"So God created tight ends in his own image, in the image of God he created him; blocking and catching he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Texans roster and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the linebacking corps and the birds of the secondary and over every living creature that moves on the line of scrimmage." Then God said, "I give you every spot on the face of the roster and every play-action route that calls for you to run a short out. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the line of scrimmage and all the birds of the secondary and all the backs that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give them to you so that you may succeed. Unless you are Anthony Hill, destined to be stricken by serious disease and injury at every turn.." And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day."
Figured I'd get the joke wheel started for you.
Clearly, this is an unpopular pick for a number of reasons. First of all, like the Texans' third round pick, it hints at uncertainty with a player who fans have become accustomed to expecting to see on the field. It came on the heels of trading down, and was a draft pick at a position where it was thought the talent level currently on the roster was perfectly fine. Lastly, if we just drafted two tight ends last year, why are Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith so eager to go right back there in what was regarded as a deep tight end class despite several perceived (unaddressed if you are a realist) holes? A tight end class that was so deep that the Texans' seventh round pick was thought by many to be a candidate for a second day pick?
So come with me and play Devil's Advocate, expand your horizons, and...make more tight end jokes.
What actually struck me about this pick, draft value aside, is how similar it seems to be to the Wade Smith signing. At offensive guard and tight end, the Texans weathered a ton of injuries last year and often were forced into using replacement level players and packages they weren't as comfortable with simply because there weren't enough healthy parts. Coming into the offseason, both positions had younger players who were coming off mediocre or worse debuts (Kasey Studdard, James Casey), and players returning from injury (Hill, Owen Daniels, Mike Brisiel, possibly Chester Pitts). Smith and Kubiak signed a guard, and later drafted a guard, and then drafted two tight ends (don't buy the "Dorin Dickerson as a wideout" propaganda, kids). This would be an extreme example of what we call "playing it safe". The Texans concluded that they had problems at these spots last year, and instead of seeing if the injury bug would clear up, they aggressively attacked both positions in the offseason to fortify them. Personally, I think this is a little bit of an overreaction. Which isn't to say that injuries are completely random, but the odds that all four of our tight ends would be injured at some point in the season seems to be a fluke to me. At any rate, this tells me that the Texans thought that weak depth at those positions killed them last year, and whether you agree with that or not, I think at least you can appreciate the strategy involved.
I would compare the pick itself to the Antoine Caldwell selection last year. The difference in postdraft hype being that everyone in the world thought the Texans needed a long-term center and thought Caldwell would be there instead of at guard, whereas everyone knows that Graham is a tight end. Like Caldwell, he'll probably start off, barring setbacks or further injury, behind Joel Dreessen and Daniels on the depth chart. Like Caldwell, the Texans have a long-term franchise piece on the verge of free agency in front of him on the depth chart (Pitts for guard, Daniels for tight end).
As far as the player, I simply can't speculate too much on Graham's overall value, having never watched him in college. I'm not a huge fan of college football in the first place, seeing as how my college isn't one of those fabled institutions that were good enough in the past to warrant being allowed to be in the BCS in a rare good year. When I do watch it, I'm certainly not paying attention to the Big 10. I don't get much out of a few Youtube highlights that somebody dug up out of the aether. Great, you caught a player's best moments, but what does that really tell you about him as a player? Highlights are not hard to create if you have talent. Consistency is what you're looking for. And when it comes down to a tight end's value as a blocker, which is, in my mind, CRUCIAL for evaluating Graham, you have mixed reviews. If he's a good blocker (CBSSports notes that he is good blocking off motion, a key factor for Texans tight ends) you have someone who can probably come and be the second tight end right away. If he's not, then he's probably going to be a third tight end for most of the year barring injury. Statistically, the Badgers were ranked 15th in the nation in rushing yards, and it's fair to assume that Graham's blocking was a fair part of that as someone who mostly played H-back. If you want a totally optimistic view of him from someone who has watched him play, my best recommendation would be Matt Waldman's post on the New York Times football blog.
As a receiver, Graham's statistical profile is pretty solid. 1,492 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final three years after mostly being irrelevant as a freshman. Lots of higher ranked or similarly ranked players had better statistics, but most of them played in high-powered pass offenses, whereas Wisconsin is generally the type of team that runs the ball down your throat. Graham was their leading receiver as a junior and their second leading receiver as a senior, missing the top by just three catches. I would doubt that he'll become an every week fantasy tight end somewhere down the line, but I would've said the same thing about Owen Daniels coming out, as he had much more pedestrian receiving numbers (852, 8) in college.
Frankly, from everything I've read, he seems to be a schematic fit. He has typical Texans qualities (team captain, works hard, hits weight room, in with a current Texan) and no concerning injury history. Daniels is in his last year of RFA, barring more salary cap shenanigans in bargaining sessions; the team didn't suffer much of an offensive dropoff when Dreessen was starting; and Daniels is just going to take one step closer to 30 this season. Dreessen is nearing the wall himself. Anthony Hill showed nothing last year and I, like Tim, would not be surprised if he was a total non-factor this season. Graham is a strike at trying to find long-term consistency at a position that is very much up in the air with Daniels and Dreessen heading to their 30s and free agency. I consider Graham a low-floor guy, someone who could be a second tight end ala Dreessen for many years even if he doesn't improve at all. And If his blocking is anything close to the optimistic side of the scouting reports, I think we could have a real equation changer here.
At least until we pick a TE in the first round of the 2011 draft.