ORCHARD PARK, NY - MAY 11: T.J. Graham #11 of the Buffalo Bills makes a catch in front of Cris Hill #39 during Buffalo Bills Rookie Camp on May 11, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
As we discussed yesterday, with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson sidelined until training camp recuperating from a couple of injuries and a surgery, the door is wide open for other players to get significant work with the first-unit offense at receiver in spring OTAs.
Obviously, third-round rookie T.J. Graham is one of the players that will get ample time running with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the ones, at least until Johnson returns. When I talk to other Bills fans about Graham, the question I hear most is this: in an ideal world, what will his rookie season production look like?
We'd better hope that we're looking at an ideal rookie season from Graham, because third-round rookie receivers in the last five years have typically struggled to make much of an impact at all. In fact, you have to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to find five players even worth mentioning among a group of 23 receivers drafted in Round 3 since 2008 (not including this year's quartet).
Ranked by yardage, here are the five best rookie-season performances from third-round receivers in the last five years (not counting this year's group, of course, as they haven't played a game yet):
On average, those five players caught 35 passes for 506 yards and three touchdowns. That seems like meager production - and it is - but it's also worth noting that a 506-yard effort would have made this average-elite third-round pick the Bills' third-leading receiver in 2011. Last year, Buffalo's third-leading receiver was running back Fred Jackson, who had 442 receiving yards. The third-leading receiver receiver? Naaman Roosevelt, with 257 yards.
Of course, it's difficult to expect that Graham can come in and merely place himself among this group of above-average third-round rookie receivers when so many more have struggled to accumulate double-digit receptions, triple-digit yards or score a single touchdown. Graham will have one advantage that many of those other third-round picks didn't have as rookies: he'll have ample opportunity to lock down a significant role with the first-team offense.
I don't think it's remotely out of the realm of possibility for Graham to put up around 500 receiving yards as a rookie and give the Bills a more legitimate third receiver on the roster; I also don't think it's remotely out of the realm of possibility that another of the team's young receivers fills that void and relegates Graham to also-ran status. What are you looking for from Graham as a rookie?