Saints: Backup TEs ready to "shoulder" the load
Those fears became a reality this past weekend, when reports surfaced that Graham may miss two-to-three weeks after the bye. Although there is talk that he may try to suit up in Week 7, the Saints should be capable of coping with a short-term absence from their star tight end.
Surprisingly, this optimism isn’t due to backup TE Ben Watson, who has struggled so far this season. Rather, second-year pro Josh Hill has stepped up his game and could see an increase in snaps should Graham’s injury linger.
Hill has posted a respectable +3.1 overall grade in only 87 snaps. Last season, he was eased into the Saints offense and experienced growing pains expected from an undrafted rookie. This year he has made noticeable strides, especially as a run blocker, posting a positive grade in four-of-five games.
The Saints seem to have Hill pegged for a run blocking role. So far this season he’s run-blocked on 59% of his snaps – the highest rate among Saints TEs. Crabtree has played a similar role over his career, but with less success. In 2012 with the Packers and 2013 with the Buccaneers, Crabtree run-blocked on 60% of his 604 snaps, posting grades of -5.6 and -3.9 respectively.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints offense utilizes their TEs should Graham miss time. Although it seems Hill would be in line for increased snaps, it is unclear exactly how his role would expand. With two run-blocking tight ends on their roster, Coach Sean Payton may place more emphasis on the running game. He could also give Hill more action as a receiver where he’s had some impact (+1.6) on 30 pass routes.
While no offense can truly replace an exceptional talent like Graham, Hill’s improved play should allow the Saints to weather the storm for a game or two.