Over the last few weeks I've put out positional rankings in this column as well as giving my thoughts on the 2012 draft. This week, I'll take a break from the rankings and discuss why I think Jimmy Graham will have a better season than Rob Gronkowski, among other assorted news and notes.
I'll start by saying that I realize this is really splitting hairs, but give me Jimmy Graham over Rob Gronkowski this season without a doubt. I know that when I wrote the "Kevin Payne Rates the Top Tight Ends" piece last month I said otherwise. However, after taking a further look into their stats and situations for the upcoming season, I've changed my mind. Here's why.
1. Gronkowski is coming off an ankle injury, which could impact him this season, despite his optimism to the contrary. No one really knows at this point if/how this will affect him, and drafting here and now, this has to be of some concern. Meanwhile, Graham lasted a whole season last year, including the playoffs and didn't miss a game.
2. It's easy to say that Gronkowski won't top his record 17 receiving touchdowns for a tight end (one more if you think about the "carry"/lateral). The question most "expert" pundits will ask is just "how much will that number come down?" That answer is not easy. Give me a four-sided die between 11-14 and I'd probably bet the under on the number that comes up. I'll bring up my favorite team, Buffalo, a squad that is getting healthier and has drastically improved its defense to this point. Gronkowski and the Patriots have had no problem exploiting his hometown Bills in the past. Last season, that was to the tune of 217 yards and four touchdowns combined over the two games the teams played. Moreover, Gronkowski racked up three of his 10 touchdowns during his rookie season against Buffalo as well. The Bills won't be an easy mark any more.
3. The additional of Brandon Lloyd brings another potent weapon to the Patriots' passing attack and he could assume a big role in the red zone. Defenses will likely be double or triple-teaming Gronkowski inside of the 20, given what he did last season. That should open up opportunities for the Lloyd specifically, as well as all of the team's other pass-catchers for that matter, and that includes fellow tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who is a dynamic presence in the offense in his own right.
4. As far as tight ends go, who led the position in targets last year? For the purposes of this question it shouldn't be shocking that Graham had 25 more targets than Gronkowski and Brandon Pettigrew had two more than Gronk as well. While this speaks more to Graham's upside, keep in mind we're comparing the two here.
Obviously I don't think that Gronkowski is going to fall off the face of the planet. He's still a solid second/third round pick in most formats, but last year probably represents his ceiling, while Graham may not have reached his.
-- Speaking of my Buffalo Bills, is it me or is it surprising that they're just 12:1 to win the division? Granted the Patriots will probably win the division, but I'd like to think at this point that they're well ahead of the Dolphins (8:1) and given the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow fiasco waiting to happen in New York (where the Jets are 5:1), shouldn't Buffalo's odds be more in the line of 4:1? I'm biased being a fan (although I was definitely against the Bills last season) so tell me if I'm off my rocker here.
- The loss of Terrell Suggs is devastating news if you're a Ravens fan or a prospective owner of their team defense. The reigning DPOTY hopes to come back this season, but it sounds like a reach to me. It's fair to ask whether or not he'll be 100 percent when he returns and there's always the possibility that Suggs could re-injure himself if he hastens his rehab process. Also, keep in mind that Ray Lewis turns 37 on Tuesday and Ed Reed turns 34 at the beginning of the season.
- Alex Green is an interesting name to track this season. He's coming off ACL surgery and is reportedly running four days a week. The Packers don't seem overly concerned with re-signing Ryan Grant -- although that could still happen -- so Green could be in for a lot of work this season behind James Starks. Be sure to keep an eye on his progress in the coming weeks/months, especially when he starts to work on cutting side-to-side.
- Second-rounder Rueben Randle signed with the Giants and should occupy the team's third wide receiver role behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Neither of those two have the greatest track record from a health standpoint and Randle would make for a strong No. 3 WR if he were to gain a starting role at some point this season.
- After watching the Buccaneers basically quit last season, it's nice to hear reports that Josh Freeman has re-committed himself and lost 20 pounds this offseason. Being at a lower weight could mean a career season for him with his wheels, which is an underrated part of his game. Freeman had four rushing touchdowns last year and with newly acquired Vincent Jackson to stretch the field, he should gain some sleeper momentum heading into drafts.
Over the next few weeks I'll be ranking the wide receivers and taking a look at some interesting wagers to be had as they start coming out of Vegas.