The New York Giants have a long legacy of great tight ends going back decades. Joe Walton, Aaron Thomas, Bob Tucker, Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey are some the names that come to mind.
The current group consists of former first round pick Evan Engram and veterans Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson, along with a few others who are trying to crack the roster, such as undrafted free agent C.J. Conrad out of Kentucky.
The Giants are in the market for football players, ones that make sacrifices and put the team first. Conrad fits that bill to a T.
“He’s tough. He’s smart. He can learn,” said Giants tight end coach Lunda Wells at the team’s rookie minicamp this month. “He’s not a blazer, but he’s instinctive in the pass game. It didn’t take a long time to figure out that this guy is very determined about being a really good player and I like that about him. He takes coaching very well. I really like that kid from what we saw over the three-day rookie minicamp.”
Conrad (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) was a productive player at UK. SEC coaches named him to the All-Freshman squad in 2015 after he started nine of 12 games played, catching 15 passes for 149 yards (9.9 average) and one touchdown. As a sophomore, Conrad started 11 of 13 games and grabbed 19 receptions for 262 yards (13.8 average) and four scores. He scored four more touchdowns in his junior campaign but missed the end of the season with a foot injury.
As a senior, Conrad started 12 of 13 games he played in, finishing second on the team with 30 receptions for 318 yards (10.6 average) and three touchdowns.
Conrad was all set to take his game to the NFL at the Combine this winter when doctors discovered a heart issue and sent him home. The Giants and Wells stayed in touch while Conrad straightened out his health care.
From Art Stapleton of the USA Today Sports Network:
“It was in my head every day. I would be lying if I said I thought for a second over those 21 days that I was going to play again,” Conrad said in a recent interview with NorthJersey.com.
“You’re just fortunate to get the opportunity to play football, let alone a chance at the NFL, and there was a time in my life not too long ago when I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.”
Things changed unexpectedly for Conrad on a trip to Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital for a second opinion, however. There, a team of cardiologists determined that Conrad did not have ARVC (Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy), as initially feared; instead, Conrad was diagnosed with an enlarged pulmonary artery, an issue that required annual observation, but came with the green light to return to the game he loved.
Now, Conrad is in New Jersey with the Giants, perhaps for good. The Giants had him on their board but did not draft him. They signed him quickly after the draft ended.
“I’m a competitive player. I’m a tough player. I’m gonna get after it,” Conrad said. “Also, when the ball comes my way, I’m gonna catch the ball and make plays. I’m playing a lot of ‘Y’ right now and that’s where Rhett plays. Just looking at film of what he does, he’s really good, just trying to learn how he does what he does.
“It’s tough without full pads on yet to get a feel in the blocking schemes. There’s a lot of things I can improve on, but I feel like when the ball came my way , I made plays…I take pride in my blocking, and my toughness, I’m gonna give everything I have for the team, and I think that’s why I’m here.”
The Giants will strengthen their tight end room with the addition of Conrad should he make the team. So far, he’s made a positive impression.
“Yeah, he is one of those guys that will fit right in with those guys,” said Wells. “Easy going, again, loves football. He’s a good guy for that room.”