Hoge: why Jesse James shouldn’t lose reps to Jimmy Graham originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago Bear have an interesting decision to make at the close end of this week.
Getting out of production from the tight end position has been a struggle this season, but against the 49ers last week – in Justin Fields’ best game of the season – he has targeted his tight ends nine times and completed six of those assists. for 62 yards and a landing.
A week earlier, against the Bucs, Fields targeted his tight ends 10 times and completed eight passes for 63 yards.
It’s not like these numbers are mind blowing, but they represent an improvement over the rest of the season.
And it is worth noting that Jimmy Graham did not play in any of these games.
Let’s play the blind CV game:
Tight End A: 6 receptions, 6 targets, 58 yards, 1 touchdown, 9.67 yards / target, 64 snaps
Tight end B: 1 reception, 3 targets, 11 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3.67 yards / target, 99 snaps
If you had to split the playing time between these two players in Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who would you put on the field?
Tight end A is Jesse James. Tight end B is Jimmy Graham. And it should be noted that these numbers from James are only for the last two games when James was replacing Graham. His role before that – which includes a total of 108 shots over the season – was primarily that of an additional blocking tight end.
But it still raises an important question: Is James better suited than Graham for Graham’s position? And yes, this is where the conversation goes back to the chemistry Fields developed with the second and third strings of training camp.
“With the number of reps we had at camp – just as (James) got here – he was running with my group pretty much every rep,” Fields said. “I think we made a connection there, just that foundation.”
But Fields didn’t really get a chance to continue that connection until Week 7 in Tampa. In the last two games, he’s completed 6 of 6 passes to James, including an impressive 8-yard rushing touchdown against the 49ers. Fields’ only other close-ended touchdown this season went to Jesper Horsted in Las Vegas.
Graham’s 2021 season has been odd. He was a possible victim of the cap during the offseason, but instead of saving $ 7 million on the salary cap by releasing him, the Bears restructured his contract so that it carries a cap of $ 4.6 million. in 2022. That seemed potentially justifiable given the 35-year-old caught nine touchdowns last season, but eight weeks after 2021 he’s only got one catch and he returned in Week 1.
So the Bears need to at least examine why James made six catches and one touchdown in the past two weeks with Graham on the reserve / COVID-19 roster.
Asked about Fields’ budding chemistry with James on Thursday, Bears head coach Matt Nagy replied:
“I think that’s a very good point. You see that. You feel it. That pitch he rolled to his left, first play of the third quarter – Jesse is a big target. He has long arms. And they have this connection. They played together in the preseason. They had a few flashbacks, to the right, early (in preseason), to the sidelines. And so I think it’s natural to have that.
But Nagy was quick to shift the conversation back to Graham, who is back in training this week.
“We get a hell of a tight wing that also goes to Jimmy Graham. He’s one of the best to ever get in this position, so we feel really good to have these three guys, ”Nagy said. “When you have a relationship with a guy it’s important to keep it, and these guys have that and we’ll see where it goes.”
It will be interesting to see how the tight reps are distributed against the Steelers. Cole Kmet will continue to get the majority of reps and targets as the No.1 tight end, but if Fields has a trustworthy target in James, it seems silly to reduce his shots. He played 54% of snaps (38) against the 49ers. Graham’s season high in a game is 25 snaps (39% vs. Raiders).
“By throwing so many routes out to (James), I can kind of tell where his body will be,” Fields said. “He has a wide range where he is long. He can go up and get it. Of course you saw Sunday he can go down low and catch the ball too. This connection was based in the camp.
The Bears can’t change the lack of reps Fields received with newbies at training camp, but they can change the future reps he gets with players he’s comfortable with. Jesse James is the perfect example.