Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham will turn age 34 this season. How many tight ends have played in the NFL that long?
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Chicago Bears signing Jimmy Graham was how much money they gave him at his age. Graham has had a great career but is at the tail end and will be 34 by the end of the season. There is not nearly as much upside with a player that old, and the obvious downside of falling off by that age.
When looking at the history of the NFL, there are 12 tight ends who recorded 20 targets in a season in which they were 34 years old. That is not a long list, and it is not a lot of targets at all.
They are listed as follows in order of targets:
One thing that is worth noting is that for Clark, Jones, and West that was their final season, and Vernon Davis had his worst two seasons at age 34 and 35. All four essentially had career lows from that age on.
Still, overall that group of 12 averaged 66 Targets, 44 Receptions, 475 Yards, and 4 touchdowns in their age 34 seasons.
As noted, Jones, Davis, West, and Watson cleared 20 receptions, but none cleared 30. That is a low bar of about two receptions per game. If Graham put up those numbers, his signing would be a disgrace.
The top five names on this list are the most comparable to Graham in terms of production over their entire NFL career. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Shannon Sharpe, and Greg Olsen all produced into their age 34 seasons and beyond, giving hope for Graham.
Those five high-end producers averaged 94 targets, 64 receptions, 687 yards, and five touchdowns. It would be surprising for Graham to top those numbers, but that is a realistic outcome of a best-case scenario from getting Graham at this age.
Keep in mind the Bears had 46 receptions for 416 yards as a whole group of tight ends in 2019. If Graham put up close to 650 yards it would not be a huge disappointment.
Beyond that, Graham has averaged 81 targets, 50 receptions, and 534 yards with five touchdowns over his past three seasons. Two were with Green Bay, where he arguably was not used in the right manner, but it does include his last year in Seattle as well.
Overall, 81 is right between 66 and 94 projected targets, 50 is between 64 and 44, and 534 yards is right between 687 and 475. This is a fair overall range.
For him to go over these numbers would be out of expectation for Graham based on his own play, as well as any tight end that old in NFL history.
When you average out the high-end outcomes for his age, the overall outcomes for his age, and his last three seasons overall, you find 80 targets for 53 receptions and 565 yards.
When we broke down Cole Kmet, and what average rookie tight ends produce, we found that 33 receptions for 381 yards and three touchdowns is a likely average outcome.
Combining the two, Graham and Kmet a strong projected outcome would be to see about 86 receptions for 946 and seven touchdowns. That would be a reasonable outcome, and something the Bears should strive to get out of these two in 2020.