Were there better options for the Chicago Bears to sign than Jimmy Graham?
The Chicago Bears signing Jimmy Graham has been met with some scrutiny. However, we all knew the Bears needed to add a tight end of some sort. The question then becomes who else could have been out there, and how feasible would have been to add them. Beyond that, would it have been an upgrade?
Most fans will point to Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron as possible whiffs by the Bears. If they were going to pay up for tight end, why not Hooper? Ebron was cheaper than Graham, why not take the more affordable option?
With those names being front and center in debates, how does Jimmy Graham stack up to these two options?
When looking at how they stack up on the field, you have to remember what they are getting paid. Austin Hooper got a four-year deal while Ebron and Graham got two. Of course, it is all about the guaranteed money, not the years, as teams can get out of contracts quickly without guaranteed money.
Hooper got $23 million guaranteed, while Graham got $9 million. It is not reported what Ebron got yet, but the expectation would be $6-$8 million, depending on the signing bonus. So, when looking at the average annual salary, Hooper will get $23 million over two years, Graham one-year for $9 million and Ebron one-year for $6 million. Keep this in mind as we go through their production. Also, Graham is 33, while Ebron is 26, and Hooper is just 25.
First off, we are going to look at just the last three seasons. Hooper has only been in the NFL for four years, and we are not worried about what Graham did when he was at his peak. However, the past three years is a large enough sample to get a feel for what these players bring.
With that in mind over the past three seasons, Hooper has played 2,422 snaps. Graham has pled 2,196, and Ebron has played 1,586. Many fans who have screamed for Ebron and see Graham as injury-prone may want to note that Ebron averages over 200 fewer snaps per season than Graham. The difference in salary could almost be summed up there if there was not the age difference.
Also, despite being more injury-prone, Ebron is more productive on a per snap basis. Over the past three years, Hooper caught 199 balls, while Ebron hauled in 158 and Graham just 157. Ebron flexes his on-field worth with 11.2 yards per reception as well, which bests Graham at 10.9 and Hooper at only 10.
Ebron also has 21 touchdowns over the past three years, while Graham has 15 and Hooper just 13.
So, Hooper has been more reliable and is younger. However, he is not as dynamic as either. Ebron may be the most talented but comes with the most prominent injury tag.
As we like to do, we will always try to add context to the raw data with more advanced stats.
This can add context to Ebron being the most efficient. He averages 1.62 yards per route run over the past three seasons, which tops Hooper at 1.45. Graham averages just 1.13 yards per route run. Of course, he gets hurt by playing more overall snaps than Ebron.
Also, when looking at their yards after the catch per reception, we see that Graham is the best of the bunch with the ball in his hands.
He averages 4.9 yards after the catch per reception. Ebron averages 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, and Hooper averages just 4.1 yards after the catch per reception.
When thinking of Matt Nagy and his offense specifically, this may have come into play.
Drops may have come into play as well. Ebron is dynamic but has 18 drops over the past three years, an 11% drop rate. Graham has 12 drops, and a 5% drop rate, while Hooper had just a 4% drop rate. This also can explain that some of the production issues were not on Graham.
The Browns paid up for Hooper over these names, and durability is a factor, but Hooper also does not leave the field as he is a solid blocking tight end. He has 768 blocking snaps, compared to 543 for Graham, and 358 for Ebron. According to PFF, Hooper had a 64 blocking grade; Graham had a 59 and Ebron and a 57. This again shows the up and down nature of Ebron and the reliability of Hooper. However, lastly, Hooper led the group with 12 penalties, although he played much more snaps. Ebron had eight penalties, which was the highest rate on a per snap basis, and Graham was the cleanest with just seven penalties.
Who would you choose?
The Browns paid Hooper about $2 million more per year than Graham and guaranteed a second year that is not guaranteed for Graham. In that, they got a safer player and a better blocker. Hooper is younger, more productive, and is more durable.
However, he is less dynamic than both Ebron and Graham. The Bears could have taken Ebron for about $2 million less. However, with that is an option of a player who has more issues with drops, penalties, blocking, and, most importantly, injuries.
Ebron is the better player straight up, but Graham has missed a lot less time, and Graham can line up in-line as a compliment to Burton, while Ebron may not be able to.
Paying the extra $2 million for Hooper seems like the most practical decision, considering his age. You do not have the same explosive nature to your offense, but you know exactly what are you getting, and it comes with in-line blocking. Which option would you have chose?