When the New York Giants drafted Evan Engram, they envisioned him as a nightmare matchup for linebackers in the mode of Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. They included him in the gameplan right from the start. In his first four games, he had at least four catches and 44 yards each week. In Week 4, he caught six passes for 68 yards. Despite the presence of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall, Engram continued to see plenty of targets from Eli Manning.
That why it was so odd that in the Wide Receiver Massacre of Week 5, when the Giants lost their top four wide receivers to injury during the game, Evan Engram had only two targets and was shut out for the first time. Fans were wondering if he would continue to be a viable threat when he became the primary receiving target in Week 6. Was it possible defenses would shut him down and force the Giants to run?
As it turns out, Week 5 was a fluky game all around. Since Week 6, Evan Engram is averaging five catches, 71 yards, and a touchdown per game. Against the Rams last week, he jumped over a defender and took the ball from him in a move the announcers compared to Randy Moss in his prime. It was a worthy comparison since the Giants are using Engram more like a wide receiver than a tight end since Beckham and Marshall were lost for the season.
But as word gets out, will Engram remain a powerful force in the Giants’ offense? Is he a sure-enough thing to be a must-start?
How is he doing it?
Engram has lined up in just about every possible spot on the field. Rhett Ellison is technically the starting tight end and handles the bulk of in-line blocking. Engram often starts on the line as the second tight end, but just as often, he splits out to a wide receiver spot or back into a wingback or motion receiver.
That is part of why he is difficult for defenses to manage. Not only can the other team not guess where he will line up nor in what direction he will go into motion, but once the ball is snapped, they have no idea what kind of route he will run. He has taken the ball in the backfield on screens, as he crosses the line on shuffle passes, he has raced across the middle, and he has flown down the field on seam passes and corner routes. He can jump. He has strong hands. There have been a few drops, but mostly, if he can reach it, the defense doesn’t matter.
He is far from perfect. He needs to run crisper routes outside. There are the drops. But he is a rookie tight end. He is not supposed to be doing much of anything until his second and third year. Fellow rookie David Njoku and OJ Howard have some catches but are not nearly the threat Engram is. And it is not because he is only catching passes. Engram is improving his blocking technique every week. He is a willing contact blocker and has a few highlights reel blocking moments already.
So, then is he, or isn’t he?
Sterling Shepard is the only receiver who returned from the Week 5 injury list. He and Engram are the top receivers for the rest of the year. Each should be good for about eight targets per game at the least. Engram is strong, but also fast for a tight end. He can run around people or through people after the catch and break one at any time.
This week, he faces the San Francisco 49ers’ defense who only have one positive NFL fantasy defensive number. They are the second-best defense against tight ends. But since Engram doesn’t play like a tight end, I don’t see how they stop him, either. Engram’s ceiling is limited by Eli Manning’s rapid releases and desire to never get hit again behind what continues to be a below-average pass-protection unit up front. But his floor is close to seven points, which is excellent for a tight end. As the only remaining red zone threat, he is as likely to score the rare Giants touchdowns as anyone else on the field.
For all that, rookie Evan Engram, who is on pace to break multiple rookie tight end records, is absolutely a must-start the rest of the season, regardless of opponent. Start him with confidence this week in San Francisco.
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