NFL: New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham a Trend-Setter for Receiving Tight Ends

Eli NachmanyCorrespondent IIINovember 28, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates his touchdown with  Jimmy Graham #80 against the New York Giants at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 28, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Monday night, the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints got together on Bourbon Street for a game with serious playoff implications.

In these games, a team typically goes to its best weapons.

During the game, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was shown in a cutaway scene talking to coach Sean Payton about offensive strategy.

Payton went through a few basic red-zone route combinations, ending every different play's explanation with basically the same words.

"If nothing's open, look for [Jimmy] Graham."

As Tony Gonzalez and (at some point soon) Antonio Gates make their way out, a new wave of even stronger, bigger and faster receiving tight ends is making its way into the NFL.

Both sides had a player of that caliber tonight, with the Saints sending out Graham and the Giants trotting out equally big and deceptively fast (despite his 5.0 40-yard dash) Jake Ballard.

In New England, big tight end Rob Gronkowski is doing similarly good things. Gronkowski has excellent numbers on the year, catching 60 balls for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns.

New Orleans, though, is where this new NFL wave is truly beginning.

Counting his big night Monday night, Graham has tucked away 67 receptions for 957 yards and eight touchdowns. He's not quite got the touchdown numbers, but he's a field -stretching tight end who is a true nightmare for defenders.

If a defensive coordinator was to put a linebacker on him, he can run a double-move seam past the player. If that defensive coordinator put a secondary player on him, he can use his 6'6" frame to box the smaller defender out.

Sean Payton is quite the mastermind when it comes to building an offense, and Graham is going to be the centerpiece of one of the NFL's best (if not the best right now) offenses for years to come.

To harp on a preceding point, Payton has built in a safety valve for Brees, something the prolific quarterback hasn't had yet. Such should explain why No. 9 is on pace to break the all-time single-season yards record in Graham's sophomore season.

Graham has shown NFL teams that it's necessary to have a top-level tight end in order to run the popular NFL version of the spread offense.

The Giants' Jake Ballard has provided a reliable target for Giant quarterback Eli Manning, further perpetuating the necessity of the big, bear-like tight end.

Gronkowski, Graham and Ballard are just three more tight ends in another generation of 6'6", 250-plus lb. receivers with their hands in the dirt.

Watch out for these and other such players, for they just may be the most dangerous offensive weapon on their team.