Giants' top pick, Evan Engram, has to buck trend to be significant factor as rookie

Thanks to blazing speed and innate ability to pluck the ball out of the sky, the New York Giants are expecting big things from their first-round draft pick tight end Evan Engram.

It just may not be this year that Engram develops into the difference-making receiver that the Giants or the rest of the NFL envisions. Same goes for O.J. Howard of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns. Recent history is against it happening for rookie tight ends, regardless of how high they're drafted.

Six tight ends have been drafted in the first round over the past 10 years. They've averaged 39 catches, 406 yards and two touchdowns during their rookie seasons.

That's slightly less productive than Will Tye (42-464-3) was as the Giants' starter for most of last season.

Of the 23 tight ends drafted in the first two rounds over the past decade, the Seattle Seahawks' John Carlson (second round, 2008) has the most receiving yards in a rookie season for tight ends with 627. The New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, perhaps the most prolific receiving tight end in history, had 546 yards his first season but with 10 touchdowns.

First and second-round tight ends over the past 10 years have averaged 28 catches, 308 yards and three touchdowns as rookies.

Expecting top 10 tight end production as rookies may not be realistic. The transition to the pro game is difficult and it has been some time since a tight end entered the NFL and topped 700 yards receiving as a rookie. The last player to do it should be a familiar name: Jeremy Shockey. He had 894 receiving yards for the Giants after being the 14th overall selection in the 2002 NFL draft.

What Shockey had going for him was that he was big, fast and physical. He played in 15 games that year with 14 starts.

Many of today's tight ends -- including Engram -- are more of a receiver than a traditional tight end. The Giants admitted as much after the draft. And it hasn't been easy for them to last the full 16 games of the NFL regular season.

Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Vernon Davis are just some of the rookie tight ends that didn't make it through their first NFL seasons without missing significant time. It's part of what makes it such a difficult position to experience early success at in the NFL. Tight ends are asked to be receivers on some plays and block defensive linemen and linebackers on others -- which are quite contrasting (and difficult) assignments.

What Engram has going for him is that he's experienced -- having played four years in the SEC -- that and runs with wide receiver speed. His 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash surprised even the scouts that witnessed the performance.

"Nobody expects the guy to run 4.42 at that size," Giants vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross said after the draft. "You just never would've thought that. You think the guy would run a 4.5, 4.6, or something like that, but for a guy to jump out there and run a 4.42, it was shocking. It didn't push him up on the board anymore, it didn't change the perspective, the reports were in with what he could do with his skill set and that just added another positive value to his profile."

Engram may ultimately become a great receiving tight end, regardless of his production as a rookie. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, Davis, Martellus Bennett, Jason Witten and Graham certainly experienced their fair share of success despite all having less than 400 yards receiving their rookie seasons.

It just likely will take time for Engram, much like it does for most tight ends, despite the Giants' expectations that he will made a difference as a rookie.

"The fastest way to the end zone is down the middle of the field," coach Ben McAdoo said. "Anytime you can add someone to your offense that can run down the middle of the field with that type of speed and length, it stresses the defense."

If Engram can do that with some success and open things for wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall, that would seem to be a successful rookie season even without lofty numbers. Only one tight end in the past 20 years (Shockey) topped 700 yards receiving immediately after entering the league. And the tight end has become a way more weapon potent weapon in recent years.

Nine different tight ends topped 700 yards receiving last season. Still, the odds are against Engram, Howard and Njoku doing it as rookies.