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Evan Engram primed to be even better in 2018

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2017 first-round pick had productive, though imperfect, rookie season

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NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Evan Engram
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2017 NFL Draft many New York Giants fans were pounding the table and demanding that the team select a tight end. That is, unless they were banging said table and demanding an offensive tackle with the 23rd overall pick.

There were those who begged and pleaded for the Giants to trade up for the right to select O.J. Howard. Others drooled over the idea of grabbing athletic freak David Njoku.

Well, the Giants did not trade up for Howard. They passed on Njoku. They left offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Cam Robinson on the board.

What they did, to the surprise of most, was select Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram. Let’s just say for now that the move worked out pretty well for the Giants. Let’s look at how well, and what might be in store for Engram in the upcoming season, as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Age: 23
Experience: 1
Position: Tight end
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 240

2017 season in review

Engram had the best rookie season of any tight end in the 2017 draft class. In 15 games, he led rookie tight ends in catches (64), yards receiving (722), tied with Howard for most touchdown receptions (6), was first in yards receiving per game (48.1) and had the most catches of 20 yards or more (11). Engram’s 108 targets were the most for a rookie tight end since 2006, per Pro Football Focus.

Engram was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team.

Engram didn’t quite match the 2002 rookie season of Jeremy Shockey with the Giants (72 receptions, 894 yards) but he had a really nice season in a dysfunctional offense where he was often the primary target in a depleted passing attack.

There were two areas of concern for Engram last season. Per PFF, he did drop 11 of 75 catchable passes, an unacceptable 14.7 percent drop rate. He also was just 66th of 69 qualifying tight ends in blocking with a PFF grade of 35.4.

2018 outlook

The most amazing thing about Engram’s 2017 production was that he was used in a way that was foreign to him. He worked primarily as a “big slot receiver” rather than a real tight end, with PFF saying 73.3 percent of the routes he ran in his final collegiate season came from the slot.

PFF broke down Engram’s 2017 usage this way:

  • Total snaps: 776
  • Inline TE: 535
  • Slot WR: 152
  • Outside WR: 79
  • Backfield: 10

As the Sharp Football graphics about show, he was also used mainly on short crossing routes rather than to attack secondaries down the field.

Perhaps how Engram was used in 2017 was partially a result of need, and of the Giants’ inability to protect the quarterback long enough to go downfield more.

Could the Giants, with Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula having a more diverse offensive background that former head coach Ben McAdoo, use Engram in more ways during the upcoming season? Perhaps splitting him off the line of scrimmage more or lining him up in the backfield, forcing defenses to figure out how to account for him?

At this point, having seen only a pair of OTA workouts, it is far too early to know exactly how Engram will be used.

What Engram has already noticed, even though the Giants are in shorts and t-shirts doing non-contact work, is how much more comfortable he feels entering his second season.

“The thing I’ve noticed, just being out here, going full-speed, is that the game is a lot more slowed down. The game has slowed down a lot. And that’s allowing me to kind of dig deeper into my bag of route techniques, or getting open and being able to focus more on the run game and getting stronger and just getting more comfortable out there,” he said on Tuesday. “Last year, I kind of was, head was on a swivel a lot, the game was so fast and I wasn’t used to it. But just having a year under my belt and kind of getting thrown into some tough situations last year definitely helps slow the game down and allowed me to kind of focus on a lot of the little things and enhance my talents to be a better player.”

Engram did say Tuesday that he “definitely” feels better working inline than he did a season ago.

“It was definitely something to get used to last year, especially being in college, never really attached [to the line]. But I definitely got uses to it last year and got a little comfortable towards the middle and into the season. So, whenever I’m asked to do that now, it’s kind of second nature,” he said. “But it’s just whatever the offense requires me to do, I’m trying to be better and get more comfortable doing whatever they ask. So, definitely a lot more comfortable in that aspect of being inline and blocking and getting releases and kind of the whole game that comes with being down there.”

With Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, quarterback Eli Manning should have plenty of options for where to go with the ball. Engram indicated Tuesday that all the players are aware the ball is going to be spread around.

“We definitely have a lot of talent, we’re going to utilize all of it as well. So, it’s definitely interesting to think about,” Engram said. “But I mean, in practice, we’ve got guys making plays all over the field. So, the ball’s going to find the best player. We don’t really care where the ball goes, I just know we have a lot of talent.”

Engram possesses much of that talent, and he certainly looks and sounds primed to take a step forward in his sophomore season.