The difference is Graham
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - LeBron James just loves to tease us, doesn't he? First it was the dunk contest. Now it's this.

"I want to play one NFL game before it's over," James tweeted last month.

The transition from hoops to the grid iron, though rare, is not unprecedented. In fact, a few that have tried have gone on to have spectacular success in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham may be the best example.

Graham, a 6-foot-7 forward for the University of Miami during his basketball- playing days, leads all NFL tight ends with ten receiving touchdowns this season. If he keeps it up, Graham could challenge the single-season record set by Rob Gronkowski back in 2011 (17).

For fantasy owners, Graham's emergence has been a dream come true. Just ask NBC/Rotoworld analyst Evan Silva, who tweeted this about a week ago, "If you drafted Jimmy Graham, [I'm] guessing you're 8-1/7-2. Maybe 9-0. Elite TEs create enormous edge while other clowns trot [out] Charles Clay and Greg Olsen."

With each goal post throw-down it's becoming clearer and clearer that Graham is playing on an entirely different stratosphere from the rest of the league.

But back to Silva's point. Just how enormous is the gap between Graham and a bozo like Clay?

Through the first nine weeks of the season, Clay, who is in his third season with the Dolphins, has put up 7.3 fantasy ppg. That's good for ninth among fantasy tight ends. Graham, on the other hand, has registered a magnificent 16.4 ppg in his eight contests this year.

Graham's 131 fantasy points this season (standard scoring) put him 39 points clear of the next-highest scoring tight end, San Francisco's Vernon Davis. That's an impossibly wide gap for this early in the season. Remember, we still have eight more weeks of football to play.

Call it the clownification of America. Graham can make even the most elite physical specimens look like Ronald McDonald. Take Davis, for example. Even though he's posted a very respectable 11.4 ppg, Davis still needs a five-point handicap to keep up with Graham.

If you dig a bit deeper, you'll find that even that's not generous enough. Nearly a third of Davis' production this season came during a miraculous Week 6 performance against the Cardinals. In that contest, Davis exploded for 172 yards in the opening half before coasting to a 30-point fantasy day. Take that game out of the equation and Davis' average slips to a far more pedestrian 8.7 ppg. Now the weekly difference between the two is almost eight ppg (7.7).

If we can delete one of Davis' games from the record books, why not take away one of Graham's? If we pretend Graham's injury-plagued 0-fer at New England in Week 6 never happened, Graham's average soars to a preposterous 18.7 ppg. By granting Graham this mulligan, we are now looking at a 10 ppg difference between the two best players at the tight end position.

No other position has produced anywhere near that level of disparity. Peyton Manning's weekly edge at QB over Drew Brees is 4.1 ppg while the margin is even tighter between Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson at wide receiver (14.8 to 13.9 in Megatron's favor). The two best running backs in fantasy football are essentially a wash (16.6 ppg for Matt Forte versus 16.3 for Jamaal Charles) as are the two-highest scoring fantasy kickers (Matt Prater and Mason Crosby are separated by 0.1 ppg). The gap between Kansas City and the next-best defense (Carolina) is noticeable (3.6 ppg) but even that can't compare to Graham's absurd dominance at tight end.

Indeed, Graham's point parade has him knocking on history's front door. For the moment, Graham holds an impressive lead over Cleveland's Jordan Cameron in receiving yards (746 for Graham compared to 600 for Cameron). If Graham is able to stretch that advantage to 200 yards, which seems like a near certainty (Graham is on pace for 1,492 yards while Cameron is projected for 1,067), it'll be the biggest yardage difference we've seen in years. You'd have to go all the way back to 2004 for the last time the two-highest producing tight ends were separated by more than 200 yards (Tony Gonzalez outgained Jason Witten 1,258 to 980 that season).

Think those extra five ppg don't mean anything? Think again. In the four fantasy leagues I've participated in this season, 47 contests have been decided by ten points or less (26.1 percent). The winning margin was five points or less in roughly half of those games (13.3 percent). So at least a quarter of the time, the difference between Graham and somebody else really is the difference between winning and losing.

Playoff seeding, which is often point-based, can also be greatly affected by Graham, or if you're one of the unfortunate ones, a lack thereof. Assuming your fantasy regular season ends after Week 13, Graham should have roughly 196 points by that juncture. Meanwhile Davis and Clay are projected for 136 and 87, respectively.

Considering the top-seven teams in my league are separated by a mere 72 points, it would be impossible for Graham not to affect the seeding.

Graham's impact cannot be overstated. He truly is a man among boys or as Silva would put it, a man among clowns. No player in the league can do what he does.

Well, maybe there's one. In October 14th's Sports Illustrated, Dan Patrick asked Graham, "If the Saints signed LeBron, could he start over you?"

Graham answered, "It would take him a couple weeks to figure out the offense, but eventually I think he would."

Come on, LeBron! You know you want to.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.