Pro Football Focus Argues Jimmy Graham Is A Tight End

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham yesterday filed an appeal for the arbitration ruling earlier this month that declared him as a tight end rather than a wide receiver when his team designated him their franchise player.

The appeal was merely procedural, as the two sides are expected to reach a long-term deal, perhaps today, that reportedly will make him the highest-paid tight end in the history of the game—though still not in the lofty territory of the wealthiest of wide receivers.

Throughout this process, the statistics website Pro Football Focus has emphasized the fact that 66.8 percent of his snaps last season saw him either lined up in the slot or out wide in the formation, or “aligned as what we would abstractly label a wide receiver if somebody drew it up on a chalkboard”.

The site objected to the arbitration ruling, but not for the verdict—rather, for the explanation, which they say is the equivalent of “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck”.

After all, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to visually discern a tight end from a wide reciever, what with many taller wide receivers rising to the top of the league. Two 6’5” wide receivers were taken in the first round of the most recent draft.

Tight ends, meanwhile, are taking on a larger and larger role in the passing game as a pass catcher, and their assignments, and body types, are changing.

PFF’s data, in fact, indicates that Graham’s usage in typical wide receiver roles last season was not even the most frequent among tight ends. That honor went to Denver Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme, who lined up as an in-line tight end only around 20 percent of the time last season. Three other tight ends also saw more time in ‘wide receiver’ roles last year than did Graham.

They argue, however, that there is still a large gap between a wide receiver and a tight end because of the way that wide receivers are used. According to their charting, the receiver who lined up in-line most frequently last season was Alshon Jeffrey, who only did it approximately five percent of the time.

They write:

There is a 14% gap of no-man’s land between the two positions [in terms of setting up in-line in the formation] and this is the key. If you wanted to prove a player was actually being deployed as a wide receiver and not a tight end you would need to show that he was at least beginning to cross this divide.

In Graham’s case not only is he not crossing it, but he isn’t even the closest to doing so…What we can say is that Graham is in a group of players who have branched off from the main pack of tight ends and could have a reasonable case to be termed ‘receiving tight ends’. None of the players in that group is a notable blocker and most are rarely even asked to do it. These are players who are receivers in primary purpose but simply proportioned (and aligned) differently to the average wide out.

They argue, as I’ve argued, that this is a matter of the tight end evolving, rather than tight ends becoming wide receivers. It’s true that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred, and the body types less distinguishable, but there still remains a divide.

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Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Still bogus.

    If I understand their argument, they are going at it from the other direction and saying that you can determine a TE from a WR because a WR plays TE 5% or less of his plays while a TE plays TE 20% or more of the time?

    Why is this “arbitrary divide” the point they would use? This is why stats are so dangerous in the hands of the clueless.

    I generally consider a title to be based on exceeding a 50% threshold as opposed to 15%.


    I don’t blame Graham a bit when you consider his production…you can argue that he’s more productive than all but a handful of WRs, but…moreso than where he lines up in the formation…he’s performing against a LB, a S, or the 3rd or 4th CB on the roster whereas the top WRs are performing against the #1 or worst case #2 CB.

  • joed32

    Do players receive a bonus for making the Pro Bowl ? I think many of them do. It’s probably not a whole lot of money but I wonder if he ever turned it down because he was not a TE. He wouldn’t have been selected as a WR.

  • Steve

    Players do receive money for going to the Pro Bowl. WIKI says: The losing team gets paid $25,000 for each player , and the winning team gets $50,000 for each player. Not a whole lot – depends on how you look at it?

  • joed32

    Thanks. I was thinking that there might also be a bonus clause in their contracts.

  • Steve

    There may be, depends on the contract.

  • Intropy

    Nope. The problem is people keep saying confusing things like “lined up as a TE” or “lined up as a WR”. You are applying that alignment directly to the role – saying in line is a TE and out farther is a WR. That’s nonsense.

    TE is a player role, and WR is a player role. Any player can be positioned on the end of the line, out near the sideline, or in between (assuming they report eligible). Any player can be asked to make particular blocks. Any player can be asked to run any route. The question is can you build two groups meaningfully such that groups A and B tend to line up in different places and perform different actions with different frequencies.

    I argue that you can. I think you can say that a WR very rarely line up inline except on goal line plays, while a TE does with regularity. That’s a difference in the players’ roles right there. It doesn’t matter if both types line out wide more than lining up in line. It doesn’t matter in a vacuum what alignment a player has at all. All that matters is whether the designations TE and WR still have a clear meaning (they do) and whether Jimmy Graham fits more closely within the group of TEs or the group of WRs. Well it turns out the answer to this question is that he has more in common with the group labeled TEs, ergo he’s a TE.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Confusing things like played te or wr?

    Are you joking with this garbage? The position they play is more important that a stupid attempt at a simplistic grouping based on number games.

  • Intropy

    I can see how that might be too complex an argument to follow. It boils down to this, the tight end position does not mean what you think it means.