Blocking is the single reason that Rhett Ellison is now a member of the New York Giants. While Jerell Adams and Will Tye might have upside as blockers, their potential does not meet their current reality on the field.
It’s quite fitting that one of Ellison’s favorite players from college was the Giants’ own Bear Pascoe, because the role Pascoe played is likely exactly what the Giants have in mind for Ellison.
Block first, block second, block some more, and then when the defense isn’t looking, catch a pass or two. Let’s check out some film to see what the Giants are getting.
To start off we’re taking a trip back to the beginning of 2015, which saw the Vikings play the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The first play of the game is a simple power run.
It is initially intended to be a run through the right “B” gap, but ultimately gets bounced through the “D” gap between the two tight ends. On this play Ellison (yellow box) is assigned to block Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
As Adrian Peterson takes the handoff, he accelerates up to the B-gap, but a linebacker comes up to fill it. He bounces out of that hole and over to the edge, where Ellison is engaging with Miller.
Blocking Miller is a tough ask for anyone, let alone a tight end who only enjoys a nominal advantage in size and is far outclassed in terms of athleticism. However, Ellison doesn’t hesitate an instant to engage. When he does so, he has a nice wide base, keeps his pad level down, and his hands are inside Miller’s framework.
In short, Ellison uses his technique to give him every possible advantage, or at least nullify as many of Miller’s as possible.
Finally we have a small crease for Peterson. The fullback has moved the inside linebacker out of the gap on the left side, while Ellison has effectively sealed Miller. It isn’t much, but it’s a lot to ask of a tight end to do much more than that against a player like Von Miller (though he does effectively de-cleat him later in the game).
The player wrapping around the edge of the line is able to make the tackle of Peterson as he works through the crease, limiting this to a mere 3-yard gain. Result aside, this is a solid play from Ellison against a truly great player.
Last play we saw the Vikings use a man/gap blocking scheme for a power run right into the teeth of the defense. Here is an outside zone run. Once again the Vikings are in a “22” formation with a running back, a fullback, and two tight ends, both in-line on the left side.
The idea of an outside zone run is for the offense to get the defense “flowing” toward the side of the field, stressing it until its gap discipline breaks down and holes open up. Then the running back simply picks a hole and “runs to daylight”.
With the initial blocks you can already see holes starting to form. Ellison (yellow box) is chipping the right defensive end, but will release up-field to block the linebacker at the second level.
With the ball in Peterson’s hands, Ellison is latched on at the second level. The combination of the left guard, Kyle Rudolph (number 82), and the fullback have created the initial hole. It’s Ellison’s job to seal the block at the second level to turn a the initial yardage into a big gainer. He does (though he gets tripped up in the process), and Peterson is able to make a good gain on the play before the linebacker scraping across the top is able to bring him down.
As of right now, Ellison is likely the top tight end on the Giants’ depth chart. That means that he will have to catch the occasional pass. Ben McAdoo frequently sent his tight ends on drag routes a few yards past the line of scrimmage as defenders either committed to the pass rush or vacated to cover Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. While neither Adams nor Tye -- or Ellison, for that matter -- have the agility to turn these plays into big gains, they are safe plays that can advance the ball and keep the offense on schedule.
Here we see Ellison running the familiar crossing route. His is about 7 yards from the line of scrimmage, a bit deeper than what the Giants’ tight ends usually ran. Washington appears to be in a 2-deep coverage shell, but rotates into a Cover-1 shell at the snap of the ball.
Ellison gets a free release here, with the strong safety still on his way down in coverage. He does a good job of sneaking in behind the linebacker who comes down into coverage on the running back, and in front of the linebacker in coverage on the other tight end. Both wide receivers run deep routes to clear out the corners.
Ellison is wide open to make the grab, turning in-stride to present a clear target to Teddy Bridgewater, and making a nice hands catch. He goes to turn upfield, but the safety is there to make the tackle.
Ellison isn’t really the type of tight end who can turn this into a big play, but it is a very safe one, which he performs well. He does a great job of finding the soft spot in the coverage, presenting a good target, and securing the catch. It’s not a flashy play, but these are the kinds of plays that keep offenses marching.
It might have happened as the clock struck 4:00 and free age agency opened, but nobody can call Rhett Ellison a “flashy” signing. That, however, doesn’t mean he isn’t a good one.
He might not give the Giants the dynamic weapon they lack at the tight end position, but he is still a solid receiver who brings a drastic upgrade in blocking. With one of the best tight end classes in recent memory coming out this year, they could still look to upgrade the position. Even if they do, however, Ellison gives them a solid floor and foundation to build upon.