Bucs sign Graham to extension

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Earnest Graham to a three-year, $10.5 million contract extension. While this isn’t an enormous deal from a financial standpoint, it does cement Graham as the favorite to start this season.

Earnest Graham, RB
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2007 statistics
Att: 222
Yards: 898
TDs: 10

Graham came out of nowhere last season to become one of the better free-agent additions in fantasy football. After injuries shelved Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, the Bucs leaned on Graham as their featured back. He thrived in the role, rushing for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Graham also showed off his skills as a receiver out of the backfield, as he caught an impressive 49 passes for 324 yards. Numbers like that have made him a surefire fantasy starter across the board heading into the 2008 season.

His contract extension aside, Graham’s value also received another boast over the weekend. The Tampa Tribune reports that Williams, who continues to make a comeback from a surgical procedure on his patellar tendon, is likely to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That would keep the Cadillac in park until at least mid-October. It also makes him all but undraftable in fantasy land.

With Williams on the sidelines, Graham and veteran Warrick Dunn will see most of the backfield work for head coach Jon Gruden. Dunn, 33, returned to the team this offseason and will see time as a third-down back and on passing downs. He’ll also serve as an attractive handcuff for those owners who land Graham in the first four rounds.

Graham also has a favorable schedule with matchups against Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland. None of those teams finished better than 24th in run defense in 2007.

While a featured role might not be in his future with Dunn in the mix, Graham should still be seen as a viable No. 2 fantasy back.

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