans Saints: Jimmy Graham Is the Team's Emerging Superstar in 2011-12

Michael KirklandContributor IJuly 21, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Barrett Ruud #51 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans Saints' sophomore tight end, is poised for a breakout season in 2011-12, and Drew Brees and company will rely heavily on the young star.

The Saints’ confidence in the talented young tight end allowed them to part ways with the aging veteran Jeremy Shockey, who helped the Saints earn their first Super Bowl title in 2010.

When the Saints drafted Graham in the third round out of the University of Miami, coach Sean Payton recognized the enormous upside of the 6’6", 263-pound tight end but also understood that Graham was a work in progress due to his lack of experience. 

Graham only played one year of competitive football when the Saints drafted him, but Payton referred to Graham as, “someone that is a sharp study.”

Graham is projected to be among the top 10 tight ends this season, which puts him in the company of Dallas’s Jason Witten and San Diego’s Antonio Gates, who both had breakout seasons during the second year of their NFL careers.  Graham has the size of Witten, and during Gates’ second season with the Chargers, Drew Brees completed 81 passes to the then-emerging superstar.

Graham scored five touchdowns last season, and Brees will not have Shockey to target this year; so Graham will have plenty of opportunities to find the end zone with the Saints’ high powered offense.  Graham also had 31 receptions last season, but he did not receive significant playing time until Week 11.

Having already received the starting nod from Payton, Graham will be one of the NFL’s elite tight ends by the end of the 2011-2012 season and will help give the Saints a good chance of making another playoff run.