Jimmy Graham to Seattle: Why the Seahawks Needed the Monster Tight End

In a move that shocked the football world, Seattle went out and traded for Jimmy Graham. How will the move impact the Seahawks?

Hey, remember that big debate about how the Seahawks should have used Marshawn Lynch on the one-yard line at the end of Super Bowl XLIX rather than opting to throw the ball to Ricardo Lockette? I bet if Russell Wilson had targeted Jimmy Graham, there would be no controversy.

Jimmy Graham, though, wasn't on the Seahawks last year. During this upcoming NFL season, he will be.

Jay Glazer broke the Internet this afternoon, tweeting that the Saints would be sending Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to the Saints for Max Unger and a first-round choice.

What will this mean for the Seahawks' passing game?

A Shift to Graham

Here at numberFire, we're not all that concerned with traditional yardage and touchdown statistics. Instead, we analyze football through our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which shows how well a player performs above and below expectation. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

Because passing and receiving are more efficient than rushing, wideouts and quarterbacks will generally see far better NEP totals than running backs. In other words, it's difficult for a wide receiver to do bad things on a football field when he's targeted, mostly because he's going to gain huge chunks of yards when he catches the ball.

Since 2010 -- Jimmy Graham's first year in the league -- the average Reception NEP per target rate among tight ends has been 0.59. This is mostly to show how efficient a tight end is on each target. Jimmy Graham's average? 0.72.

That's a massive gap, especially when you consider the fact that Jimmy Graham is seeing a lot of targets, which can cut that number down dramatically.

Comparing Jimmy Graham to recent Seahawks tight ends isn't even fair, either. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the highest targeted tight ends in Seattle over the last three years (the Russell Wilson era) versus Jimmy Graham's average season as the highest-targeted tight end in New Orleans.

YearPlayerReceptionsReception NEPReception NEP/Target
2012Zach Miller3828.860.54
2013Zach Miller3340.860.73
2014Luke Willson2229.320.73
 Jimmy Graham88.7598.200.71

Graham's average season over the last four years has yielded 98.20 Reception Net Expected Points, which is far more than double that of any Seahawks tight end over the last three seasons. Though his per-target numbers are on par with what the top 2012 and 2013 Seahawks tight ends saw, remember that Graham also saw far more volume -- his impact isn't just from an efficiency standpoint (remember, the average is around 0.60), but a volume one as well.

And that's important, because the Seahawks need help in the receiving game. As we mentioned prior to the Super Bowl, the best receiver on Seattle last year was Doug Baldwin, who ranked 39th in the NFL among 75-plus target receivers in Reception NEP. And on each target, Baldwin was barely above average. Remember, folks -- that was Seattle's best receiver.

So adding Graham not only makes sense because the Seahawks haven't had a reliable high-volume tight end during the Russell Wilson era, but Graham also gives the Seahawks an added dimension that the team's receivers couldn't give.

This is especially true close to the end zone. Last season, Doug Baldwin converted just 2 of his 12 red zone targets into touchdowns. Wideout Jermaine Kearse converted just 1 of his 8. Tight end Luke Willson saw 6 targets in the red zone, and scored just once.

Jimmy Graham was targeted 21 times. He scored on 9 of them.

A More Pass-Happy Attack?

Adding Jimmy Graham, as shown above, does three obvious things: it helps the team have a consistent, reliable tight end, it will give aid to a weak wide receiver group, and it will dramatically help the team's red zone passing game.

The question entering next year will be whether or not the team changes their approach to be a little more pass-happy now that Graham's in the picture. With Russell Wilson under center and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, Seattle's finished with pass-to-run ratios of 0.82 (most run heavy in the league), 0.91 (second most), and 0.95 (second most).

Even if they don't become more of a passing team, they clearly got the man they wanted. And it's a monster tight end that they desperately needed.