EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Evan Engram may run fast and give off the appearance of a big wide receiver, but looks can be deceiving. He’s being treated by the New York Giants (for the time being) as a tight end.
It’s as if he’s Larry Donnell, Will Tye, Matt LaCosse or Jerell Adams of the past few years. Engram will learn and play the “Y”, the traditional tight end position in the Giants’ West Coast offense, like the rest of them, no matter his speed (4.42) or size (234 pounds). He’ll also learn and play the flexible “U” which moves him around when they have two tight ends on the field.
“He's in our tight end room. He's a tight end,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said last week during rookie minicamp.
The Giants don’t have any intention of using Engram as a big wide receiver. That's what they signed Brandon Marshall to do this offseason.
“[Engram] will play tight end for us,” coach Ben McAdoo said, “and we will use him where he is comfortable and where he can grow.”
It’s really a no-brainer. This is why the Giants selected Engram 23rd overall in the first round of the draft. They want him matched against linebackers and safeties. They want that speed and ability to go up and get the football against less-agile defenders.
The Giants believe Engram gives them a real threat deep down the middle of the field. The fastest way to the end zone is down the middle of the field, McAdoo said after they drafted the Ole Miss product. He also provides some run-after-the-catch ability. The Giants' tight ends averaged a league-low 7.7 yards after the catch last season.
They believe Engram, 22, is their answer. So what if he’s not much of a true in-line blocker, which the front office all but conceded after the pick? Neither were Donnell, now a free agent, or Tye. Their blocking was serviceable at its best, and that probably is being generous.
Whether Engram can block or not -- he wasn’t asked to do it much at Ole Miss -- doesn’t scare the Giants’ coaches. He’s going to be a true tight end in their offense, or at least in how they use a tight end in their offense.
“What I meant [by saying he wasn’t a big receiver] was, often times, people might look at him and say he's just going to be there to be split out wide, and when you think of a big wide receiver in my mind, I think of Brandon Marshall, Plaxico Burress, that's a big wide receiver,” Sullivan said. “This is someone who has some of that upper body strength and the size where he can fill some of those roles that we want as a tight end, and we're going to be selective in the things we want him to do.
“But he is not someone who you'll see strictly as someone that is displaced out in the slot that is just a bigger body. He's a versatile player, he's a tough guy, and we're excited about seeing what we can do with him.”
The reality is McAdoo doesn’t run the ball regularly anyway. The Giants were a 63:47 run-pass team last year. Take away late-game situations when they were milking the clock, and they're approximately a 70 percent pass offense.
Even as a true tight end, Engram’s pass-catching ability is significantly more important than any blocking deficiencies that may exist. Plus, the Giants will try to play to his strengths.
Rhett Ellison, signed this offseason as a blocking tight end, should receive a lot of first-down or run-down duties. That would limit Engram in running situations. McAdoo called running plays on 52 percent of first downs last season. After that, the scale tipped significantly.
The Giants passed 64 percent on second downs, 80 percent on third downs and 100 percent on fourth downs and did almost all of it in 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers). That’s going to remain their dominant personnel grouping, but maybe not their only real personnel grouping with Engram in the mix.
“Everything is going to be a challenge [for Engram],” McAdoo said. “He is coming from more of a spread type offense where he was off the ball a ton. We will have him play off of the ball a little bit. We won’t just have him out there in 11 personnel, we will mix him in.”
The Giants tight ends were all over the field last season, including in the backfield, in part because of a lack of a fullback. They may have one of those this season, in addition to Ellison. So their tight ends could be asked to block less now than ever.
McAdoo may diversify his personnel groupings and formations more this season. Two-tight-end sets may be more common, which would allow Engram to play the "U."
But McAdoo's only expected to mix in some diversity. He's unlikely to make any major changes to his offense, even after selecting a tight end in the first round with a wide receiver skillset.
“We have a system of offense in place and we can play any personnel group under the sun with that offense,” McAdoo said. “We try to use the players to their strengths the best we can, and we will have something in place for [Engram] if he becomes a big factor for us on the offensive side of the ball as a rookie.”
In the meantime, he’s just any old tight end, in the same breath as Tye, LaCosse or Adams.