- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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I’m ranking the top 20 New Orleans Saints players leading up to training camp. It’s based on their current value -- meaning both past accomplishments and potential are taken into account. Think, who would you want on the field most in Week 1 this season?
At No. 2, it’s tight end Jimmy Graham.
Profile: Year 5, Age 27, 6-foot-7, 265 pounds
Analysis: Yes, he was worth all the fuss.
Now that there is no longer any need to debate what position Graham plays or how much money he is worth, Saints fans can simply go back to appreciating him as one of the league’s top playmakers. Graham leads all NFL players with 36 touchdown catches over the past three seasons, averaging 90 catches and 1,169 yards per season during that span. He is a matchup nightmare with his combination of size and speed, especially in the red zone and especially in an offense led by Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
As I wrote last month, I would rank Graham among the top-10 pass-catchers in the NFL. He was recently voted as the 10th best player in the entire league by his peers on the NFL Network’s annual list. Naturally, Graham has been picked apart in recent months while his deal was being negotiated. But I feel like most of the popular criticisms are overblown (that he struggles against cornerbacks or goes quiet in big games). The only times that really happened last season were against New England and Seattle. And who doesn’t look bad against Seattle’s defense -- especially when All-Pro safety Earl Thomas spends most of the game shadowing them?
Graham remained dominant in two late-season games against the Carolina Panthers, among others, last season. And I couldn’t help but notice Graham catching touchdown passes against Pro Bowl cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, among others, during his NFL Network highlight reel.
Graham is not a big asset as a blocker. But his physicality is a major strength as a receiver, especially when he gains yards after the catch. And he has shown tremendous toughness while playing through some significant injuries over the past two seasons. The scariest part? He's still developing as a football player and will probably be even better at countering cornerbacks, etc., going forward.
No. 19 WR Kenny Stills
No. 18 S Rafael Bush
No. 17 LB David Hawthorne
No. 16 CB Champ Bailey
No. 15 P Thomas Morstead
No. 14 OT Zach Strief
No. 13 RB Pierre Thomas
No. 12 DE Akiem Hicks
No. 11 S Kenny Vaccaro
No. 10 LB Curtis Lofton
No. 9 G Ben Grubbs
No. 8 OLB Junior Galette
No. 7 WR Marques Colston
No. 6 G Jahri Evans
No. 5 CB Keenan Lewis
No. 4 S Jairus Byrd
No. 3 DE Cameron Jordan