The New York Giants selected Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, adding to their already loaded group of receiving threats that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard. The Ole Miss product impressed throughout the draft process from his time down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl to the NFL Combine, where he put up a 4.42 second 40 yard dash and 36.0” vertical jump. There’s no question that the Giants acquired a very good and explosive player with their first round pick.
Yet, there is a bit of a debate brewing over whether this was the right pick for the franchise moving forward. That debate stems from their need to select a franchise left tackle and get a do-it-all tight end that can help in the run and pass game. Engram is really only going to help in the latter as a split out tight end that will win up the seams and with his yards after catch ability. The easy answer here is that there probably wasn’t a day one franchise left tackle on the board. Sure, Cam Robinson was available, but there are some off the field concerns there and he may not have the current skill set to be a starting left tackle day one. As for drafting a tight end that can block in addition to catch, the only one in the draft who fits that description is OJ Howard, who went 19th overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Based on the players available at their draft position I think the Giants made a great selection.
The second part of the debate revolves around Engram’s skills on the field. How will Engram make an impact with all of these weapons calling for the ball around him? It’s a valid question on the surface, but has serious flaws to it.
“First-round pick Evan Engram should contribute immediately at tight end, but how much is the question. With slot receiver Sterling Shepard (drafted last year) and new signee Brandon Marshall taking their share of targets, Engram might make less of an impact, even accounting for Big Blue’s recent blues at TE.”
From a production standpoint Harrison is absolutely correct. There’s not enough balls to go around for Engram and company. However, I think the key flaw is not accounting for how Engram can help his teammates get open more consistently. Being a psychological threat pre-snap still has impact on the overall play. Whether or not the production is in the stat sheet the effect still carries out onto the field and into the defense’s game plan. Engram has the ability to make plays in the middle of the field at every level.
Ben McAdoo’s vanilla 11 personnel offense can now have Marshall alone as the X on one side of the field with Beckham Jr., Shepard, and Engram in a trips formation to the other. This will force the defense to pick their poison with their gameplan. Due to his speed and route running ability, Engram is going to force defenses to cover him with athletic safeties and linebackers. The addition of Engram is going to give New York’s receivers more one-on-one matchups, which could lead to more big plays down the field. Before the draft, teams might have played a lot of Cover 2 against the Giants offense to provide their underneath corners help with Beckham and Marshall over the top. Now, with Engram in the mix, Cover 2 may leave defenses at a potential disadvantage with Engram matched up against a linebacker and a threat to split the middle of the defense. This could potentially force teams to go into Cover 1 more often against New York, giving Beckham and Marshall one on one matchups to beat.
According to this article from the Giants team website, because of Engram’s versatility McAdoo will try some interesting formations and line him up at different spots on the field. “He’s not going to line up on the line and just try to drive block people all the time,” Ross said. “He’s going to be in the backfield, he’s going to be in the slot, he’s going to be detached. He will be down at the traditional tight end position sometimes as well but the way Ole Miss used him he could line up at four or five different positions.”
The mentioning of him lining up in the backfield is interesting. Engram displayed his ability to do that at Ole Miss effectively and during the Senior Bowl practices when Hue Jackson was calling the plays.
There’s a point to be made that this is all moot if Manning isn’t given the time to throw his talented targets the ball. That’s true, but from an organizational philosophical standpoint I cannot get behind forcing a pick because of need. There’s a chance the player they need to fill that role did not exist at that point in time. New York added to a strength and it should pay off immediately and down the line. In a year or two when Marshall hangs ’em up Engram may be the best fit to take over his role since he’s essentially a wide receiver labeled as a tight end. If not, he can definitely fill the production void left by Marshall’s absence as a receiving tight end. But that’s just a long-term projection at this point.
In regards to next season, already being a polished route runner, Engram is ready to make an immediate impact for himself with and without the ball. The threat of a receiving tight end should open up the field for the rest of the Giants receivers. Plus, having four really good receivers on the field at once should increase the odds of one getting open. He’s another difficult matchup on this Giants roster that defensive coordinators will lose sleep preparing for.