Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the NFL Draft April 22nd, Buffalobills.com will profile one of the more highly touted prospects at each position in the 2010 draft class. A position group video preview will accompany each of these feature stories in the *media lounge featuring the top five prospects at each position. We continue our pre-draft feature series with University of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham.*
He originally set out to test his worth as a college basketball player. And he did just that. Jimmy Graham, a tight end product out of the University of Miami, played three full campaigns for the Hurricanes … on the hardwood.
Graham exhausted his basketball eligibility, however, but he still had one season left to turn his attentions to another sport. He ended up trading in his basketball kicks for spikes and a helmet, and the 6-6, 265-pound forward fit in perfectly as a tight end for the 'Canes.
The switch mirrored Duke's Greg Paulus, who also exhausted his basketball eligibility and then transferred to Syracuse to try his hand as a Division I quarterback.
In high school, at North Carolina's Charis Prep, Graham served as a tall, speedy target at wide receiver as well as a defensive end. But after committing to Miami as a hoops recruit, he hadn't played a down of football since his high school graduation.
The transition went according to plan. In his one and only season with the football program the tight end pulled in 17 receptions for 213 yards and five touchdowns. With tight ends commonly providing a valuable option on short-yardage downs, Graham's receiving statistics really don't mean all that much. What is important, however, is his athleticism – and NFL scouts have taken notice.
In many ways, his days as a forward for the Hurricanes aren't that far behind him. A lot of Graham's size and athleticism on the court easily transfer to what he is expected to provide on the field.
"I think I have the ability to stretch the field," Graham said of his abilities at the NFL combine. "I'm very fast, very big, and I think my strength is catching the ball, scoring touchdowns. (I have) the ability to attack the ball in the air. I think that's the biggest transition. That and me being physical on the court. I fouled out of every game."
"Hey, it happens," he mused.
The move from the basketball court to the gridiron hasn't been all that uncommon in recent years. Take, for instance, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, both of whom had successful college basketball careers only see that success continue – at the tight end position – in the NFL.
Gates, of the San Diego Chargers, eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark (with 1,157) for the second time in his career last season while pulling in eight TD receptions. Gonzalez, who debuted in 1997 with the Kansas City Chiefs, has experienced some long-term success as a pro. Now with the Atlanta Falcons, he has registered 82 touchdowns in his 13-year career.
It's another professional tight end, a distinguished alumnus from Graham's alma mater, which the highly touted draft prospect has spoken to recently, giving him some much-needed guidance as the draft steadily approaches. Also a Miami product, New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey has taken Graham under his wing.
"I think the biggest thing he told me was that he was proud of me," Graham said. "From Jeremy Shockey that means a lot. That tells me I've been doing things the right way. For Jeremy Shockey to tell me he was proud of me meant a lot."
As expected Graham's athleticism was on full display at the NFL Combine in February. In the 40-yard dash, Graham clocked in at 4.56 seconds, good for second-best among tight ends – Dorin Dickerson out of Pittsburgh was the best with a time of 4.40. He also registered an impressive 10'0" in the broad jump, second again to Dickerson by five inches. A vertical leap of 38.5 inches placed him at the top for his position.
Overall, he received good reviews from the scouts at the Combine, who liked what they saw in his ability to separate from defenders. However, some unrefined footwork and a sub-par blocking ability are among the aspects of his game Graham needs to work on while making the transition to the NFL.
This fact is not wasted upon Graham, who recognizes his weaknesses and displays more than a willingness to improve.
"I think my weakness is my technique on blocking," he said. "That's something I had to forego as far as techniques. But a lot has come the last couple months. Everything has been positive. I've been getting better and better, each snap, each practice."
Graham is projected with a tremendous upside, but a lot has been said of his lack of high-level experience. A lot of talk surrounding the tight end regards his toughness, as he still carries a basketball player label.
He doesn't exactly see it that way, however.
When asked what a team would be getting in him, Graham responded: "They're getting a guy who works hard every play, every down in practice, and a kid who honestly just loves the game."