San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates played two seasons as power forward for Kent State University before he decided to play football and was signed as an undrafted free agent. Tony Gonzalez played three seasons at the University of California, Berkeley, before he decided to play football and was chosen as the 13th overall pick for the Kansas City Chiefs.


New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is establishing himself as a premier NFL tight end. (Reuters/Tami Chappell)

Now, both Gates and Gonzalez-the former still with the Chargers, the latter now with the Atlanta Falcons-have become popular and productive tight ends for their respective teams. They have also paved the way for athletic, multiple-skill tight ends to come into their own.

And no such tight end came into his own more than New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham did on Monday night against the New York Giants.

His stats for that particular game may have been spotlighted by the 49-24 blowout score, but that doesn't undermine the fact that Graham, who played basketball for the Miami Hurricanes from 2005 to 2009 as a power forward, has played consistently well, being a huge asset to the Saints, who now lead the NFC South by one game over the Falcons at 8-3.

Graham had five catches for 84 yards, leading all Saints receivers, including two touchdowns: one of five yards and the other of 29 yards.

The 29-yard play, which resulted from a perfectly thrown ball by Drew Brees on a 2nd and 10, play-action pass in the 3rd quarter, displayed Graham's athletics facets. He was able to get by his defenders on an out route, catch the ball in stride and dive into the end zone with hand outstretched over the pylon.

Graham was targeted a team-high eight times, clarifying that his combination of speed, power, hands and agility make him a go-to threat among a talented corps of Saints receivers. And after Monday night, he has 67 catches for 957 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.

Graham leads all tight ends in yards so far and is only second behind New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in touchdowns. He is Mr. Consistency, too, having had a stretch of four-straight games from week three to week six with at least 100 receiving yards.

If Monday was an indication of anything, it was that Graham could very well be a Saints offensive centerpiece for years to come. As for this season, Graham is helping the Saints stay in the Super Bowl mix.