Going Deep: Evan Engram On The Verge Of Being An Elite Tight End
Evan Engram has had quite an auspicious start to his young NFL career. In his first season, Engram set several Giants and league records for rookie tight ends and ended the 2017 season with the fifth-most receiving yards for his position while only playing in 15 games (11 starts). His 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns represented the second-best performance by a rookie tight end during the last 21 seasons. The only rookie who produced at a higher level was former Giants tight end, Jeremy Shockey.
In the 2018 season, Engram’s overall production took a hit as he dealt with several injuries throughout the year that severely hampered his impact. During his second season, Engram only played in 11 games and registered seven starts posting 577 receiving yards and three touchdowns while adding another 36 rushing yards on three rushing attempts. That being said, if you projected a full season for him based on the statistical output in those 11 games, he would have surpassed his impressive rookie year.
Even during an injury-riddled 2018 season, there were marked improvements that show the overall growth in Engram’s game and create greater expectations for his potential impact in the upcoming year. Last season, Engram posted a much-improved catch rate, more average yards per catch, and greatly improved blocking.
In one of his biggest statistical leaps, Engram also cut his drop rate by more than half. In 2018 Engram dropped only 6.3% of his passes, a vast improvement on 2017 when he had a drop rate of 14.7%. During his second NFL season, Engram was not even the Giants leading tight end in regards to snap count due to his injuries. He was second among Giants tight ends with 475 total snaps, but he displayed his versatility by lining up in the slot for 169 snaps and lining up out wide for another 57 snaps.
|Targets Per Game||7.6||5.8|
|Receptions Per Game||4.2||4|
The most surprising stat line is Engram’s much improved blocking in the 2018 season. After being type-cast as a glorified receiver during the draft and his rookie season, Engram showed a renewed effort and much-improved technique when being used as a blocker. In fact, Engram was one of only a handful of tight ends to not miss a block in the entire 2018 season over the coarse his 126 attempts.
Engram’s marked growth as a blocker, great steps forward as a receiver, and anticipated enhanced health will allow him to stay on the field for a much higher percentage of plays in comparison to his 61% total snap count last season. It will also expand the offense’s use of him and create the ability to disguise plays, especially when utilizing Engram on block and release play designs. The combination of his growth as an offensive weapon and as a blocker should allow him to achieve an overall greater numerical output than either his rookie or second NFL seasons. The only caveat would be his ability to stay healthy.
The trade of Odell Beckham also frees up a massive amount of targets for Engram. We have a clear-cut picture of exactly what Engram is capable of when Beckham is not on the field. Odell was injured and on the sidelines for the final four games of the 2018 season and also missed a majority of Engram’s rookie year while dealing with a broken ankle.
In the 2018 season, 320 out of Engram’s 577 receiving yards came over the course of the final four games of the year while Beckham was sidelined. During that time, Engram had 22 catches and scored one touchdown. If we use those four games as a baseline to project a full season, we get an impressive stat line of 88 receptions for 1280 yards and four touchdowns.
Engrams blocking will continue to be a question mark until he can put together a larger snap count of successful blocking attempts, but no one is questioning the athleticism that he brings to the position. During the combine, Engram actually ran his 40 a shade faster than Beckham while carrying a much larger frame. Just take a look at him in comparison to Jordan Reed in the video below:
Not only does Engram separate from Reed from the get-go, but he also looks much more comfortable and puts his athletic abilities on full display.
Let’s investigate exactly what Engram’s potential is for the upcoming season given his attributes, improved catch rate, and his average yards per reception. If we project a healthy 16 game season for Engram and use his average targets and catch rate during his first two years, we arrive at an even more alluring fantasy output then our projections based on the four games at the end of the 2018 season. Using the above parameters, and an estimated 156 targets, we arrive at an extraordinary 109 catches for 1402 yards and seven touchdowns. Absolutely elite-level production.
In the 2018 season, Engram had the second-lowest average depth per target of all tight ends in the league. Yet he created the absolute highest amount of separation from his defender among all tight ends and wide receivers with an average of 4.4 yards. His average of nine yards per reception also lines up with Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. These figures once again display that all Engram needs to do to enter that category is to stay healthy and produce at the same high level that he has already achieved.
In addition to his high level of general offensive play, Engram has also been quite successful when used in the red zone. In his first two seasons, he produced a receiving grade of 80.5 (according to Pro Football Focus). This ranked fourth among tight ends in that time frame. When targeted within 20 yards of an opponents end zone, Engram either scored or moved the chains on 69.2% of his catches. Combine Engram’s red zone production with his 5.9 yards after catch (third-best in the league among all tight ends during last season), and it’s easy to envision Engram producing at a much higher level than last year in scoring situations.
The largest area of concern that Engram faced outside of his blocking and health during his rookie year was surprisingly his hands. In his initial season, Engram was credited with dropping 11 catch-able passes; that was the second most drops among all positions. During 2018, granted in a smaller sample size, Engram progressed quite a bit with only three drops on accurate targets. Another test he will have to face in the upcoming season is if he can maintain that consistency throughout a full 16 games.
During the final four games of last year, Engram produced the second-most fantasy points for his position–only trailing George Kittle. With a bevy of freed up targets after the Beckham trade and a unique skill set ready to be relied upon, Engram has a lot working in his favor in the upcoming season. With an average draft position in the early sixth round, he could easily outproduce his ADP if he maintains his health and career averages over the course of the entire season. This would also warrant an earlier selection in your fantasy draft. I view Engram as a stop-gap between the top three elite tight ends and the rest of the pack, but after the upcoming season, he could easily jump right into the elite category of tight ends.
(Photo by Brooks Von Arx/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)