New York Giants

Is rookie Evan Engram the right weapon in Giants attack?

New York Giants' Evan Engram runs a drill during NFL football rookie minicamp , Friday, May 12, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The New York Giants are a very interesting case study this season. After sporting one of the NFL’s best defenses, they did little on that side of the ball besides swapping out Johnathan Hankins for second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson at defensive tackle.

It is the offense that is most interesting, however. Instead of addressing their highly suspect offensive line, the Giants drafted Evan Engram in the first round and ignored their front five until finally selecting Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round. Little was done for the line in the draft, and the Giants didn’t do much to supplement this ailing unit in free agency. While Bisnowaty might play sooner than some expect, it looks like it will still be Ereck Flowers at left tackle and Bobby Hart at right tackle. That just might be the worst starting tackle tandem in the NFL.

But the Giants do have some weapons. Of course, everyone knows what Odell Beckham Jr. can do as an elite wide receiver, but New York drafted Sterling Shepard in the second round a year ago and he had a very successful rookie season. After moving on from Victor Cruz, the Giants signed Brandon Marshall, a bigger and much different type of wide receiver than they have had of late.

Then the Giants selected Engram with the 23rd overall pick. What is the plan here and how does Engram fit in?

First, it should be noted that no team in the NFL played more three wide receiver sets. New York basically lives in 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE). Beckham, Shepard and Marshall make up a formidable threesome of wideouts with varying skill sets. Shepard is most likely to be the slot receiver, which suits him very well, but all three can align in the slot.

Last year, New York got little from the tight end position. Engram isn’t the traditional tight end, though. He gives good effort as a blocker and can get out in space with his athletic ability to pluck off a linebacker or defensive back to spring a long run. But by no means is Engram an inline player, and most likely will get rag-dolled by the edge defenders in the NFL, especially early in his career. In fact, out of the Giants pass-catchers, Marshall is probably the best blocker of the group.

What an athlete Engram is, though. At the combine, Engram measured 6-foot-3 and weighed 234 pounds. Again, this is small for a tight end. Engram is more in the Marques Colston mold rather than anything resembling Rob Gronkowski.

New York Giants' Evan Engram runs a drill during NFL football rookie minicamp , Friday, May 12, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

But movement and versatility are the keys for the tight end position in head coach Ben McAdoo’s West Coast system that mimics what has been so successful in Green Bay. That system worked best with Jermichael Finley as a highly athletic receiving-first tight end that often aligned alone to one side of the formation with the three wide receivers on the opposite side. Even the Packers, who are less interested in free agents from other teams than any franchise in the NFL, signed Martellus Bennett for this role during the offseason. The tight end position, as a matchup nightmare and movable player, is extremely important in this offensive scheme.

While Engram isn’t nearly as big as Bennett, he is quite the athlete. His 40-yard dash time at the combine was 4.42 and his jumps and change of direction drills were nearly as outstanding. One would expect this from a smaller move tight end, but those types of numbers are extremely rare. More important, Engram’s tape shows an athletic freak who runs away from defenders and shows excellent body control and explosion. Engram isn’t just a combine warrior. He plays like he tests.

Engram was highly productive in college and is a great route runner. He has big-play ability after the catch and can be very useful in the screen game, deep downfield stretching the seam or anywhere in between.

Linebackers will not be able to cover Engram. Therefore, and this is very important, when New York aligns in its base personnel of a running back — preferably Paul Perkins, who is adept in the passing game — Engram and three wide receivers, the defense is forced to counter that with as many defensive backs as possible. The Giants should see a lot of dime defenses in 2017.

Why is that so important? Because the Giants can’t block well. New York’s linemen should have fewer big people to block because of the problems its receivers create. In a league where offensive linemen are vastly overpaid, this is an extremely interesting approach to that economic problem. The Cincinnati Bengals have taken a similar approach, so how it works out for both clubs will be intriguing to watch.

Having a quick-minded quarterback is a must, though, to pull this off. Eli Manning, even coming off a poor season with reason to wonder if he’s nearing the end, still fits this bill very well. Manning is excellent before the snap and should be able to identify a matchup to his liking before the ball is in his hands. And if the opposing defense starts to play the quick-hitting passing game too strongly, the running game — even with only five blockers — should get going as New York spreads the field. Manning is the point guard of this version of basketball on grass. Let’s see how it works out.


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