The New York Giants ranked at the bottom of the barrel in tight end production last year, leading to their first-round, 23rd overall pick of Ole Miss product, Evan Engram, for the 2017 NFL draft.
According to Football Outsiders’ DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) rankings for a group of 46 tight ends that caught a minimum of 25 passes in 2016, starting TE Will Tye ranked 40th. His backups were just as unproductive with Jerell Adams and Larry Donnell ranking 26th and last, respectively, out of the 32 tight ends who caught between 10-24 passes for the year.
With Engram’s unique combination of size (6’3″, 234 lbs) and speed (he ran a Combine-best 40-yard dash of 4.42 among his position’s class), the Giants’ rookie plays more like a WR/H-back chess piece who can line up anywhere in head coach Ben McAdoo’s offensive formations.
Versatility—exactly what the Giants need to take their 17th-ranked passing offense to the top tier this season.
Not Just a Hand-in-the-Dirt TE
Anyone who watched the Giants last season knows that the team was arguably the most transparent unit in terms of offensive formations.
According to Football Outsiders, the 2016 Giants ran 925 of their total 1,009 offensive plays in 11-personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers).
That is an astonishing 92 percent of plays ran in the same setup, crushing the previous record of 81 percent held by…the 2015 New York Giants (**sigh**).
Engram has experience in lining up all over the formation will open the door for variety. McAdoo can implement two tight end sets, mixing power formations with free-agent signing Rhett Ellison, and hybrid 11- or 12-personnel looks with Engram lined up in the slot next to Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall or Sterling Shepard while Adams or Tye stays in tight on the line of scrimmage.
Expect the Giants offense to completely diversify their setups, allowing the playbook to blow wide open.
He Attacks the Seam
Because the Giants had such a poor run game and tight ends who were unable to threaten the middle of the field, teams could successfully play Cover 2 as a base defense (watch recaps of last year’s Cowboys/Giants games).
Free safeties would shade and bracket Beckham Jr. on deep routes, down linemen won their battles at the line of scrimmage and linebackers mixed man or zone coverages to assist on down-and-distance situations.
Engram was a legitimate deep threat in his junior and senior campaigns at Ole Miss, going 10-for-17 with 337 yards and three touchdowns on balls thrown at least 20 yards in the air.
You can guarantee the Giants will use his ability to stretch the middle of the field—an area that will be open to expose with spread formations—which can open the door for deep threats like Marshall and OBJ to cash in on big shots down the sideline.
Can Runs Routes at Every Level
The majority of Engram’s routes in the past two seasons with Ole Miss consisted mainly of curls, hitches, seams and wheels, with an emphasis on finding the soft spaces in defensive zones.
But because he has reliable hands on deep routes usually called for X and Z receivers, he can mix double moves to beat man-to-man coverages or flat zones.
In the clip above, Engram does an excellent job attacking the flat, running parallel with the line of scrimmage and getting the linebacker with cloud-flat zone responsibility to over-drift laterally with almost no depth. The free safety, who was not expecting the chair route from Engram, drifts just enough away from the sideline to allow the quarterback to place a well-timed ball to the TE.
The majority of routes run by Giants’ ends last season were from the inside-out. The addition of Engram means an added weapon to the offensive arsenal—one who can attack from sideline to sideline at any depth McAdoo desires.
Biggest Concerns for Engram…
It’s overkill to address Engram’s poor run-blocking skills, which reared its ugly head during his final season as a Rebel. His 230-pound frame dwarfs in comparison to the elite NFL tight end class, those of whom can dominate every facet of their position’s duties (Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce—to name a few).
This will be the first season Engram is exposed to an NFL-level weight training program under the careful eye of tight ends coach, Kevin Gilbride. Functional weight will be added to bulk up his frame while still allowing the rookie to thrive in his gifted skillset as a receiver.
His ability to play the pass at the high point and snag the ball out of the air with his long 33 1/2″ arms will allow him to win 50/50 contested catches, opposed to the bigger-bodied receivers that use their size and frame to box-out defenders.
Engram has the ability to be a mismatch nightmare for 4-3 linebackers who are run-support players first, but he must perfect fundamentals, which include coming back to the ball on hitch/curl routes, keeping head up and base balanced when blocking edge rushers and perfecting the cut block when out in space.
With the Giants combination of speed-rush and West Coast passing, expect Engram to spend the majority of 2017 developing as Eli Manning’s reliable security blanket. He will contribute greatly in setting up manageable down-and-distance situations.
He will also make the occasional “Did you see that??!” big play while evoking some head-scratching moments as Paul Perkins and Co. struggle to find open space on the rookie’s side if the team is brave enough to run that way.