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Film breakdown: Is Daniel Bellinger the Giants’ tight end of the future?

Did the New York Giants find a complete tight end in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 San Diego State at UNLV Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants addressed their long-term concerns at tight end by selecting San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger at pick 112 in the fourth round. The 6-foot-5, 253-pound tight end played in a run-heavy system for the Aztecs. Bellinger displayed a physical nature on the line of scrimmage, and he was one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the 2022 NFL Draft.

His college production doesn’t necessarily reflect his ability. Bellinger finished his college career with 68 catches on 103 targets for 767 yards and five touchdowns. In 2021, he had 353 yards on 31 catches (43 targets) with two touchdowns.

Bellinger’s athletic traits and receiving upside would have resulted in more production in a different offense. His overall profile as a blocker with soft receiving hands should translate to an effective starter early in his NFL career.

Bellinger aligned 56.3 percent of the time inline as a “Y,” 35.2 percent of the time as a big slot, and 7 percent out wide. Most of his routes were around the line of scrimmage, built off the Aztecs’ play-action game. There were also several designed screens. He ran a lot of simple out routes from 3x1 sets, some dig routes over the middle, and was used up the seam.

The athletic traits of Bellinger shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a three-star recruit out of Las Vegas as a tight end and a two-star linebacker. He also played basketball and was a member of Palo Verde High School’s 4x4 relay team that finished third in the state of Nevada in his senior season.

Bellinger joins a tight end room that consists of one-year veterans like Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins; the latter has experience with Giants’ tight ends’ coach Andy Bischoff. Tight end is typically a position where rookies struggle to have early impacts.

Kyle Pitts with the Falcons and Pat Friermuth of the Steelers were more anomalies than regular occurrences, albeit Evan Engram’s best year in New York was his rookie season. Nevertheless, Bellinger won’t play until he is ready, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have an early impact. Let’s get into his film.

[Daniel Bellinger is No. 88]

Blocking

The Giants haven’t had a true Y tight end in more than a decade. Mark Bavaro, Jeremy Shockey, and Kevin Boss are relics that Giant fans pine to experience. Big Blue experienced too many hybrid tight ends who struggled to execute their blocks at the line of scrimmage - Bellinger profiles a bit differently.

[TE, bottom of screen]

To be fair, it’s much easier to block edge defendersand linebackers in the Mountain West Conference than it is in the NFL, but Bellinger shows a lot of promise. Bellinger angles this block well, firing off the line of scrimmage and contacting the edge defender’s inside shoulder. Bellinger uses the defender’s momentum against him and keeps his legs churning through contact. The edge rusher attempts to anchor and set the edge, but Bellinger floors him.

I want to welcome Bellinger to the New Jersey area, where excellent diners are in every town. Now, he can finally find quality pancakes off the gridiron. Let’s get back to his tape.

[Inside TE in YY Set, top of screen]

The edge player steps inside at the snap, and Bellinger locates his outside shoulder. The defender attempts to anchor down and doesn’t seem to expect the physicality of Bellinger, who drives his feet and moves the defender from the middle of the field beyond the hashes.

[TE, top of screen]

Bellinger gets help from the tackle at the beginning of the play, but he finishes his block well. Bellinger steps out and engages the edge; the tackle chips the edge rusher and then Bellinger takes his inside arm and uproots the defender out of his gap while driving through and finishing his block to the ground.

[Inside TE in the YY set, bottom of screen]

It’s difficult to see, but this is a solid block by Bellinger. He has to scoop the 5-technique, and he loses the leverage battle to start. The defender does a very good job sinking his hips and locking Bellinger out. I’ve seen plays like this countless times; the defender uses his length to keep his chest clean and then separates against a tight end that’s struggling to hang on, but Bellinger shows resilience while the running back does a great job getting the defender to initially shade outside of Bellinger. The tight end feels the momentum of the defender shift outward, so Bellinger flips his hips inside of the defender’s hips, creating a seal and driving his feet through the defender’s inside shoulder to clear a lane for the running back.

[Y TE, bottom of screen]

I love Bellinger’s angles of attack into blocking points. His pad level is typically high - a product of his height - but he shoots his hands low to high and gets underneath the punch of the defender. This allows him to use his hips, upper body strength, and exceptional core strength to torque the defender off his spot. I also like how he finishes the play face mask to face mask through the whistle, almost like he’s about to ask the defender for his lunch money.

[TE, top of screen]

Bellinger displays great core strength while absorbing the rush of the apex defender coming downhill. He’s blocking on the play side of the outside zone; he easily reaches the safety and then uses this upfield burst against him.

Blocking in space

[H-Back, bottom of the screen]

Tell me we’re not going to see this type of play with Wan’Dale Robinson and Kadarius Toney. Bellinger engages the safety between the hash and the numbers; Bellinger sinks his hips and wins the pad-level battle with good arm extension while moving his feet laterally to stay in front of the defender. Bellinger then gets his hips swiveled around the defender’s outside at the bottom of the numbers, allowing the ball carrier to have space to operate.

[H-Back, bottom of screen]

Bellinger abuses a defensive back by fitting his hands inside and driving his feet through the whistle. The new Giants’ tight end blocks the defender 15 yards downfield. He shows excellent overall strength, will, and effort on this play - elite competitive toughness.

[Outside TE, top of screen]

Bellinger takes this UTSA safety on a not-so leisurely stroll. The defender attempts to swim over the top of Bellinger, but the tight end gets his chest and brings his feet with him and he drives forward.

[Inside TE, top of screen]

I appreciate Bellinger’s ability to maneuver his hips while engaged in blocks. He has shown this at the line of scrimmage, in space on the jet-sweep, and on this play at the second level after a climb. He does a really good job using upper body control and strength to torque defenders in one direction while flipping his hips and bringing his feet to create a seal away from the play side.

He may not be able to block like this early in his NFL career because of the transition, but the foundational pieces of a true Y tight end are within Bellinger.

Here’s a quick compilation of Bellinger blocking:

Receiving skills

The Aztecs used Bellinger a lot near the line of scrimmage, and he showed some elusiveness for a bigger guy. One of the things I loved most about Bellinger was his ability to fall forward through contact. He picks up extra yards after every tackle. He isn’t the most sudden mover in space, but he has enough movement skills and athletic ability to make plays in the NFL.

Bellinger leaks to the boundary on this second-and-6 play; he takes advantage of the cornerback’s poor angle downhill with a nicely timed juke to pick up the first down while falling forward for a few extra yards.

Bellinger almost makes the safety coming downhill miss with a jump-cut in space. Even after getting undercut, he’s still able to get his one foot in the ground to propel himself for an extra yard or two.

I love how Bellinger extends away from his frame to make this difficult catch with defenders coming downhill towards him. He quickly redirects and gets north to south but is met at the line of scrimmage by the cornerback who can’t bring him down. Four other defenders rally to make the tackle; what should have been a 1-yard loss turned into a 3-yard gain by Bellinger.

On another second-and-6, San Diego State designed a screen to Bellinger in the flat. The play is covered well by the defense, but Bellinger makes a player miss behind the line of scrimmage and then picks up a few yards before falling short of the first down. A lot of Bellinger’s receiving usage was around the line of scrimmage, but not all of it.

Deeper concepts

Despite a lot of usage near the line of scrimmage as a receiver, Bellinger still averaged 11.4 yards per reception; his aDot (average depth of target), however, was 3.7 yards. Big receiving plays are possible with Bellinger but possibly not maximized at San Diego State.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski designed a nice boundary tight end leak off play action that led to Bellinger wide-open on a fourth-and-1. The outside wide receiver runs a deep post route to occupy the attention of the cornerback. The play-action distracts the second-level defenders and the safety, and Bellinger streaks downfield - uncovered - between the numbers and the sideline. He presents soft hands as he catches and turns for the conversion.

Bellinger makes this catch through tight coverage against a Pac-12 school. He runs the seven route and picks up the first down through the contact.

Tough is an adjective that keeps coming to my mind when I watch Bellinger. As the number three receiver, Bellinger runs a simple in route between zone coverage. He presents a big target over the middle of the field and soft hands to make catches; on this play, he takes a hit from the defensive back before the first down but fights through two players to convert.

This is a touchdown catch from 2020 that shows the upside Bellinger possesses with his concentration and tracking ability. He played in an offense that didn’t necessarily maximize his ball skills; hopefully, that can be done under Brian Daboll in New York.

Bellinger is the number three receiver in the 3x1 set; he doesn’t make this catch, but the angle route he runs is a more difficult route to execute relative to the route tree he was asked to run at San Diego State. Bellinger does a solid job coming out of his break and using his hands to create a little extra separation, but the target goes in another direction.

Tight ends are typically quick safety blankets for quarterbacks. Here are three plays where Bellinger runs stick - a quick game concept that Giant fans are well versed in witnessing. Bellinger shows excellent spatial feel to move away from traffic and find vacancies in space while also displaying the toughness that’s become synonymous with his tape. The third play is a deeper type of stick concept, but he still makes a great catch through traffic to pick up the first down.

Negative

Bellinger is a well-rounded player. He may not be the most dynamic or sudden tight end, but his toughness, sure hands (the guy had three career drops), and ability to block should lead to a productive NFL career where he finds the football field. Although I love his blocking ability, he can get a bit too high at times - which we have seen in the article - and this can result in balance issues. He can also lean a bit too much into contact.

[TE, bottom of screen]

[TE, top of screen]

The leaning leaves him susceptible to patient defenders who allow him to over-extend himself at the hip and then evade his blocking attempt. There aren’t many tight ends who are elite blockers; Bellinger is one of the better ones in this class.

An old adage expressed by Mike Mayock always made sense to me about tight ends and their ability as blockers:

“Can they lose slow enough to allow the play to function?”

That’s all you need with a tight end - get in the defenders’ way and don’t allow him to make a play on the football. Bellinger did that, and then some in college.

Final thoughts

The Giants found a physical tight end who can be a true “Y” with blocking upside and untapped receiving ability. He has prototype inline tight end written all over him, and he possesses enough athletic ability to play big slot in space. Bellinger is a good athlete with natural hands who is very hard to bring down.

He is tough: watch his clips on the line of scrimmage and with the football in his hands.

He is dependable: he missed one college game since he was named the starter, three total drops in school.

He is smart: a three-time scholar-athlete; he understands leverage/space.

Bellinger checks every box that Joe Schoen discussed with Giants.com’s John Schmeelk on the Giants Huddle podcast. Bellinger was also voted team captain in 2021 by his teammates. New York needed a complete tight-end prospect, and they may have found one in the fourth round.