The fourth-year tight end is hoping the Falcons can have a successful season as he pushes for a role in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Jaeden Graham heads into the 2021 Falcons season with a clear path to a roster spot, albeit in a much more crowded tight end room than he was working in a year ago. The former Yale product has gone from 2018 roster hopeful to consistent presence on the Falcons roster, and his athleticism and sure hands should help him stick as the third or fourth tight end again under a brand new coaching staff. The scale of change in Atlanta has been dizzying, though, which is something he knows well.
The following is an interview with Graham from The Draft Network’s Justin Melo, a friend of The Falcoholic who was kind enough to share this with us. You’ll find the entire exchange below, and Graham talks Kyle Pitts, 2021 Falcons fortunes, being re-united with his college tight ends coach and more.
Justin Melo: You originally broke into the league as an undrafted free agent with Atlanta in 2018. Here you are entering your fourth season with the Falcons. It’s not like you’ve bounced around the league or spent time on a bunch of different practice squads. You’ve made a home for yourself in Atlanta. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your NFL journey so far?
Jaeden Graham: The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that I belong in the NFL. When I came out of college, a lot of people had a bunch of questions on whether or not I could cut it in this league. A lot of people didn’t think I’d even get an opportunity to showcase my talent.
Heck, a lot of people didn’t think I could even crack a 90-man roster for training camp. You said it. I’m entering my fourth year now. I have new-found confidence in myself and my abilities. I can put a product on the field that’s good enough for the NFL. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned; I’ve learned to believe in myself. I carry that confidence with me on gameday.
Justin Melo: There’s no doubt that you’ve carved out a role for yourself. You’re going to play for a new head coach in 2021. Arthur Smith is a former tight ends coach. He’s an offensive minded guy. What are your early thoughts on Coach Smith and his vision for your offense?
Jaeden Graham: Coach Smith is great. I really enjoyed getting to know him throughout OTAs (organized team activities). We’ve already gotten into some great work together. I’m obviously really excited to have him in our building. I think we’re going to have a great team this year thanks to some great leadership. Regarding his offense, I’ll let you see what the offense looks like on gameday (laughs). I’ll say this, I’m really looking forward to operating in this new-look offense.
Justin Melo: He’s a great coach. Another new face in the building is Kyle Pitts, the team’s first round pick. Pitts is a dynamic playmaker and you get to share the tight end room with him. What’s your early impression of Pitts?
Jaeden Graham: Kyle [Pitts] is a phenomenal athlete. That much was very obvious from the moment he arrived here. His athleticism definitely shined through even during non-contact practices. The one thing that I really noticed about Pitts was his personality. He’s a humble guy. He wants to put the work in. He wants to play this game at the highest level imaginable. I think he’s a great addition to our tight ends room. I’m so happy he’s a Falcon.
Justin Melo: It’s safe to say that Falcons fans feel the same way. I found this to be interesting. One of your college coaches at Yale, coach Chandler Henley, is now an assistant offensive line coach with the Falcons.
Jaden Graham: Coach Henley was my tight ends coach at Yale. He actually came over from Tennessee [Titans] with coach Arthur Smith. I’m really excited to be working with him again. Coach Henley was the first coach to tell me that I could play in the NFL if I worked hard enough. That was really cool. I remember that conversation like it happened yesterday. We still talk about it. We grabbed lunch together before my senior year at Yale. He asked me about my future goals. I told him that I wanted to play in the NFL. He said that he thought I could do it. It’s funny, I ended up asking him about his goals. He said he wanted to coach in the NFL (laughs).
From that day forward, we made an agreement. For me to play in the NFL, I needed him to coach in the NFL and for him to coach in the NFL, he needed me to play for him (laughs). We both did it. He ended up going to Tennessee first and I ended up in Atlanta. Here we are together in Atlanta. It’s so exciting for both of us.
Justin Melo: That’s an amazing story. We love to see that conversation come full circle. Speaking of coaches, you also have a new tight ends coach in Justin Peelle. Coach Peelle actually played in the NFL for 10 years. I imagine he does a great job relating to his players and what you go through on a daily basis.
Jaeden Graham: There absolutely is. As a player, you always love working for a coach that played in the league. He has a great understanding of how to communicate with us. He can coach us in a different way. He has true knowledge of the position. He knows the difference between what works on paper and what works on the field.
I’m really excited to be working with coach Peelle. He’s worked with Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and other great tight ends in this league. He has a proven track record when it comes to getting the most out of the tight ends on his roster. I’m excited to work with him this season. We already began the process of working together during the offseason. I’m really looking forward to that.
Justin Melo: That’s terrific. What was the reaction like to losing Julio Jones, a player that has meant so much to the franchise and community?
Jaeden Graham: Me personally, I’m happy for Julio. If that’s what he wanted, I’m happy for him. I’m happy for everybody. I think everybody in this league should be able to do what they want to do. If that’s what he wanted to do, I’m happy for Julio. How it impacts the Atlanta Falcons, we just have to go out there and perform. It doesn’t matter. The team goes through massive changes every year. That’s football for you. I want to win with the guys in our locker room. I think this team is more than capable of doing that.
Justin Melo: What’s your favorite aspect of playing the tight end position?
Jaeden Graham: I love playing tight end (laughs). I’ve bounced around just about every position in my lifetime. As a youth football player, I played everything there was to play. In high school, I played quarterback, safety and a little linebacker. I played outside linebacker in college.
Tight end is by far my favorite position to play. I love that we get to do everything that the game allows us to do. We get to block. We get to catch the ball. We get to run after the catch. I absolutely love the tight end position. It allows us to do everything that’s fun about football. Tight end is honestly my favorite position.
Justin Melo: Your passion for playing the position shows on tape. I’m curious if there’s a teammate that you love practicing with or against. I’m talking about a guy that really pushes you to be better. It could be a tight end that motivates you, or it could be a defender that always gives you a good battle during drills. Who’s that guy for you?
Jaeden Graham: I’d start by saying that I think there are a lot of guys like that in the league. Every team has them. That’s why this league is as competitive as it is. When you come out of college and make it to the NFL, your game has to elevate. It happens naturally because you have new competition to go up against. The level of the game elevates.
Someone that I actually really enjoy competing against is Foyesade Oluokun. He’s a linebacker on our team. We were college teammates at Yale. I loved competing against him in college as well. He’s been an absolute baller at the NFL level. He’s played some fantastic football for us. When you go up against him in practice, you know you’re gonna get his ‘A’ game every single rep. That sort of competition has helped me become a better player. I always look forward to the opportunity to compete against him.
Justin Melo: That’s a terrific choice. You two obviously have a special bond. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Jaeden. In closing, what do your goals look like for these next few weeks leading into the season?
Jaeden Graham: We report to training camp on Tuesday [Dave’s note: interview was completed on 7/25]. I’m looking forward to getting after it. The 2021 Atlanta Falcons are about to hit the field and work our butts off. We’re going to develop some great team camaraderie over these next few weeks. My personal goal is to come into the building and work as hard as I can. I’m getting ready for the season.
A big thanks to Justin Melo for the interview and Jaeden Graham for the insights. Hope you enjoyed reading it!