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Most Impressive Thing About Evan Engram’s Start? He Is Doing It In-Line

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Let’s break down Engram’s play, look at some other Giants statistics

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NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evan Engram
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Engram has 19 receptions and 200 receiving yards in four games, a pace that would lead him to 76 catches and 800 yards for the season. That would make him the most productive rookie tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 74 passes for 894 yards for the New York Giants in 2002.

Chris listed some of Engram’s impressive numbers — second in tight end targets with 30, third in receptions and second in yards receiving. Courtesy of research by Pro Football Focus, here is even more perspective on what Engram has done so far. PFF found that Engram could become just the fifth rookie tight end to reach 800 receiving yards and the second to surpass 80 receptions. The others:

The most impressive thing about what Engram has done thus far? He is doing it while essentially learning to play a completely different way than he did at Ole Miss.

Per PFF, Engram ran 73.2 percent of his routes from the slot last season. This season, he has run only 26.5 percent of his routes from the slot.

That means that Engram is having to learn to deal with a whole host of issues he didn’t face in college.

I spoke with him about this on Thursday, and here is what he said about running routes from the two spots:

“There’s a lot more going on around me. In-line you’ve got ends outside of you and you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball, you’ve got a linebacker … you’ve gotta try to find a release. It’s a lot more thinking, a lot more mental pre-snap that goes on being in-line rather than being in the slot. A more easy release (in slot), more one-one if you do have a man pressed up on you. Definitely a lot more going on in-line, a lot more things to think about, a lot more things to take into account.”

Engram told me he is “hard to please,” but that he is “doing some good things and definitely learning a lot.”

“Still some things I can get better at like reading defenses from three-point and being able to keep my eyes on the ball, being able to keep my eyes on the guys I have to release off of. It’s a process, but definitely getting better at it,” he said.

More Numbers

First, a comment. I am not a fan of Pro Football Focus’s player grades. I use them as a reference because it is the tool we have available, but those grades are not gospel and I don’t believe they are always an accurate reflection of player performance. My thoughts on the poor grades given to D.J. Fluker last week are an example.

That said, I am undoubtedly a fan of much of the other data collected by PFF. It is a treasure-trove of valuable information you just can’t currently get anywhere else. Let’s mine through some of what PFF has released this week to see what we can learn about the Giants.

Confirming how good Sterling Shepard has been

I put Shepard in the “Kudos” category in my quarter-pole Kudos & Wet Willies post. All of his numbers are up significantly from his rookie season, and the info below shows why he is in the slot and Engram is learning to play in-line.

Despite his individual success, Shepard would rather be winning games.

“I don’t really feel good. It only feels good whenever you’re winning,” Shepard said. “The ultimate goal is to win as a team. If that doesn’t happen then you’re not going to feel good no matter how you play. That’s kinda where I’m at with it.”

Don’t blame Dalvin

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was asked this week if the loss of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins has had anything to do with the team’s struggles in run defense this season.

“It can’t be one player. Hank’s a good football player, but I mean, one player doesn’t make or break a run defense. It’s 11 guys, in my opinion,” Spagnuolo said.

The Giants drafted defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in the second round to replace Hankins. In my view, Tomlinson has been a seamless replacement for Hankins and his play isn’t the reason for the regression in run defense.

Explosive plays are costing the Giants

In a previous post I mentioned that the Giants had given up five explosive plays (20 yards or more) vs. the run this season — matching the number they gave up all of last season.

“The ones that skew things a lot and it’s always this way when you start looking at stats is the explosive plays and it only takes one or two explosive runs to all the sudden make the stats look as crappy as they look right now,” Spagnuolo said. “There are still plenty of good run defensive plays, but in this league, you give up explosive plays, it ends up turning into points and we can’t afford to be giving up points.”

Poor tackling in the secondary is the biggest culprit there, turning decent gains into big plays. Per PFF, safety Darian Thompson leads the league in missed tackles vs. the run with five. It doesn’t help that PFF has Jonathan Casillas graded as the league’s worst run-defending linebacker.

A word about Eli Apple

Angry fans want to call Eli Apple, the Giants’ 2016 first-round pick, a bust. My take on Apple is that he has all the tools to be a tremendous cornerback and he is often in position to make plays, he just has a bad habit of not finding the ball quickly enough to make them. That leads to giving up big plays and committing penalties.

Don’t give up on the kid.

About the other Eli

Again, I don’t want to get hung up on PFF grades. I have to point out what those grades indicate about Eli Manning, though, because Pro Football Focus is traditionally tough on the Giants’ QB.

Missing Richburg

What will the Giants miss on Sunday with center Weston Richburg (concussion) out? One of the league’s best pass-blocking centers, that’s what. Per PFF, Richburg has given up just three pressures in 162 pass-blocking snaps, a pass-blocking efficiency score of 98.6.