“With the 95th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints select…Aaron Hernandez.”
It almost happened that way and thank Goodness it didn’t. Three years ago, the Saints were on the hunt for a tight end with their third round pick. Rob Gronkowski had just been snagged by the Patriots in Round 2. Jimmy Graham of the University of Miami and Aaron Hernandez of the University of Florida were both available when the Saints went on the clock in round 3. The Saints no doubt had Hernandez on their radar long before draft day. He was First-team All American and First-team All-SEC in 2009. He’d won the John Mackey award and had just clinched a BCS Championship title. In contrast, Jimmy Graham spent most of his time at Miami as a basketball player. He only had one season of football under his belt. He was in many ways untested.
So what made them go with the unknown over the stud? Perhaps the Saints heard the whispers about Hernandez’s off the field activities in college. There were rumors he had flunked multiple drug tests along with other red flags about his character and social circles. Maybe for the Saints, it seemed safer to take their chances grooming a player with potential versus taking on the talented bad boy with baggage. And it’s clear their hunch paid off. While Gronk is plagued with injuries and Hernandez is likely to spend the rest of his life in a prison cell, Graham is considered one of the most solid tight ends in the league with no major injuries (or body counts) to speak of.
Beyond what Graham does on the field, he’s proven to be a decent and kind (see: not murderous) human being. He hosts a youth football camp and also volunteered to mentor a 14-year-old foster kid at a boys home in New Orleans. Despite his rough upbringing, being bounced around between foster and group homes himself, Graham never uses his childhood as an excuse. He uses it as a motivator.
Whatever the Saints saw in him on that draft day in 2010, thank goodness they did. The Saints could very well be starting their new season with their star tight end locked up in jail accused of murdering a man execution style. Instead, their tight end Jimmy Graham’s biggest offseason concern is whether he can get even higher the next time he attempts his slam dunk touchdown celebration.