In the spring of 2009, the Patriots hadn't yet found the tight ends they were looking for to revamp their offense. But they were looking -- even in the unlikeliest of places.
In the August 4th issue of Sports Illustrated, Andrew Lawrence reports that the Patriots placed a phone call to University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith to discuss the Canes' best post defender, a four-year letter-winner on the hoops team named Jimmy Graham.
Graham hadn't seen a football field since the ninth grade, but New England was interested in working him out as a tight end. The transition from hardwood-to-gridiron had worked for players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the past, and the Patriots wanted to have a go at Graham.
The only difference? Gonzalez was an All-American in college at Cal, and Gates was recruited by Nick Saban to play at Michigan State after he was named an all-stater in high school. Graham hadn't strapped on pads in almost eight years when the Patriots came calling.
Still, a workout was set up and Graham -- knowing scant football terminology -- caught passes from freshman quarterback Jacory Harris. The Patriots saw enough in the athletic 6-foot-8 power forward to offer him $5,000 on the spot if he signed.
After consulting with Miami football coach Randy Shannon and former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar, Graham opted to pursue a secondary degree and join the school's football team. He had slipped through the Patriots grasp for the moment, but New England would have the opportunity to draft him the following year.
The rest, as they say, is history. Graham made just 17 catches in his one college football season, yet he was drafted by the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in the third round with the No. 95 overall pick.
The Patriots had plenty of chances to make good on their initial interest and scoop him up before New Orleans, however. They selected Devin McCourty with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round and followed that up by spending their first of three second-round picks on another tight end -- a dual blocking and receiving threat with a history of back issues -- Rob Gronkowski at No. 42.
After that, the Patriots still had three more picks with which they could have chose Graham if they wanted. Instead they went with Jermaine Cunningham (pick No. 53) and Brandon Spikes (No. 62) in the second round. They took receiver Taylor Price (No. 90) in the third round, five picks before Graham was chosen.
In the fourth round, the Patriots went after Aaron Hernandez with the No. 113 selection, a "move" tight end who would eventually combine with Gronkowski to re-write records in terms of a team's production at the position.
Now with Hernandez incarcerated and Graham threatening to post double-digit touchdowns annually in New Orleans, it makes one wonder what might have been had the Patriots ranked Graham ahead of Price in that 2010 draft -- or had Graham accepted that offer in 2009 at a time when he might've had a hard time telling if a football was puffed or stuffed.