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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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