graham pregame2

A zero in the loss column at any point in the season feels like Miami’s equivalent of a lunar eclipse. Yet here we are, counting down to a game tonight between two undefeated teams, one that was the offseason champion, and one that’s enjoying life with its previously banished head coach.

For your degenerate fantasy concerns, there are several opportunities for both pain and glee tonight, and they start with Jimmy Graham.

Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints

1. To Jimmy Graham: can you have a 300-yard game?

Defending any player with the skill of Jimmy Graham is difficult, but at least teams stand a chance with, say, a wideout of a certain type who does something specific very well. For example, Richard Sherman is able to match up just fine with physical wide receivers like Anquan Boldin — which he did a few weeks ago — because he simply matches their physicality, and Darrelle Revis had some legendary battles with Randy Moss for a few seasons because they’re both rather fast individuals.

But what if the player in question is both fast, and he possesses the strength of the average ox? This is why defending tight ends in the modern NFL is so difficult, because even if their cover skills are sound, finding someone to match both the physicality, speed, and leaping ability of a Jimmy Graham is a Herculean task.

For the Dolphins, it’s been an assignment that’s proven especially fail filled through the first three weeks. So for you, the Graham owner who’s looking for the clutchiest performance on a Monday night, this game could be a profitable experience.

Sure, the Dolphins contained Tony Gonzalez in Week 1, limiting him to 24 yards on four catches. But although we’ll respect Gonzo forever and always, the chasm between him and Graham lies in after the catch ability. Gonzalez has none, as through four games he’s averaging one (only one) yard after catching a ball. He’s getting whatever the route gives him, and little more, making Gonzalez more of a standard tight end (see: a red-zone behemoth) in what is presumably his final year.

Graham, meanwhile, is averaging 5.8 yards after the catch, which has contributed to his 358 receiving yards and four touchdowns thus far. In Week 1 the Dolphins faced Jordan Cameron, a tight end who, like Graham, is the centerpiece of his offense (43 targets, 30 of which have been caught for 360 yards and five touchdowns). In that game, Cameron had season highs in targets (13) and yards (108) with a touchdown, all adding up to 16 fantasy points, and 25 in PPR leagues. Then in Week 2 against the Colts, Miami allowed Coby Fleener to average 17.3 yards per catch on his four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. The math on that is 12 fantasy points, and 16 in PPR leagues.

Even if we include Gonzalez being limited a few weeks ago, the Dolphins are currently giving up an early average of 66.3 receiving yards per game to tight ends, none of whom have been named Jimmy Graham.

2. To Lamar Miller: Why?

Full disclosure: since I’m a trend setter, I was among the many keyboard punchers who were all over Lamar Miller in the offseason. The sample size we had at the time was limited, but still encouraging (250 yards on 51 carries for an average of 4.9 per carry), and with the sudden infusion of offensive competence after the Mike Wallace signing and the Brian Hartline re-signing, stacking the box repeatedly to contain the run would no longer be an option (it isn’t, but that’s mattered little).

Now Miller has descended into a time share with Daniel Thomas due to his 134 yards on 32 carries. Go just a little below those surface numbers, and you see the true tale of his early season slogging: in Week 1, he had three yards on 10 carries. Three.

Since then he’s bounced back, and at the very least made the case to stick around in fantasy lineups as a flex option. Over the past two weeks Miller has 131 yards on 22 carries, including a 49-yard run last week. That adds up to a fine YPC of 5.9, meaning the baby steps to justifying that late second or early third-round pick you spent (Miller had an ADP of 35.2 in August) are happening.

But there’s still a good fight that has to be won as Miller attempts to free himself from the shackles of Thomas, and his short-yardage work. While Miller may be compiling more yards on the round (134 to just 65), the gap in carries isn’t at all significant (32 for Miller, and 21 for Thomas), and Thomas is getting most of the always lucrative goal-line work.

The redemption tour should continue tonight against a Saints defense that’s improved drastically while defending the pass and rushing the quarterback, but stopping running backs remains a problem. The Saints are giving up 5.3 yards per carry (31st), and they’re only a week removed from being stomp by Doug Martin for 144 rushing yards.

3. To the Saints secondary: for real?

Last year the Saints were ripped and thrashed weekly by sailing footballs, finishing last or close to it in nearly every pass defense metric. To review…

  • 292.6 passing yards allowed per game (31st)
  • 8.1 yards allowed per pass attempt (tied for 32nd)
  • 14 receptions of 40 or more allowed (32nd)
  • 31 passing touchdowns allowed (28th)
  • 93.8 opposing passer rating (28th)

Then Keenan Lewis happened in the early days of free agency, followed by a first-round pick spent on safety Kenny Vaccaro. The result through nearly a quarter of the 2013 season is a secondary that’s ranked second while allowing 108.3 fewer yards per game, and 1.6 less per pass attempt.

Those numbers haven’t just been posted against cream puff nothingness opponents either. The Saints have played Arizona, Atlanta, and Tampa, and the results from the top receivers and highly coveted fantasy prizes on those offenses (disregarding an injured Roddy White) have been average at best

  • Vincent Jackson: 77 receiving yards, and only five receptions despite 11 targets
  • Julio Jones: 76 yards, and a day salvaged by a touchdown
  • Larry Fitzgerald: 64 yards

Translation: maybe a resounding ruh-roh for Mike Wallace owners, and those in deep leagues who are forced to start Ryan Tannehill while dealing with a bye for either Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton. Wallace will line up against Lewis for much of the night, which could end poorly. That’s what happened in Week 1 when he was covered by the Joe Haden blanket (one reception for 15 yards), and again in Week 3 when even a hobbled Asante Samuel limited him to two catches for 22 yards.