Giant Tidbits: Evan Engram – Part 1


The New York Giants’ 17-10 loss on Sunday to the Tennessee Titans was disappointing on many fronts, but on the brighter side of the news (and there was not much in the offensive tape, trust me), tight end Evan Engram’s performance stood out. His eight receptions (2018 high) on 12 targets (2018 high) for 75 yards (second-highest total) was a rare ray of northern New Jersey sunlight on a cold and rainy Sunday. Rather than give the usual breakdown of plays from the trusty All-22, this piece will look at Evan Engram through a different lens of his role in the offense. Warning: this piece will not simply resort to claiming he is “being used incorrectly.” Rather, first his weaknesses will be highlighted, then a potential solution presented that could help mask those weaknesses and emphasize his strengths. The potential for “matchup nightmare” is there for Engram but may come in a somewhat rare role for him. It centers around an offensive weapon that has experienced a renaissance in college football, particularly the Big 12. But before we get too far ahead, let’s start with the player and some factors holding him back.


Engram has a 6’3″ and 240-lb frame with long arms and 10″ hands, which is impressive for a TE, but not as impressive as the 4.42 40-yard dash speed. This straight line speed led some to think he would leave all types of second and third tier defenders in the dust. After a solid 2017 season with 11 starts in 15 games, he came into the 2018 season ready to be even more productive in Pat Shurmur’s new offense that embraces 12 personnel packages (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers). Injuries and an inconsistent offense have bogged down his sophomore season, resulting in only 50 targets at this point this season (compared to 115 in year one). Mid-season, his snap count was alarming (dropping to 32% in Week 11), but these numbers appear to be attributed to injury. Against the Titans, he was back to 69%, splitting time with Rhett Ellison as the lone TE in 11 personnel. Let’s look at some reasons for this split.

Blocking Issues

Part of Engram’s development as an NFL tight end is the ability to block in-line from a three-point stance, using his traits and 240-lb frame. Engram has put in a lot of hard work in this area, but often out of 12 personnel the Giants run duo gap schemes or inside zone schemes that rely on the tight end(s) to maintain their blocks to allow for cutbacks from the runner. Running back Saquon Barkley has improved on the timing of pressing play side and then moving to the backside to hit creases. Of Engram’s 387 snaps this year, 191 are as an inline TE (about half), and although he has had good reps, the downside is the below against the 49ers’ 6’7″ 292-lb, Arik Armstead:

This example is an extreme one. Armstead is 60 lbs heavier than Engram, whose attempted reach block gets tossed across to the front side of the formation. Looking to label the trait and not the player, Engram’s play strength in tight areas is a weak spot, especially against formidable edge rushers. The goal or expectation is to “lose slowly” rather than the very quick manner in which Armstead disrupts here. Engram’s get off, ability to play with leverage, and use of hands are not consistent enough to handle these fights in phone booths. He is a willing blocker, and although development takes time, this offseason the coaching staff and pro department will be looking at whether his output equals spending half of his snaps in a three-point stance.

Receiving Issues

All young receivers have areas to improve upon, and Engram is no different. Against defensive backs in man coverage, Engram often struggles to gain separation early in the down. This would surprise many based on his above measurables, but Engram’s speed comes after a couple of strides. He does not possess the explosive burst or twitch that many backs and receivers rely on for separation. Also, his hand usage against physical jams by defensive backs pressing at the line of scrimmage can be an issue. See the below from Week 14 against the Redskins:

This play was broken down for this column two weeks ago and showed how Shurmur ran the same play (Mesh). This time, he had Engram in the slot, giving him a bit more breathing room, and he was able to take advantage of Redskins’ DJ Swearinger. The speed is there — it just needs a runway to pick up momentum and keep his body under control. With that said, again, improvement is important to note. Check the below example of good suddenness Engram showed this past weekend against the Titans:

On this one against soft press, he flashes explosiveness in the single move release off of his right foot to the left. This evaluation is not to say that he cannot handle certain receiving aspects of a traditional tight end. It’s the consistency factor and whether the Giants can trust Engram to win the majority of these types of snaps in key moments.

The other part of his game that is a little surprising is how he struggles with the contested catch. Note this is not talking about his drops (he has three this year, according to Pro Football Focus), but rather the ability to win at the catch point against a ball hawk defensive back. This part of his game has been in question since Ole Miss, where authors better than me noted this would be a concern at the next level. This was one of the reasons my preseason view was that he should not be used as the detached lone-X wide receiver in 3×1 sets, where winning in isolation paramount. Let’s go back to Week 1 against the Jaguars, when he uses the same single move release against safety Tashaun Gipson :

The same release move was included to show that when things start off from a neutral or disadvantaged position, the down often does not go as planned for Engram. Many players have this issue, and overall it can improve, but perhaps there is a better way to get Engram into the route structure. Above, it was shown that with more space versus off press his footwork was able to gain separation. What if he had even more space? With his struggles highlighted here, part 2 will dive into where he may be able to find that space.