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Value of tight ends keeps increasing for Giants

With Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland, the tight ends could see a bump in their workload this year

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWOR

Remember how the New York Giants offense used to live on 11-personnel?

Yeah, me too. But if last year’s numbers are any indication, the days of 11-personnel being the signature formation of the Giants’ offense are over.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Giants ran 12-personnel (1 running back, two tight ends) on 35 percent of their offensive plays, and 11-personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) on 38 percent of their plays.

In taking a closer look at last year’s numbers, the Giants offense was successful on 46% of the plays in which they ran 12-personnel versus 39 percent of the plays where they ran 11-personnel.

The point of all this? The tight ends are projected to play a significant role in this Pat Shurmur-Mike Shula offense — assuming they can stay healthy.

Such a shift in the offense would certainly make sense. If you go back to last year, the Giants didn’t have an established third receiver.

This year, they enter training camp in the same boat (though they are expected to have some better competition for the role than they did last summer).

In Engram, the Giants have a tight end who, if he stays healthy, could become the first at his position to lead this team in receptions since Jeremy Shockey recorded 61 catches for 666 yards in 2004.

For some reason, Engram produced some of his better games when Beckham was not in the lineup.

In the final four games of last year, Engram averaged 80 yards per game. And of the 16 games Beckham missed in the past two seasons, Engram played in 15 of them, accumulating 71 catches for 886 yards and six touchdowns.

With Beckham out in Cleveland, it might not be a stretch to place Engram as one of the top two Giants in receptions for 2019.

The Projected Depth Chart

Starters: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison
Backups: Scott Simonson, C.J. Conrad, Garrett Dickerson

Considering the Giants offense seems to rely on the tight end, it was surprising to see them pass on drafting a prospect from a deep class to eventually replace Ellison.

Instead, the Giants are hoping that they struck gold with undrafted free agent C.J. Conrad, who played his college ball in Kentucky.

Given how well Conrad caught the ball during the spring, if there were an official depth chart, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he’s moved ahead of Garrett Dickerson.

Presumably, the Giants will keep four tight ends, as they did last year. If so, barring injury, Dickerson might have something to worry about.

If the Giants opt to go with three tight ends and an extra receiver this year (a possibility), the last spot will come down to either Scott Simonson or Conrad.

Simonson, the New Jersey native, appeared in all 16 games last year with four starts catching nine balls for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Primarily a blocking tight end, Simonson also developed some issues with tugging on his man’s shirt when asked to block.

Of his seven penalties accepted last year, six were for offensive holding. Simonson was also the second most penalized member of the Giants offense, behind now-former guard Jamon Brown (eight accepted penalties).

The big questions

Will Engram make it through a 16-game season?

He hasn’t yet, missing one game as a rookie and five games last year.

Yet what’s impressive, as Evan Silva of Rotoworld noted, is that only four tight ends over the last decade (George Kittle, 49ers; Rob Gronkowski, Patriots; Jimmy Graham, Saints; and Aaron Hernandez, Patriots) recorded more receiving yards in their first two NFL seasons than Engram’s 1,299 yards.

Imagine where Engram might have ranked had he not missed those six games.

Engram missed the back end of the spring workouts with a balky hamstring, though both he and Shurmur downplayed the severity of the injury.

That these bumps in the road keep creeping up for this talented young man is starting to become a concern, though no one’s quite ready to attach the phrase “injury-prone” to his name just yet.

The good news is that when Engram puts his mind to accomplish something, it usually comes to fruition.

Take, for example, dropped passes. As a rookie, Engram, per Pro Football Focus, had 11 dropped balls out of 108 pass targets, one drop per every 9.81 pass targets thrown his way.

Last year he cut his drops to three in 63 pass targets or one drop for every 21 passes thrown his way.

With the Giants needing to decide whether to pick up the option year of Engram’s rookie deal after this season, he can make the decision for them by improving not only his statistics but also his durability.

Will Engram see less time as an in-line blocker and more time as a receiver?

One can only hope this is the case. To ask Engram to block a defensive end is not only a waste of his snaps, but it also puts him more directly in harm’s way.

Sure, Engram gives it his best effort, but if you’re looking for the second coming of Howard Cross or Mark Bavaro, that’s just not happening.

The good news is that the Giants coaching staff appears to have realized this. Before his hamstring injury sidelined him toward the end of the spring, Engram was lining up more like a receiver — in the slot, split wide and even working from the backfield.

Given his size and speed, Engram could very well be a nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs to contain.

That the Giants didn’t take advantage of him in this role more often last year is as much of a mystery as why they didn’t send running back Saquon Barkley out into space more often.

Hopefully, the coaching staff will correct both issues for the upcoming season.