Evan Engram Fantasy Outlook 2017

When you draw comparisons to players with the pedigree of Jordan Reed and Brandon Marshall, you’re doing something right. Selecting Evan Engram with the 23rd pick in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL draft, the Giants have made it clear what they think of the 6’3, 234-pound “Tight End” out of Ole Miss. I use Tight End loosely due to Engram’s interesting athletic profile and his on-field usage up to this point in his career. With a forty-yard dash time of 4.42, Engram clocked in as the fastest Tight End at the 2017 NFL Combine and behind only four other Wide Receivers. His athletic prowess was on full display as he recorded a 36-inch vertical and sub-7 second 3-cone drill. Engram has legit speed and quickness, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. The coaching staff at Ole Miss utilized his dynamic athletic ability, leading to an extremely successful collegiate career.

[the_ad id=”66786″]Engram cemented himself in the Ole Miss record books as he sits atop the list of Tight Ends in school history for career receptions (162), receiving yards (2,320) and touchdowns (15). He is also the first player in school history to earn All-SEC honors four times. He tore up the SEC his senior year, earning 1st team All-American honors as he led all Tight Ends with 84.2 receiving yards per game, 5.9 catches per game, and finished second among all Tight Ends with 8 touchdowns. He was also the recipient of the Ozzie Newsome award, given to the nation’s best Tight End. He finished his career as the leader in career receiving yards among active Tight Ends, displaying his consistency and durability. Used in a variety of ways in college, Engram demonstrated an ability to attack the short, intermediate, and deep levels of the field. Let’s take a closer look at Engram’s versatility as a receiver.

Engram’s size, athleticism, and fluid movements are just the starting points in what makes him such a mismatch for opposing defenses. Engram’s tape shows the ability to run a diverse route tree and hang onto the ball through contact from defenders looking to close in on catches. Engram excelled in the screen passing game, as he displayed great short burst and did a very nice job of selling a fake screen block. Scouts note his strength in the intermediate and deep passing game as he continuously won hand fights down the field in addition to his tracking ability on deep balls. His 36-inch vertical helps in his ability to high point the ball well. The most appealing strength to the Giants is his ability to stretch the middle of the field and serve as a legitimate deep threat, evidenced by a 10-for-17, 337 yards, and 3-touchdown receiving line on balls thrown at least 20 yards. Engram also has a few areas in which he needs to improve in order to succeed at the next level.

The most obvious concern is his blocking ability. While he is labeled as “willing” to block, PFF scouts noticed a regression in his run blocking from 2015 to 2016. Engram shows a tendency to lower his head and lunge as he initiates contact at the second level. This flaw, along with a poor use of hands, allows defenders to evade and shed block attempts. While the Ole Miss coaching staff tried to mask this weakness, he allowed five pressures on just 78 block attempts in 2016 when called upon. While blocking is the most glaring hole in his game, he does show a few areas of weakness in receiving. Scouts have observed a struggle in boxing out defenders on his back, allowing them to disrupt the catch. He also showed a weakness in concentration, as he dropped 7 out of 73 catchable passes in 2016. The Giants should look to put him in favorable matchups, maximizing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.

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After selecting the two-time Runnin’ Rebel Captain, the Giants brain trust gave some thoughts as to how they plan to use him. Marc Ross, Giants’ Vice President of Player Evaluation, views Engram as a playmaker from a scouting perspective. “What we liked about Evan was his versatility, his feel for the game, his polish, his hands, his route running and his experience.” Ross’ comments reflect that of someone who is ready to see him make an impact right away. Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Reese echoed Ross’ sentiments in his presser, raving about the rookie’s speed and size that should create significant matchup problems for the opposing defenses. Reese stated, “We see him as a guy that can line up anywhere at any of the receiver positions, tight end, in the slot, outside he can line up anywhere.” Engram will serve as a dynamic weapon in an offense that lacked a legitimate option from the Tight End position.

The Tight End position was a glaring weakness in both elements of the position, blocking and receiving. Will Tye, the Giants primary Tight End in 2016, was graded poorly by several measurements. Strictly from a receiving standpoint, Football Outsiders graded Tye as the 40th Tight End, out of 46 eligible players, in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This measures the player’s value on plays where they caught the ball as compared to a replacement-level Tight End. Tye ranked 41st out of 46 eligible Tight Ends in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which represents value, per play, over an average Tight End in the same game situation. By these measurements, Will Tye ranked among other lackluster performers such as Demetrius Harris, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Dennis Pitta, and Ryan Griffin.

Overall grades, which accounted for blocking ability, weren’t much better. Pro Football Focus graded Will Tye as the 46th Tight End among 73 active players with an overall grade of 63.7. This put him with the likes of newly signed Giants’ blocking Tight End Rhett Ellison, and his oft-injured, somersaulting teammate, Larry Donnell.

The Giants offseason moves also indicate a need to improve this position group. In addition to drafting Engram, they signed Ellison away from Minnesota to a four-year contract, worth eighteen million dollars. Ellison earned big money to solidify the position in terms of blocking, while Engram should carry the load on the receiving end. He is capable, but it all depends on how the Giants plan to utilize his talent.

It’s clear that the Giants see an immediate upgrade in receiving talent in Engram, making the offense more dynamic. While Head Coach Ben McAdoo and Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan have vocalized a desire to improve Engram’s blocking technique and get him more comfortable playing inline with his “hand in the dirt,” it would be egregious to not see the possibilities that Engram’s skill set presents. Pro Football Focus broke down where he lined up at Ole Miss in 2016: 52% of snaps in the slot, 34% inline, 13% in the backfield, and 1% out wide.

I would expect those numbers to change a bit, as Engram will likely spend some more time in line and a bit less lined up in the slot. In 2016 the Giants offense ran 90% of their snaps in 11-personnel, utilizing one Tight End, and just 6% of plays in 12-personnel, a two-Tight End package. They will likely scale down the usage of 11-personnel from last season, but it’s clearly the preferred package of McAdoo and Sullivan. If that trend continues, either Engram will have to spend more time as an inline blocker, or 2016 2nd round draft pick Sterling Shepard will get bumped to the bench. If he does spend more time in line, it will likely be on the plays where Tight Ends are asked to block and release. In that scheme, he would release against defenders and drop into the slot of middle zones. This will wreak havoc on the defense as it causes big adjustments to the responsibilities of the Linebackers and Safeties.

The Giants are particularly focused on making those safeties adjust as they struggled at times against the two-high Safety look. This puts added pressure on the offense as it makes it difficult to get the ball in the hands of top Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but Engram’s speed should help. McAdoo echoed this sentiment, “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.” When questioned about the two-high Safety look that gave the Giants fits last year, Reese expressed similar excitement for Engram. “We think that if you can stretch that two-high safety look with speed down the middle and you have speed on the outside, I think that helps us.” The Giants know what they have in Engram and will exploit the best matchups that his speed and athleticism present.

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In addition to the versatility that Engram will give the offense in between the 20’s, he should also help in the red zone. In 2016, the Giants finished 17th in points per red zone appearance and 16th in touchdowns per red zone appearance. Engram’s size, jumping ability, and strong hands should help them continue to improve in this area of the field. The addition of Brandon Marshall should also help in the red zone and could potentially cut into Engram’s fantasy production. Gridiron Expert’s own Andrew Erickson made note of the similarities between the two teammates and made the argument for fantasy owners to prefer Marshall over Engram. While Andrew makes good points (and has an awesome first name), there is still plenty to be optimistic about when considering Engram in your fantasy drafts, particularly dynasty leagues.

Everybody knows that Eli Manning isn’t the same Quarterback he was in the earlier stages of his career. In all likelihood, Engram will have Manning throwing to him for a small chunk of his career. The Giants spent a 3rd round draft pick on Quarterback Davis Webb out of Cal. While Webb isn’t an exciting name right now, he could be the Giants starter once Manning has decided to call it a career. For Engram supporters, it should be noted that he and Webb have already shown very positive chemistry. This connection began at the Senior Bowl and carried into Giants Rookie Minicamp where reports surfaced about the two having a strong rapport, being roommates, spending their evenings making flashcards and quizzing one another on the playbook. While that might not mean anything for the immediate needs of fantasy owners, it is yet another positive box to check when considering Engram in your dynasty leagues.

All things considered, Engram has landed in a great spot to see the field right away and make an impact on the current state of the Tight End position group. Our very own Jody Smith made note of Engram’s landing spot in his latest dynasty rankings, putting a positive spin on the rookie’s outlook. His speed, athleticism, and ability to line up in multiple positions will get him on the field to start his career. Cutting down on drops, blocking on a somewhat consistent basis, and improving his success rate on jump balls will keep him on the field and in good graces with McAdoo, Sullivan, and Manning. If he can do those things, he can certainly produce as a high-end TE2, low-end TE1 with upside right off the bat. In dynasty drafts he can be drafted near the end of the 1st round, beginning of the 2nd round. While there is the concern for his weaknesses, there is plenty to be excited about Evan Engram from a fantasy perspective in all draft formats.

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