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What if Jimmy Graham is designated as a receiver?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The Saints tight end says he's a wide receiver. What if the NFL agrees?

In fantasy baseball, Buster Posey and Carlos Santana, both catchers, qualify at first base. Something like zero people would ever draft them as first basemen, because they are way more valuable as catchers - you know, where only a handful of guys can hit - than they are as first basemen. But hey, versatility is versatility, and it's better to have a guy who can play multiple positions than the alternative.

Up front, at least from where I'm sitting, it's pretty unlikely that Jimmy Graham will end up as a receiver-eligible fantasy football player. The New Orleans Saints have franchise-tagged their star pass-catcher, and the difference between a tight end tag and a wide receiver tag is all sorts of dollars. Naturally, the Saints want to tag Graham as a tight end, which has been his nominal position thus far in his career and carries a much more affordable price tag. Of course, Graham and his representatives would rather see him tagged as a wide receiver, because he lines up out wide as a receiver on far more plays. Oh, and he'd make way more money that way. Always a perk.

Officially, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the tender applies to the position at which a player played the most plays. I mean, that's pretty straightforward. Only, when that was drafted, they didn't really realize the evolution of the tight-end position that would follow. It was more for the scenarios like, "Yeah, you let Doug Flutie drop-kick once, but you can't tag him as a kicker, come on, you jerk."

In recent years, Jermichael Finley and Jared Cook have both attempted arguments similar to Graham's. Cook told the Titans last year that he wanted a receiver designation if they tagged him, so they just told him goodbye. Finley, meanwhile, agreed to a deal with the Packers sometime between, "Hey, you're tagged" and the NFL's ruling on, "Hey, you're tagged as a ____," rendering that issue moot.

It does look like Graham's designation will come down to a ruling. Admittedly, there isn't really a precedent, and the odds on it aren't clear - if it seemed likely he'd be designated a tight end, wouldn't the Titans have kept Cook? On the other hand, if it seemed likely he'd be designated a wide receiver, why would Finley have settled?

But the easy view is that guys are what guys have been. Graham made the Pro Bowl as a tight end; he wasn't complaining about his designation then. Now that the quandary has reared its head for real - not the fake-rearings of Cook and Finley - the NFL will need to figure out its rules a little better to account for this changing reality. But it's hardly fair to the Saints to change things right now, and pretty much everyone involved has to know that.

Okay, but what if, right?

In my top 200 for 2014 from last week, I had Graham as my 14th overall draft pick. He was the first tight end - obviously - and the fourth "pass-catcher" behind Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Josh Gordon, who were ninth, 10th, and 11th, respectively. The next tight end after Graham didn't show up until Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas, who I ranked back-to-back at 35 and 36.

Back to my baseball analogy. Santana is eligible at both catcher and first base, but that first-base eligibility is much an afterthought. Not many people would lift him above catcher-only guys like Yadier Molina or Brian McCann based only on that first-base thing (maybe for other reasons, but not for that).

The same is true with Graham. If the unexpected happens, and he is deemed a receiver for franchise purposes, he'd likely enter next season - in most fantasy games - as a WR/TE-eligible player. But in reality, his owners would use him as a tight end, and that receiver slot would only be his if someone were desperate, or if a Jordan Cameron-style up-and-comer emerged. Overall, there just isn't much chance Graham helps enough as a wide receiver for that distinction to matter over tight end.

In short, if he's a WR/TE? He's still 14th on my list.

Now, there is one more possible wrinkle, far less likely - what if Graham is just a wide receiver?

A year ago, Graham was 15th in the NFL in receiving yards, with 1,215. He somewhat famously led the league in receiving scores, with 16. If he repeats those numbers, he's as valuable as just about any receiver. Of course, asking him to repeat that dominance is a tall order. Scale it back even 10 percent - not at all unreasonable - and he's still an elite-but-not-legendary pass-catcher.

So, yeah, if "Jimmy Graham, tight end," enters the 2014 season as "Jimmy Graham, wide receiver," you know where he'd be ranked on my top 200?


Short of giving the guy eligibility at kicker or giving him a tackle-free red jersey or something, Jimmy Graham is Jimmy Graham, and it's hard to see much changing based on which pair of letters is associated with his name.

But hey, it's interesting to talk about.

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