EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The speed is evident at practices and during games. In two to three steps, Evan Engram has defenders choking on his fumes.
He’s so fast that some of his New York Giants teammates think the rookie tight end can beat most of the team’s wide receivers in a race. Safety Landon Collins, who covers Engram at practice, believes only a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and Tavarres King would beat him.
It’s a reasonable debate. Engram ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the NFL combine. He claims the GPS devices attached to his jersey and the jersey of fellow tight end Jerell Adams registered better than 21 mph one day while running downfield during a punt drill at practice.
It wasn’t in full pads and Engram didn’t have the ball in his hands. But it’s still fast, particularly for a tight end. Beckham topped out at 21.85 mph last season during his 61-yard touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
“He’s fast," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said of Engram. "He gets to his top speed quickly, and once he gets rolling, he’s rolling."
It has taken some getting used to. Manning hasn’t seen a tight end on the Giants run quite like this.
It’s partly why Engram has immediately been thrust into a major role in the offense. He’s second on the team in catches (24), yards (282) and touchdowns (two), and he’s about to overtake the injured Beckham in all three categories.
Beckham is out for the season with an ankle injury.
“Receiver fast” is how linebacker B.J. Goodson describes the tight end he tries to cover on a regular basis in practice.
“I didn’t know anything about him until he got here. And when I saw him, I was like, he’s built a little different than a traditional tight end,” Goodson added. “The first day we went against each other I was just wowed by his movements.”
It’s not just the sheer speed. Engram’s body control has caught the attention of several teammates.
The Giants have been equally impressed. They immediately made the 23rd overall selection in this year’s draft a weapon in their offense. No tight end has run more pass routes entering Week 7.
Engram is tied for sixth among tight ends in catches, is fifth in yards and seventh in yards after the catch (116) at a position where rookies rarely make an immediate splash.
With the Giants short-handed with Beckham and Brandon Marshall out for the season and Sterling Shepard struggling with an ankle injury, Engram’s role is only growing. He had five catches on seven targets for a career-best 82 yards and a touchdown in their revamped offense Sunday night in Denver. His 3.90 yards per route in Week 6 was first among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.
Manning looked at Engram more per pass attempt -- he threw only 19 total passes at Denver -- than at any other point this season. It should continue Sunday when the Giants host the Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s kind of moved up [the ladder] and a guy who, when you have three new receivers who haven’t been playing a whole lot and you have a guy who has been playing a lot, naturally he’s going to become one of your primary targets,” Manning said. “I think he’s a weapon. We have to get him in good spots, good matchups and try to get him the ball.”
Just like that, the 23-year-old Engram isn't just a weapon -- he's become a focal point of the Giants’ passing attack. It’s nothing he doesn’t think he can handle.
But Engram admits he can do better blocking. He’s still learning. It’s not something he did regularly at Ole Miss, but he’s impressed teammates with his willingness to block and ability to digest the techniques. Linebacker Keenan Robinson mentioned Engram’s blocking as the thing that has impressed him most from the rookie, even though there has been a lot to like early in his career.
Engram feels he’s playing fast, but knows there is room for improvement.
“Definitely doing some good things in the passing game, making plays and getting open,” he said. “Blocking-wise, a lot of improvement, but I need a lot of improvement there. I’m making good contact, but I’ve got to finish and keep my feet moving. I need to be more consistent in that. Overall, I think doing pretty well but still a lot to improve.”
Engram mentioned continuing to add more strength. He’s already gained muscle and bulk since joining the Giants at 232 pounds. Engram entered training camp at 240 and is playing at around 238. He’s hoping to play at 240 pounds with even more muscle and strength next season.
It hasn’t slowed him down one bit this season.
“I think he’s a wide receiver in a tight end's body,” safety Nat Berhe said. “I’ve gone against wide receivers and I’ve gone against him. There is really no difference. He can do it all, honestly.”
The strength, the body control, the power are all there. And the Giants are ready to put it on full display. Engram is going to be their 1A or 1B receiver along with Shepard for the remainder of this season.
He’ll do it from the tight-end position, though; the Giants have no desire to use him as a full-time wide receiver. Engram has spent 69 percent of his snaps in line; only 30 percent have been from the slot or out wide, with the final 1 percent from out of the backfield.
They want that matchup of Engram versus a safety or linebacker (advantage: Giants), even if he can beat some of their wide receivers in a race.
“Maybe on a good day after a good massage or something, when my legs are fresh,” Engram said of potentially dusting some of the Giants’ wideouts.
It would be a sight to see. After all, what they've learned so far is the safeties and linebackers don’t stand a chance.