With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: After a strong rookie season, Evan Engram did not play as well as expected in 2018. He missed five games with injuries (knee, hamstring) and was a virtual non-factor before the bye week, catching only 17 passes for 145 yards. In addition, his subpar run blocking appeared mismatched for a team increasingly relying on Saquon Barkley. The good news is that despite missing two games, Engram played much better after the bye week, catching 28 passes for 432 yards with a number of big plays (two 50+ yard catches and three 30+ yard catches). Overall, the receiving tight end played in 11 games and caught 45 passes for 577 yards and three touchdowns.
Rhett Ellison actually played more than Engram, but finished the year with a pedestrian 25 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown. He was also an inconsistent blocker. The Giants signed journeyman Scott Simonson in June 2018. He surprisingly played in all 16 games with four starts, catching just nine passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. At times, he looked like the best blocker of the group. Rookie free agent Garrett Dickerson spent most of the year on the Practice Squad, but did play in four games.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The only change was the addition of undrafted rookie free agent C.J. Conrad after the draft.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Last season, Evan Engram played his best football in the second half of the season when Odell Beckham did not play. In four games in December, Engram caught 22 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. With Beckham now in Cleveland, the Giants need Engram to consistently produce at that level or more. Engram has the tools to become one of the most dangerous pass-receiving tight ends in the game. Not many tight ends have his ability to create physical mismatches and stretch a defense. But Engram has to stay healthy, cut down on his drops, and not disappear for long stretches. (Note that Engram missed much of the Spring workouts with another hamstring issue).
The Giants clearly overpaid Rhett Ellison when they signed him to a 4-year, $18 million contract in 2017. His 2019 cap hit is $5.75 million and cutting him would save $3.25 million. However, at this point in time, Ellison is the one guy the coaching staff and quarterback can count on. Can he hold off challenges from Scott Simonson, Garrett Dickerson, and C.J. Conrad? Conrad went undrafted due to a heart issue, but he was consistently productive throughout Spring practices.
ON THE BUBBLE: Probably everyone aside from Evan Engram, and some think Engram could still be trade bait.
FROM THE COACHES: Tight Ends Coach Lunda Wells on Evan Engram: “Obviously, he needs to stay healthy. You know, being on the field. Second thing is just kind of letting the game come to him, playing a little more calm, more relaxed. I think as he realized what he was being asked to do, he started to play a little more calm and a little more relaxed, especially at the back end of the season, which in turn allowed him to play some of his best ball. And like always, you kind of always want to be climbing during the season and then at the back end of the season playing your best football in December. So, that’s kind of the trend we are trying to do. Build on December and get better throughout the season… He’s moving forward and progressing really well and we are really excited about him this season.”
Wells on C.J. Conrad: “I like Conrad. He’s tough. He’s smart. He can learn. 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 mini-camp… Easy going, again, loves football. He’s a good guy for (the tight end) room.”
PREDICTIONS: I thought Evan Engram would have a 1,000-yard season in 2018. I was way off, but I’m going to double down on that prediction. I think Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula have a better understanding of Engram’s strengths and weaknesses. And with Odell Beckham out of the picture, we’ll see the coaching staff try to create more mismatches with Engram out in space. Engram is basically a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Linebackers and most safeties should not be able to cover him. My biggest worry with Engram is his ability to stay healthy. He needs to play a full 16 games and him missing so much time in the Spring is not a good omen.
Ellison is one of those guys who coaches trust. He’s not going anywhere until another player can duplicate that level of trust. Scott Simonson has been in the League since 2014. His resume doesn’t suggest he will be that guy, but Simonson did flash at times as a blocker and receiver last season. Garrett Dickerson is a relative unknown who is built more like a versatile H-Back.
The wild card here is C.J. Conrad. Though not a flashy athlete, Conrad seemed to impress all observers this Spring with his consistently reliable pass catching. Now we have to find out about his blocking.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson, C.J. Conrad
(I think it is becoming increasingly clear that Engram is more TE/WR hybrid than true down tight end. He’s the reason why I see the Giants carrying five wide receivers and four tight ends. Don’t discount the Giants replacing one of these guys with a waiver-wire pick-up).