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NFL Draft: Is TE David Njoku right pick at 23 for the Giants?

Let’s assess just how badly the Giants need a tight end

Florida Atlantic v Miami
David Njoku

David Njoku, one of the two players most often awarded to the New York Giants in mock drafts, had been scheduled to visit the Giants on Monday before that meeting was apparently cancelled. Just how big of a need is it for the Giants in the 2017 NFL Draft? And, how likely is it that the Giants would select Njoku if he is available with the 23rd pick?

What the Giants already have

Current roster: Will Tye, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison, Matt LaCosse

The Giant signed Ellison to a four-year, $18 million free-agent contract with $8 million guaranteed. They didn’t do that hoping Ellison would be a dynamic every-down tight end who could threaten the seam and be a real weapon in the passing attack. They did it because after Will Johnson was injured last year the Giants never really had a combo tight end/fullback who could both block on the edge and lead a running back from the backfield, and their running game suffered for it. Ellison spent five seasons doing those things for the Minnesota Vikings, and doing them well.

The Giants continue to have high hopes for the three young tight ends they already have.

Tye, who made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Stony Brook in 2015, has 90 receptions over two seasons. He did not take the step forward as a blocker or receiver that the Giants hoped for in 2016, and at only 6’2” isn’t an ideal seam or red zone target, but he is still only 25.

Adams, a sixth-round pick a year ago, did catch 16 passes in 21 targets. His collegiate work at South Carolina showed that he does have the potential to become a solid inline blocker, and the Giants will be looking for a step forward in 2017.

Injuries have stalled LaCosse’s career with the Giants in each of the past two seasons. The Giants, though, keep bringing the 24-year-old back. So, they must see something that intrigues them.

It is entirely possible that the Giants don’t see their perceived needs the same way the fan base does, or draft analysts do. With Ellison on board to handle the blocking, the Giants might feel what they have in house already is fine. We will see.

The case for Njoku

Almost every draft analyst has the dynamic 20-year-old Cedar Grove, N.J. native as the second-ranked tight end in this draft class behind O.J. Howard of Alabama. Most figure Howard will be long gone before the Giants select at No. 23, and a healthy number believe Njoku could also be off the board.

What, though, if he isn’t?

Chris recently labeled Njoku as a Day 1 fit for the Giants:

“He is a tremendous athlete who presents an immediate upgrade as a pass catching tight end. He has the speed, catch radius and run after catch ability to force defenses out of the “Man-2” coverage that frustrated the Giants’ offense in 2017.

“He is still developing as a blocker from a technique perspective. However, he shows willingness and has the long arms and lower-body power to develop into a decent blocker at the line of scrimmage and potentially a plus blocker at the second level.”

That assessment certainly appears to be on target. In his 2017 NFL Draft Guide, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports wrote:

His freakish athleticism for the position leaps off the screen, using his seam-busting speed and dynamic YAC skills to be a downfield playmaker (averaged 16.6 yards per catch over his career). Njoku is a balanced blocker with potential to be above average in this area, but needs to develop his functional strength, technique and consistency. Although he is a better athlete than football player right now, Njoku is dripping with natural talent and has the elite athleticism to stress every level of the defense – still raw in several areas, but massive upside to be a playmaking NFL starter earns him a top-20 overall grade.

There is certainly to be made that the Giants could, and should, take the best offensive play-maker on the board at 23. If that is their intent, Njoku could be that guy. There is also the apparent need to stop the seemingly endless revolving door of late-round draft choices, undrafted free agents and short-term free-agent fixes that have populated the position for the past decade.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Cam Robinson (74)
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Going in another direction

There are plenty of arguments for doing something else at No. 23 even if Njoku is available.

The Giants fan base has gnashed its collective teeth for months about the offensive tackle situation. What if the Giants really love tackles Garett Bolles of Utah and Cam Robinson of Alabama? Does it make more sense to grab a potential starting tackle and try to find a tight end later?

Linebacker? The Giants haven’t taken one in the first round since 1984, but there is plenty of chatter that Zach Cunningham, Jarrad Davis and even Tyus Bowser of Houston could be in the conversation. After their apparent interest in Leonard Floyd a year ago, and with only one linebacker under contract past 2017, that direction makes sense.

What about quarterback? With all the time the Giants have spent going to Pro Days and workouts to watch the top quarterbacks, odds are pretty good that there is one that they love. Whether it’s this year or next, finding a potential successor to Eli Manning has to be high on the organization’s to-do list. For argument’s sake — and I do not know this to be the case — let’s say the Giants are in love with Patrick Mahomes. If that’s the case, quarterback is more important than tight end, so maybe you take the potential long-term franchise quarterback.

Georgia Southern v Mississippi
Evan Engram
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Other tight end options

NFL teams potentially on the hunt for help at tight end who miss out on Howard and Njoku really shouldn’t worry. There are so many good ones in this draft class, with such a variety of skill sets, that if you really want a tight end out of this draft you should be able to get an NFL-caliber one, even on Day 3.

In its 2017 Draft Guide, Pro Football Focus wrote:

At the 2016 NFL Combine, the fastest 40-yard-dash time posted by any tight end came from Jerell Adams, at 4.64 seconds. There were only three tight ends to put up at least 20 reps on the bench press, and just three players to record higher than a 35-inch vertical. In 2017, there were eight tight ends to post a 40-yard-dash time of 4.64 seconds or better, eight tight ends who put up at least 20 reps on the bench and six that recorded at least a 35-inch vertical. The athleticism between this year’s class of TEs versus last year’s isn’t even in the same ballpark.

The 2017 TE class has a chance to be the best tight end class we’ve seen in recent memory, and it will likely be one of the positions that produces the most value in the mid-rounds. If you’re team is in need of a tight end, there’s a chance they strike gold come late April.

Evan Engram of Ole Miss usually ranks behind Howard and Njoku, but if teams are looking for a pure pass-catching tight end who could be a mismatch from the slot or as a move guy Engram would be a fantastic get. Some think he could sneak into the bottom of the first round.

Brugler wrote:

With his body type and bulk, Engram looks more like a physical wide receiver than traditional tight end, but instead of being one or the other, he should be viewed as a hybrid of both. He is an above average athlete for his size with the route quickness and ball skills to be a dangerous receiving threat, displaying fluid adjustments and sticky hands to twist and snare. While a competitive blocker, Engram doesn’t have the strength potential to be overwhelming in this area and is more of a one-pop type. His fit at the next level will vary depending on scheme, but to get the most out of his versatile skill-set, Engram projects best as a “big” slot receiver – should be considered in the first round by several teams.

Brugler has draftable grades on 16 tight ends, and doesn’t even include Engram or the 6’7” Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech. He lists both of them among wide receivers.

If you want or need a tight end out of this class you should be able to find one, even if it isn’t Howard or Njoku.

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