When the New York Giants selected tight end Evan Engram out of Ole Miss with the 23rd overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, it was a surprise.
Not because they selected a tight end in the first round of the draft — though it was the first time that had happened since Jeremy Shockey in 2002, and before that Derek Brown in 1992. No, the surprise was that they selected Engram while Miami’s David Njoku was still on the board.
It had long been speculated that this would be the year that the Giants finally invested in the tight end position. Not only were they in desperate need for a play-maker, but the 2017 class was shaping up to be a potentially historic one at the tight end spot. Not only did they have a glaring need at the position, but there would be very talented players coming out.
Alabama’s O.J. Howard was the apple of most Giants’ fans eyes, but as he heaped a great combine workout on top of a dominating week at the Senior Bowl, his draft stock rose out of the Giants’ grasp. As that happened, attention turned to Njoku
Njoku checked many of the boxes that describe a Jerry Reese first-round pick. He doesn’t have Howard’s raw size, but he has a chiseled physique complete with long arms and big hands. As a red-shirt sophomore he is young, and his explosive athleticism is obvious on tape.
Few anticipated that when the Giants drafted an athletic “hybrid” tight end that it would be Engram. His size, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, held him back in the eyes of scouts throughout the draft process. However, whenever given the chance to compete, he impressed.
What Was Said Before The Draft
Engram had three terrific days of practice [at the Senior Bowl] and improved his draft grade. He was athletic, natural catching the ball and surprised people with his blocking strength. He easily got downfield to come away with the tough grab and at the same time controlled opponents as an inline blocker.
- Tony Pauline, draftanalyst.com
Leading up to the draft, Engram and Njoku were my two final evaluations, and these were my summations for each:
David Njoku has the potential to be a special player in the NFL, and it’s a testament to just how good this tight end class is that he is just one of several about whom that could be said.
He will likely step in and have an impact year one, but he will also take a year or two to reach his full potential. Does that make him more or less likely to be a New York Giant? At this point it isn’t even a sure thing that he will even be available for them to pick.
Given a relatively flat wide receiver class, teams looking for passing game help could look to this incredibly athletic tight end class and Njoku could be long gone before the Giants pick.
Within his limitations, there are very few negatives to Evan Engram’s game. He doesn’t have the size we’ve come to associate with the tight end position, but he has rare athleticism and will step into the NFL as one of the best athletes for his size in the league.
If a team recognizes what they have and don’t try to force him into being something he is not (i.e.: An in-line blocking tight end), and uses him in a manner similar to how Washington uses Jordan Reed, Engram could have an instant impact in the NFL.
The two are remarkably similar. While Engram is a better pure athlete, Njoku is younger and has a bigger frame. Given that both were available when the Giants were selecting, Engram’s experience was likely the deciding factor. A four-year starter, Engram’s in-game experience dwarfs Njoku’s nine games as a starter. A more refined receiver and blocker, it was more likely that he would be able to step in and contribute more quickly in the Giant’s timing-based offense than Njoku.
What They’ve Said In The NFL
Head Coach Hue Jackson (7/29, on Njoku battling ball security issues)
“No, I think he is just trying to work as hard as he can. We have to get through that phase. I have seen this before. There is no question in my mind that he is going to come out the other side of it. He also made a really good play later on in practice so I know it is there. He just has to do it consistently. That is what I’m going to push him to do, and I think he will do it.”
Head Coach Hue Jackson (8/17, on Njoku returning from a back injury that held him out of the first preseason game)
“No doubt. He is getting there. I think he is getting in better shape, first and foremost. Getting back into football and doing it every day and the grind of it and bumping into each other. I am very excited about watching him on Monday. He needs to go out and make plays. He is a very talented young man, has a lot of ability, but he has to go show us that he can do it in a game.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (6/10)
“He is such a dynamic player at the tight end position with his skill set, he is going to create a lot of mismatches, whether it’s between linebackers, safeties or corners,” Casillas said after Friday’s OTA. “He is not a small guy. He runs routes just as good as any receiver we have on our team. He creates separation and he has great hands.”
Head Coach Ben McAdoo (8/5)
“I saw a young player who is learning how to play the game the way we want in played down in the green zone,” McAdoo said when asked about Engram. “He’s a target down there, we all see that, we all see the skill set. The challenge for a guy like him is you move him around, you ask a lot of him.
“He can think too much playing that position. I asked him today to go out there and play with speed and we’ll detail it as we go, and don’t look back. He made some productive plays down there today.”
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (8/5)
“Seems like he’s got more power than what most DBs expected. He gets his body into you and gets open or just beats you with speed,” said Giants’ cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “So, he’s definitely a threat, man. He’s definitely showing that, especially in one-on-ones. He’s always getting open, catching the ball.”
Which tight end will have the better showing? That’s impossible to say. Njoku has played less football and missed his first preseason game with an injury, so Engram is likely further along right now. However, he has yet to play in a live game situation with Eli Manning in the Giants’ precise offensive scheme.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Both teams have young tight ends who have the raw ability to be special. Hopefully, both are able to live up to their potential.