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Is Graham worth a first-round selection?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham (yes, he is a tight end no matter how many times he splits out wide) was, by all measures, the best tight end in the league last season.

By far.

He led the league in receptions (86), yards (1,216), touchdowns (16), targets (142) and fantasy points (217). All the while playing most of the season with foot and elbow problems!

But is he worth selecting in the first round of your fantasy draft?

That's what it will cost you. Fantasyfootballcalculator's latest mock drafts (709 drafts between June 20-June 23, 2014) shows the Saints tight end being chosen at No. 9 in a typical 12-team draft.

Graham is going almost two full rounds ahead of Denver's Julius Thomas (ADP 29.3) and New England star Rob Gronkowski (34.3).

The question every fantasy owner will have to ask himself, "Is he worth it?"

For the moment, let's look at just these three tight ends and ignore the possibility that Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron or Jason Witten could join the elite trio.

We start by evaluating what each tight end should produce in 2014.

Graham has been a fantasy stud for the past three seasons, averaging 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season despite starting only 31 of 48 games over the three-year span.

With Drew Brees still under center, Graham will continue to produce big numbers. In fact, with one of Brees' favorite targets, Lance Moore, gone and Marques Colston showing his age, Graham could see even more work this season.

If Graham stays healthy and works out his contract problems with the team, there is no reason he shouldn't post 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Denver's Thomas exploded onto the scene on opening night in 2013, enjoying the fruits of working alongside quarterback Peyton Manning. In 14 games (he missed two due to injury) Thomas posted 65 receptions from 90 targets for 788 yards and 12 scores.

There will likely be more targets headed Thomas' way in 2014 with Eric Decker now plying his trade in New York. Meaning 80 catches for 1,000 and 13 touchdowns is certainly possible.

Meanwhile, in New England, the Pats hope to have their star tight end for a complete season. That hasn't happened since 2011, but when it did he posted record-breaking numbers (1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns).

Although he didn't participate in OTAs it appears he'll be ready to go when training camp opens. Given the team's questionable receiving corps, Tom Brady should be looking Gronk's way early and often. He caught 39 balls for 592 yards and four scores in just seven games last season which extrapolates to over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014-15. He also comes with the biggest injury risk having played just 17 of 32 games the past two seasons.

Here is what we've come up with for their production in 2014.

Graham - 100 rec, 1,300 yards, 16 TDs

Thomas - 80 rec, 1,000 yards, 12 TDs

Gronkowski - 89 rec, 1,300 yards, 9 TDs

Graham is certainly the best of the three tight ends, but is he two rounds better?

Will the increase in production from your tight end position make up for the decrease in running back production based on what will be left on the board when it's your time to make another selection?

Ask yourself this ... which pair would you prefer?

Graham and DeMarco Murray or Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch?

Graham and LeVeon Bell or Thomas and Eddie Lacy?

When you decide which pair you would prefer you will have your answer to whether Graham is worth selecting in the first round.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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