Saints star Jimmy Graham not ruled out for Lions game

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday he hasn't ruled out All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham for Sunday's game against the Lions at Ford Field.

Graham suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5, and despite the Saints being idle in Week 6, NFL Network reported Sunday that he's expected to miss two or three games including the upcoming matchup against the Lions.

"I don't know for certain that that's going to be the case," Payton said Wednesday on a teleconference. "We'll see how the week progresses. I feel like he's doing well."

Replacing Graham would be difficult for the Saints. He leads the team in receiving with 34 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns this season and has been the top receiver for two of the past three years. In 2013, the 6-foot-7 Graham had 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns.

If Graham can't play Sunday, backup tight ends Ben Watson, Josh Hill and Tom Crabtree could see expanded roles. The Saints could also lean more on their running backs and receivers.

"Obviously he's an important player to our offense, and no different than whenever all of a sudden you lose a player potentially to injury, the next guy's got to step up," Payton said. "And you've got to look at the touches I think specifically as to who's getting the ball third down, who's getting the ball in the red zone. So we'll see how the week goes with him."

The Saints will likely have a bit more firepower in the backfield with running back Mark Ingram returning to practice Wednesday after missing the past three games.

"We'll see," Payton said of Ingram's availability. "Fortunately for us, it's not a leg injury. He had a fracture just above his thumb, and I think today he handled the workload pretty well."