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Better or worse? Kyle Rudolph’s reliability makes Giants better at tight end

More consistency from Evan Engram would also help

NFL: NOV 10 Vikings at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants were well acquainted with heavier personnel packages that featured two to three tight ends during the 2020 season.

Tight ends have always been a big part of Jason Garrett’s offensive philosophy. The meagerness of the Giants wide receiver position in 2020 only exacerbated Garrett’s proclivity to utilize these 12 (one running back two tight ends) and 13 (one running back, three tight ends) personnel packages. Adding Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and possibly John Ross may be able to help Garrett diversify his personnel groupings.

According to Sharp Statistics, the Giants were in 13 personnel the second most in the league last season, only behind the Cleveland Browns. The Giants ran 100 plays out of 13 personnel and threw the football 39 times (math is easy on this one). Daniel Jones was sacked four times and their yards per carry out of the grouping was a disappointing 3.3 - not ideal.

Arguments can realistically be formulated around the idea that 13 personnel, with the Giants 2020 group of tight ends, isn’t ideal and may not result in an efficient offense due to a lack of depth at the tight end position. Levine Toilolo playing 276 snaps isn’t the wisest way to get the best football players on the field; some of this, as previously mentioned, was because of the 2020 wide receiver group, so this could be rectified, yet the tight end group has also been upgraded in 2021.

New York was also eighth in the league in 12 personnel packages; in spreading the defense out a bit more, the Giants averaged 5.5 yards per carry in this personnel grouping. Jones was sacked nine times, but at least the successful play rate of both the run and pass was at 50 percent (it was at 43 and 44 percent, respectively, in 13 personnel). There’s not a lot of turnover at this position group from 2020, but there was one addition that could make a significant difference.

Key losses: None
Key additions: Kyle Rudolph, Cole Hikutini

Why the Giants could be better

Simple - Kyle Rudolph. Now some fortune has to befall the Giants for this to translate on the field. During his physical with the Giants, after he was released by the Vikings, a foot injury was found that required offseason surgery. The Giants still honored the commitment they made to Rudolph, and he was out on the field catching stationary passes in minicamp, but foot injuries can be tricky.

Hopefully, Rudolph is ready to rock and roll Week 1 against the Denver Broncos because he is a much better fit in Jason Garrett’s system as a Y-tight end. The Y-stick option is a common look in Garrett’s playbook; it allows the tight end to read the leverage of the covering defender and make a decision on the direction of his route based on the coverage. This is excellent for savvy route runners who understand how to uncover against defenses, and Rudolph is that.

Heading into his 11th season, Rudolph has displayed some of the softest hands in the NFL. He has 469 career receptions on 635 targets, and only 20 drops (4.1 percent drop rate). The Y-stick, quick curls, search routes, and tight hitches on the spacing type of concepts require the tight end, who is often targeted, to have the ability to quickly locate the football in a short amount of time, at a short distance.

Evan Engram, who is talented when utilized correctly, struggled mightily in executing these assignments and it led to several game-altering mistakes. Rudolph will be better than Engram at operating on these concepts and just with his overall route running in general, albeit Engram still is a much more dynamic athlete.

The Giants tried to make it a point to get Engram involved and the mistakes hindered an already mundane offense, preventing the chains from being moved and resulting in turnovers. With Rudolph now in town, the Giants can hopefully employ Engram in space a bit more on drag/mesh concepts, while still using him in 12 personnel packages that aren’t the counter run; the Giants must be wary to not set obvious trends with their play calling and the personnel that they do use within the same packages employed on the field.

Kaden Smith took a significant step forward from his rookie to sophomore year, mainly in terms of his blocking. He found an important role as the lead blocker into the hole on the counter run. I don’t believe it’s out of the realm of possibility that if Cullen Gillaspia beats out Elijhaa Penny for the fullback then he may fall into an opportunity to take the H-Back role from Smith on some of those counter runs. However, Smith should still certainly make this squad. I am still excited about his presence on the roster and his ability to earn snaps, despite the addition of Rudolph.

Toilolo has a role on special teams and he’s a solid pass protector when the Giants go into max protection, but only when he maintains a low center of gravity. He found himself on the floor far too often last season. If the Giants carry four tight ends, which they may with players having special teams value, then Toilolo will have to battle it out for that last spot with Cole Hikutini and Rysen John, a converted wide receiver who was undrafted out of Division ii Simon Fraser University in Canada, as well as Nakia Griffin-Stewart.

Hikutini was an interesting receiving option coming out of Louisville. He has bounced around a bit, going from the 49ers, to the Vikings, to Dallas, and now to the Giants. He was with Garrett in 2019 as a Cowboy. He certainly has an uphill battle to crack the roster, but it isn’t impossible.

Why the Giants could be worse

What could be a pivotal addition in Rudolph makes finding this argument a bit difficult. The former Viking is better suited for what Garrett wants in his tight end, and he’s a better blocker than Engram. If the foot injury persists, then the Giants are stuck with the same personnel they had at the position last year, with hopefully more development from Smith and maybe a player like Hikutini or John stepping up.

Engram made the Pro Bowl last year, but it was a year to forget for the 26-year-old contract year tight end. The tight ends were targeted 129 times last year for the Giants; 86 of the targets were caught and 10 were dropped. The receptions aren’t typically too difficult and most of them are out of the quick game.

Rudolph should be a more efficient, more reliable, more experienced, but less athletic version of Engram. The Giants shouldn’t allow Engram to just toil away on the bench, for his skills are still translatable to football - just don’t put too much on his shoulders.

Final thoughts

The addition of Rudolph was logical and it makes the Giants much better, and more secure, at the tight end position - if he is healthy. He is 31 years old coming off of a foot injury; that has to be weighed into the equation here. There’s no doubt that Garrett will still want to run these bigger personnel packages. But with the addition of all the wide receivers, we may see a slight drop; Dallas ran 13 personnel 4 percent of the time in 2018, and only 2 percent of the time in 2019, with Garrett as the head coach (12 personnel was still being used at a solid rate). This coincided with the Cowboys acquiring Amari Cooper in the middle of the 2018 season. Is there anything to glean from this? Maybe, but it would behoove Garrett to get Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Kadarius Toney their snaps. As for the tight ends, I think the position is better in 2021 than it was last season.