Evan Engram working on limiting drops after second most among TEs in 2017

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The low point of an otherwise impressive rookie campaign for New York Giants tight end Evan Engram last year came on Thanksgiving night against the Washington Redskins.

It was the third quarter of another impotent offensive performance during a miserable, lost season. The Giants, who failed to get a first down in the second half until the final minutes, were down 10-3 and Engram had a catchable ball clank off his hands on third down, stunting a potential drive. It was his second drop of the game -- maybe the third, if you’re a tough grader.

"Are they a concern? Tonight, yeah," Engram said after that contest. "A big concern."

Enough so that it stuck with Engram throughout the offseason, into the spring and through the summer. He has been on a mission to make sure it doesn’t become a chronic problem.

The key, according to Engram, is improving his focus. He considers most of his six drops last season -- second most in the league among tight ends -- a result of a lack of concentration.

It’s something Engram has worked on during offseason training, practices and training camp. Every day.

Every single pass that is thrown Engram’s way, even during warm-ups, he is trying to focus on securing the catch before anything else. Watch it until it’s completely nestled into his hands and tucked under his arm. Then he can begin to run. It’s all about training his mind and eyes.

“Literally every time I’m catching the ball -- my eyes all the way through,” said Engram, who suffered a concussion Aug. 24 against the New York Jets but has made progress and appears on pace to be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. “There are some times where I could be playing catch and not even really paying attention and creating bad habits. But anytime the ball is in the air and I’m getting catches, I’m just training my eyes, looking it all the way in.”

This, Engram believes, will lead to a better second season, even if his first was historically relevant. With 64 catches for 722 yards, he had the second-most catches and yards by a Giants rookie tight end, bettered only by Jeremy Shockey.

Engram called his rookie season “decent.” Nothing more. Those drops left a sour taste in his mouth, something he has been reminded about on several occasions in the past few months. Admittedly, it doesn’t sit well.

“It could have been way better,” he said. “Definitely would love to have some drops back. I just don’t really get satisfied. If I did better last year, I’d would still tell you it could get better.”

The Giants asked a lot of Engram, if only out of necessity. He was their No. 1 receiver in some games, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall out for the season with injuries and Sterling Shepard dealing with numerous physical ailments.

Engram had 79 targets from Weeks 6 to 17 after Beckham was lost for the season with an ankle injury. That was more than New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had 76. All six of Engram’s drops came during those 12 weeks.

“Drops -- they obviously bother you, but I always think that the guys are trying to catch it. I think part of him is just being tired, the stress of a long season and everything going through it,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “I think it's the focus can kind of disappear a little bit.

“So, I think he's talented; he's working on it. I think it's good you work on it and have something that you want to improve on, but don't make it a mental block or something you're thinking about -- or getting anxious about or worried about. So I try not to bring it up too much, and tell him just, 'Hey, just keep getting open, doing the right routes, doing the right things. We'll keep throwing to you, and you'll make those plays.’”

Manning said he sees improvement this summer. Engram has done a better job of limiting the drops. They have been few and far between so far.

It helped that Engram spent part of his summer in California, working with trainer Jamal Liggin and a handful of other receivers. He also participated in throwing sessions that included Beckham, Shepard and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens.

Engram noticed the way others went about their business. Every catch was important. Their hands are their moneymakers.

Engram isn’t the only Giants receiver who needs to improve in this category. Beckham had five drops in five games last season, and it has increasingly become a problem for the Pro Bowl receiver. He had just six drops combined in his first two professional seasons.

Shepard had four drops on 83 targets last year. The Giants blew away the field with 37. No other team topped 30. New head coach Pat Shurmur noticed.

“Well, we work on catching the ball a lot,” Shurmur said. "And that was one of the major points of emphasis when we started going to work here is that we can’t be a good football team unless we catch the ball. The obvious, it’s receivers. Not so obvious sometimes is the linebackers and the secondary, when the ball gets disrupted making the interception, and certainly all the guys that handle the ball in special teams.”

It is an epidemic that needs to be rectified in order for the Giants' offense to be appreciably better -- and for Engram to take his game to the next level. It might be difficult to increase his reception and yardage totals after the addition of running back Saquon Barkley -- who should do major damage as a receiver out of the backfield -- and the return of Beckham.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Engram to be better and more efficient, yet see his numbers approximately remain about the same. It is worth noting that last season, Engram had 11 catches for 107 yards with no touchdowns on 20 targets in the three games in which Beckham played a majority of the snaps.

But the plan is for Engram to be a big part of Shurmur’s new offense. There is reason to believe his 8.4 yards per target and 11.3 yards per catch will increase with Beckham and Barkley demanding more attention from defenses. Engram noticed late last year that coverages were being rolled in his direction. He saw more double-teams than a rookie traditionally faces.

A more efficient Engram is expected, if he truly has figured out how to curb the drops.