Ole Miss Tight End Evan Engram: Future NFL Weapon

Football is an ever-evolving game, gone are the days of the over-the-top running backs, replaced by quick-strike aerial attacks. Tight ends are being utilized in new and innovative ways, and their demand at the NFL level is at an all-time high.  Mark Schofield dissects the skills that make Evan Engram a such a dangerous move tight end for the Mississippi offense on their quest for an SEC title.

As the era of the move tight end rolls on in the National Football League, Mississippi’s Evan Engram might be the next player to catch the eye of pro scouts and talent evaluators. Very much a player in the mold of Washington’s Jordan Reed and Carolina’s Greg Olsen, Engram is a player who has the size to get open and win on routes against smaller defensive backs when he is split outside. But similar to those players, and even New England’s Rob Gronkowski, he has the athleticism to run away from bigger defenders, such as linebackers and safeties. With Mississippi looking for its third-straight victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, you can expect Engram to be featured in their gameplan. Here are some of the ways that head coach Hugh Freeze likes to design concepts around his talented TE.

Attacking Outside

Listed at 6’ 3” and 277 pounds, Engram has the size to win in the flat and on the outside when matched up against cornerbacks. When coupled with his athletic ability, this is a dangerous combination for any defense. As such, Freeze likes to split Engram out wide, or try to find ways for him to get him the football in the flat. On this play from 2016 against Florida State, Mississippi empties the backfield and puts quarterback Chad Kelly (#10) in the shotgun. They use a trey formation to the right, with Engram lined up as the inside receiver, in a two-point stance. The Seminoles utilize a 4-2-5 nickel defense and they show two-high safety coverage:

Evan Engram

Here is what the offense implements on the play:

Evan Engram

The two outside receivers run vertical routes, occupying their defenders and creating space in the flat, which Engram enters on a quick out pattern. The design here is to get Engram the football in space, with some potential blockers in front of him. This is basically a one-read throw for Kelly:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill2.jpg”]

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The pass is just a bit behind the tight end, forcing him to throttle down and spin back toward the middle of the field. If this throw is to the outside just a bit more, Engram is in position to turn upfield and face a cornerback and safety.

This is a similar design from the same game. Facing 1st and 10 late in the contest and trailing by eight, the offense lines up using 11 personnel and with Kelly in the shotgun. Engram is in a wing alignment to the left, just outside the left tackle. The Seminoles stay with their 4-2-5 nickel, and both cornerbacks are in press technique over the outside receivers:

Evan Engram

Again, Engram releases to the flat:

Evan Engram

The outside receiver releases vertically, making sure to establish inside leverage on the press corner. This creates traffic in the path of the linebacker, trying to rotate over to cover Engram on the flat route:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill4.jpg”]

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Kelly’s throw is on time, but still a little behind Engram, forcing the TE to turn back toward the football. But because of the timing of the pass, he has enough space to cut upfield to be in good position for the tackle attempt by the safety. Engram is able to roll off the tackle and get out of bounds, stopping the clock to conserve precious time in the latter stages of the contest.

Against Alabama in 2015, the Mississippi offense used a similar concept to attempt to get Engram the football in the flat. Here they face 3rd and 9 on the Crimson Tide 15-yard line, and using 11 personnel the offense lines up with dual slot formations and Kelly in the shotgun. Engram is in the slot to the right. Alabama’s nickel defense has a two-high safety look, with the outside corners in press alignment. The slot cornerback shaded to Engram gives a few yards of cushion and stands with inside leverage over the TE pre-snap, trying to defend against any in-breaking route:

Evan Engram

Mississippi runs a Flat-7 smash concept to this side of the field:

Evan Engram

As with the previous example, the outside receiver uses an inside release against the press corner, and this creates traffic for the slot DB, creating some freedom for Engram on the outside. As both the cornerback and the slot defender stay on the vertical route, Kelly checks the football down to Engram:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill6.jpg”]

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It is the safety who rotates over to break on this throw, which comes a bit late in the play for Engram to have a chance. All credit to the safety here for recognizing the route and driving on the throw, but again, if this ball comes out a step earlier, Engram is open and has a chance to make a move after the catch.

A Matchup Dilemma

Because of his athletic ability, Engram is a difficult matchup for defenders such as linebackers and safeties. So in addition to using him in the flat, coach Freeze likes to try and get Engram the football between the hashmarks. On this play against FSU, he lines up on the inside of another three-receiver set to the left:

Evan Engram

The Seminoles have their 4-2-5 defense on the field, and they slide the strongside linebacker out toward Engram and cheat strong safety Derwin James (#3) down a bit toward Engram. Mississippi runs a simple Stick concept, with Engram sitting down in the soft bubble created by the defensive alignment:

Evan Engram

Kelly takes the snap and simply delivers the throw to his TE:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo4.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill8.jpg”]

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Engram turns upfield and is met by James crashing down. Even though the SS has about five yards of momentum, Engram is able to spin forward and pick up additional yardage after the initial contact. You’ll also notice that had Engram completely broken this tackle, Matthew Thomas (#6), the SLB, was still a step or two behind the play.

This next play against the Seminoles is a lovely little design to get Engram the football in the middle of the field. The offense lines up on the FSU 35-yard line, and position Engram in the slot to the right. Just prior to the snap, the running back goes in Tear motion to the right, crossing behind Kelly and toward Engram’s side of the field:

Evan Engram

The offense sets up a screen to the running back, with Engram throttling down just after the snap and getting in position to block Thomas:
Evan Engram

But this is a designed throw to Engram:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo5.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill9.jpg”]

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The TE shows a block, which causes the linebackers to bring their eyes to the running back and the potential screen. Engram then slips behind the second-level defenders and into an open space in front of the secondary. Kelly hits him there, and the TE is able to race away from the linebackers deep into Seminole territory for a big gain.  

Here’s a play from last season’s game against Alabama where Engram attacked the middle of the field, taking advantage of a favorable matchup. Facing a 1st and 10 early in the game, the offense lines up on their own 34-yard line with 11 personnel and dual slot formations. Engram is in the slot to the right. Again, the offense uses Tear motion before the play, with the running back crossing behind Kelly to the left side of the field:

Evan Engram

Alabama adjusts their defense, and they roll to a Cover 3 matching concept:

Evan Engram

In this coverage, the strong safety and the linebacker to Engram’s side – Buffalo second-round pick Reggie Ragland (#19) – are asked to match the #2 receiver to each side and stay with them on vertical routes. That’s exactly what Engram is running:

Evan Engram

Engram is able to establish outside leverage on his post route, as Ragland walls him off initially from any quick route to the inside. Because of his speed, however, the TE is able to run around the LB and break open on a post route:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo6.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill13.jpg”]

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Establishing Inside Leverage Against Safeties

Now we can examine Engram as a deeper threat in the passing game. Because of his speed he can run away from underneath coverage and quickly establish inside leverage on more vertical routes against safeties, which then allows him to use his bigger frame if necessary to shield defenders from the football. This is a play from Mississippi’s game against Florida State. Kelly and the offense line up for a 3rd and 17 on the FSU 21-yard line. Engram is in a slot to the left. We see Tear motion to the right, with the running back motioning to the side of the formation away from the TE:

Evan Engram

The Seminoles are in a 3-3-5 nickel, and they drop into a Cover 2 look after the snap. Engram runs a simple seam route:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo7.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill14.jpg”]

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He has the speed to run away from Thomas, the MLB dropping into the intermediate zone between the safeties. With the outside receiver releasing deep as well, the playside safety shades a bit to the outside, which gives Engram the space he needs to the middle of the field. He makes a very good catch on the pass from Kelly, and notches the touchdown.

Here’s the play as it develops from the end zone camera:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo8.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill18.jpg”]

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Kelly makes a very nice throw here, but the design of the play and the route from Engram – coupled with his athleticism – make the play possible.

Next is Engram getting open in the red zone against Alabama from last season. Facing 3rd and 8 Mississippi lines up with dual slot formations, and Engram in the slot to the left. They again use Tear motion and send the RB to the right side of the field. The Crimson Tide have their 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field and they walk Ragland down to the edge, with inside leverage over the TE:

Evan Engram

But, it’s a trap!

Evan Engram

The defense runs a Cover 0 blitz here, sending both linebackers. The nickelback picks up the RB in the backfield while the secondary plays straight man coverage. As you can see from this still right after the snap, the safeties are determined to prevent the #2 receiver from getting inside leverage:

Evan Engram

But that’s exactly what Engram wants to do – and does. He uses a Dino Stem, and with a strong left plant step to the outside he forces Marlon Humphrey (#26) to commit to the outside ever so slightly. This is enough to give Engram a step to the inside, which he uses to break open:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo9.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill19.jpg”]

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Kelly makes a back-foot throw under duress, and the pass sails high. But if the throw is put on the receiver, Engram has the first down, and perhaps more:

Evan Engram

Vertical Threat

Hugh Freeze is not afraid to let Kelly try and find Engram on deeper routes. On this play against FSU, the TE is the #2 receiver in a three-receiver set to the right, and he simply runs right past cornerback Marcus Lewis (#24):

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo10.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill23.jpg”]

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Again, Engram sets up the route with a Dino Stem, stepping to the outside first before breaking to the post. This gives him inside leverage as well as separation. Lewis tries to close down, but since the throw is to the inside, it gives Engram a chance to use his frame to box out the defender.

On this next play, we can see how Freeze tried to scheme Engram open on a deeper route against Alabama. Mississippi faces a 1st and 10 on the Crimson Tide 19-yard line. They line up with 12 personnel, with three receivers to the right. Engram is the #2 receiver to that side of the field. Alabama stays with their 4-2-5 nickel defense, and they show Cover 2 Man Underneath:

Evan Engram

The running back starts out in motion to the right, and the defense adjusts their coverage, rolling to a Cover 1 look:

Evan Engram

Mississippi uses a switch vertical concept here, with the outside receiver running a post while Engram runs a wheel route to the outside, matched up against Minkah Fitzpatrick (#29):

Evan Engram

Engram gains a step of separation on the route, as the post from the outside creates just enough traffic as Fitzpatrick tries to stay with the TE:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo11.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill26.jpg”]

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With the ball in flight, Fitzpatrick locks up the tight end, and gets flagged for defensive pass interference.

Now let’s return to a play from the FSU game, and bring things full circle. This was a route concept that Mississippi used to get Engram the football deep along the sideline, and given how well Engram can attack the flats, it’s one I anticipate seeing more during this season, especially against Alabama:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramVideo12.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/EngramStill27.jpg”]

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Engram lines up in the wing as the offense has Kelly in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field. The Seminoles align in a Cover 2. As the play begins, the receiver outside of Engram releases to the inside on his vertical stem, while Engram runs to the flat. This is a design we have seen before from Mississippi and their TE. But after reaching the flat, Engram breaks vertically. Kelly hits him just inside the five-yard line, giving the offense a 1st and goal. This route design is great in that it takes advantage of Engram’s ability in space and in the flats, while still showing the defense a look they have seen the entire game. This might be something to use against Saban’s defense, which does like to use a lot of Cover 3 matching concepts. That outside receiver might face aggressive man coverage on that side, and Engram might be able to find space along the sideline against such a coverage.

Engram is part of a talented TE class, that looks to be one of the more solid group of prospects at this position in years. With his ability to operate from sideline to sideline and at all levels of the field, he is a versatile weapon for Freeze and the Mississippi offense. Some of these route concepts discussed herein will be very effective for Engram as they look to take on Alabama and the rest of their tough SEC schedule.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how how Carson Wentz performed in his NFL debut.

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All film courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

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