Any fantasy football owner that had New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham last season had to spent a high draft pick or a lot of auction dollars on him, but his production (86 receptions, 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns) justified that investment and in ESPN standard scoring he put up more fantasy points (211) than all but three wide receivers.
As expected, after failing to agree to a long-term deal, the Saints used the franchise tag on Graham on Monday. He has argued that he is used, and thus should be paid like, a wide receiver and an appeal of the decision to tag him as a tight end is likely coming. There is significant reason for Graham to argue over the designation, as the tight end franchise tag is worth just over $7 million this year while the wide receiver tag is worth $12.3 million.
It looks like a lengthy contract dispute is coming as Graham argues his side, along with the possibility of a prolonged hold out, but can he maintain his status as the clear-cut No.1 tight end for fantasy owners?
Referring back to ESPN scoring from last season, Graham had 55 more fantasy points than the second-ranked tight end (Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers) and Davis was the only other tight end with more than 150 points (156). That dominance over other tight ends would surely have been even greater had Graham not suffered a left foot injury in Week 6 against the New England Patriots, gone without a catch in that game and then had his snaps limited at times after that as he dealt with plantar fasciitis and later an elbow issue.
If he holds out into training camp, which looks possible right now, Graham would then become a fairly risky first-round pick for fantasy owners. But there is a long way to go from here to there, and Graham is still all but certain to be the first tight end off the board in snake drafts and the most expensive tight end in auctions.