The question of Evan Engram is one of the more interesting ones relating to the New York Giants. The 2017 first round draft pick was expected to take a step forward from last season, where he showed promise and laid a good foundation to improve on. But now that his sophomore season is here, things have been more up and down for Engram. The tight end has been one of the more polarizing players on this year’s Giants team.
Some of the criticism that Engram has gained throughout the season is deserved. Tight ends have to be able to catch the ball or block, and Engram has picked up a reputation for drops. He’s never been a true blocking tight end, so it’s natural that Engram has high expectations when it comes to the passing game.
But on the other hand, it’s important to remember that this is a second year player. It takes time to get used to the differences between the NFL and college, especially for a player that has to run routes and catch the ball against NFL defensive backs. That experience can be gained through more playing time, which is why it’s confusing that the Giants are showing signs of pulling the plug on the Engram experiment already.
I understand the #Giants new regime didn't draft Evan Engram, but you have a 6-3 WR/TE hybrid with a 37-inch vert and 4.41 speed and yet he is never used up the seam, no sign of deep overs or vertical routes out of the slot, and NO designs for him in the red zone. #GiantsPride
— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) November 13, 2018
Engram was only targeted twice during the Tampa game, catching both passes, but the low numbers can be explained by the fact that he wasn’t on the field very much.
“It was kind of a slow start for me. The team was playing great. But, it took a little bit for me to get into a rhythm with that one catch. I keep telling myself that a big play is going to come. It’s going to happen. Just being there when my number is called, that’s just my mindset,” said Engram, after the win.
However, it seems like his number was called less than usual. He only played 17 snaps, which effectively means that Engram played the Tampa game as backup to Rhett Ellison. Such a switch isn’t something that was foreseen by just about anyone before the start of the season, and is also a reduction of Engram’s playing time compared to the 49ers game where he was targeted five times and had four catches.
What’s the motive for giving Engram less playing time? Well, it’s impossible to know for sure without being inside the Giants locker room and finding out directly from the coaching staff. One possibility is that Engram doesn’t fit into the plans that new head coach Pat Shurmur has, which may differ from those of the previous organization.
But that theory is an odd one. It’s hard to imagine that any coach would have a hard time fitting Engram into their offense. The Giants aren’t a run-centric team that needs larger tight ends who specialize in blocking, and Engram is a versatile threat in the passing game who also benefits from opposing defenses paying more attention to other players, such as Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, and Sterling Shepard.
Additionally, if the Giants want to trade Engram in the offseason to move up in the draft, it would hurt his trade value to cut him out of the game plan. The fact that he only played 17 snaps against Tampa is baffling, and Rhett Ellison hasn’t performed well enough to make the claim that the benching is for performance reasons.
That’s not to say that Engram is performing the same as he did last season. It looks like he might finish with slightly worse stats at this rate, but that makes sense. After all, he was injured in the Houston game and missed a few weeks because of it, earlier in the season.
So why didn’t Engram play much against Tampa? The only conclusion that can be easily assumed is that he doesn’t fit into the team’s preferred strategies. Why that’s the case is a mystery, and something that the public likely won’t know for a while, if ever.
One can only hope that going into the game against Philadelphia, this tactical decision to underutilize a very promising player doesn’t backfire for Pat Shurmur.
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