Top 25 most important Bears in 2021: No. 14 Jimmy Graham

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bears tight end Jimmy Graham fends off Houston Texans free safety Eric Murray last season at Soldier Field.

    Bears tight end Jimmy Graham fends off Houston Texans free safety Eric Murray last season at Soldier Field. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 7/13/2021 8:17 PM

Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, we're counting down the Top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.

What makes one player more important than another is subjective. For our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can't play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?

 

No. 14 Jimmy Graham

Position: Tight end

NFL experience: 12th year

Looking back: It was hard to know what to expect from veteran Jimmy Graham when he arrived last year as a free agent.

Looking solely at his stat lines, his previous two seasons in Green Bay were well below his most productive years half a decade earlier in New Orleans.

But Graham emerged as a touchdown machine in 2020. He was a top target in the red zone, and while his 50 catches for 456 yards weren't overly impressive numbers, his eight receiving touchdowns were a team high. Graham showed that, at 34 years old, he can still be a productive tight end.

He was also tasked with helping rookie tight end Cole Kmet get up to speed. The fruits of that labor should be more visible this season.

Looking forward: This spring, Bears tight ends coach Clancy Barone essentially laughed off the idea Graham could've been among the players cut for salary cap space, pointing out he led the team in receiving touchdowns.

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Graham enters the final year of his two-year contract. While the team would like to see Kmet used more frequently, as he was toward the end of last season, Graham is still likely to be on the field quite often in the red zone. Last season showed his size remains a major mismatch for defenses.

His future with the team beyond 2021 is unknown. Head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will make the most out of his presence while they can.

Graham scored touchdowns in six regular season games last season, and the Bears won five of those. If he finds the end zone, good things usually happen.

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