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How will Pat Shurmur’s offense use Giants’ tight ends?

Evan Engram productive, even if miscast, as a rookie

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

During his introductory press conference last week, new head coach Pat Shurmur refused to put a label on the style of offense the New York Giants will run under his direction.

“I think we have an offense that we’re going to constantly try to do the things that our players can do well. So once we quickly learn what our players are good at, then we’ll ‑‑ but I do have a West Coast background,” Shurmur said. “My last three years in Philadelphia, I was with Chip Kelly, and so the tempo and being able to play fast, there’s advantages to using that strategically. When you can run the ball like we did this year, and we developed a core set of runs, then the play actions are meaningful and that’s how you can drive the ball down the field. So try to use all those things. And then when they’re trying to destroy our quarterback, certainly the screen game is something that’s very important.

“So I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a label for it. We want to play good offense. We want to play New York Giants offense.”

One of the interesting things about how that offense develops will be how the tight ends are utilized.

The Giants have two good ones in Evan Engram (a team-high 64 receptions as a rookie) and Rhett Ellison, a veteran blocking tight end who set career highs with 24 receptions and 235 receiving yards last season.

Let’s take a closer look at the position as we wrap up 2017 and look at what Shurmur will be working with in 2018.

2017 season

Engram’s the team’s 2017 first-round draft choice, was productive despite not being used by the Giants in accordance to the strengths he showed as a college player. Engram played mostly in the slot in college with barely an experience in-line, a place his 236-pound frame isn’t meant for. Yet, from Pro Football Focus, here is how the Giants lined him up last season:

  • Inline (69 percent)
  • Slot (20 percent)
  • Wide (10 percent)
  • Backfield (1 percent)

That means Engram spent 70 percent of his time lined up not only in an unnatural position, but one that does not suit his skill set.

Before the 2017 NFL Draft, scouts often referred to Engram’s speed and his ability to be a vertical threat. The Giants spoke about that, too, when they drafted him. Yet, they rarely used him that way. Too many of his routes were short, and horizontal. He could use his speed running sideline to sideline on occasion, but that didn’t threaten defenses down the field. For reference, here is our post-2017 Draft look at how Engram could have been used.

Engram’s rookie grade from Pro Football Focus of 42.2 was 31st among first-round picks, with only O.J. Howard’s 41.9 being worse. Misuse, drops and a blocking grade that was 36th out of 39 graded tight ends impacted Engram’s score.

“They asked him to inline block so much in the Giants scheme and it’s just not his strength. I think his grade could definitely jump a lot next year if he cleans up the drops (11) and they use him more effectively,” said Pro Football Focus analyst Ryan Smith.

Ellison’s playing time, and role in the offense, increased in the second half of the season. Sixteen of his 24 catches came in the final seven games.

Looking ahead to 2018

Shurmur made the interesting decision to retain Lunda Wells as an assistant coach, promoting him from assistant offensive line coach to tight ends coach. That would perhaps indicate that there will be an increased emphasis on improving the blocking from that position.

It is, however, hard to imagine that Engram will again spend 70 percent of his time attached to, or behind, the line of scrimmage. Not if Shurmur is truly serious about doing the things his players do well.

Perhaps the inline stuff can be left to Ellison and Jerell Adams, who was mostly an afterthought last season.

I am not going to spend time looking at free agent or draft prospects at the tight end spot. Simply, adding players here does not seem like a priority. Maybe a late-round pick or a free agent on a veteran minimum deal to provide depth and competition, but that’s all.

For me, it’s not about changing the people the Giants have at tight end. It should be about changing how they are utilized.