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At tight end, using Evan Engram better a key for Giants

The 2018 season is in the rearview mirror for the New York Giants. We have spent much of the week talking about the future at quarterback, and we certainly will spend more time doing that over the next few months.

There are, however, other positions on a football team and other decisions the Giants have to make. Let’s begin position-by-position reviews with a look at tight end. We will look back at what transpired in 2018, discuss the choices the organization has to make and what the position might look like in 2019.

2018 review

2018 roster: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson, Hakeem Valles (practice squad/IR)

As we look at the tight end position, let’s first look at how the Giants employed their tight ends in 2018. Last January, we wondered how Pat Shurmur would use tight ends. Well, the Giants used ‘12’ personnel, one running back and two tight ends, on 24 percent of their offensive snaps. Only five teams used that alignment more frequently. So, the position was important to their offense.

That deployment made sense with Evan Engram being able to split out and function at times as a pseudo-wide receiver, and with the Giants really struggling to find a consistent third wide receiver. It also made sense at times to use Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson in heavier sets to run block for Saquon Barkley.

Here is how the Giants aligned Engram in 2018, per Pro Football Focus:

  • Inline — 243 snaps (51.1 percent)
  • Slot — 169 snaps (35.6 percent)
  • Wide — 57 snaps (12 percent)
  • Backfield — 6 snaps (1.3 percent)

This was not a great season for Engram. He played in only 11 games as a knee injury sidelined him for three games and a hamstring injury cost him two more. Some speculated during the middle portion of the season that Engram was a disappointment and the Giants might look to trade their 2017 first-round pick this offseason. Engram and Odell Beckham Jr. are the only Jerry Reese first-round picks remaining on the Giants’ roster, so perhaps that speculation was understandable.

Engram, though, became a primary focus of the passing attack over the final four games. He made 22 of his 45 receptions and had his four highest yardage totals of the season in those games.

Engram said he “just kind of stayed the course” throughout the season.

“I just wanted to finish strong,” Engram said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities that I got, and to just keep getting better and keep taking steps as a player and a better playmaker.”

For the second straight season Ellison, better known for his blocking, set career highs in receptions (25) and yards receiving (272).

Simonson, who had only one reception in 18 career games prior to this season, played in all 16 games and had nine receptions. Simonson did, however, commit seven penalties in 217 snaps. Right guard Jamon Brown (eight penalties in 509 snaps) was the only offensive player to commit more.

2018 Tight End Production

Name Targets Receptions Pct. Caught Yards Touchdowns Yards/Reception Drops Passer Rating
Name Targets Receptions Pct. Caught Yards Touchdowns Yards/Reception Drops Passer Rating
Evan Engram 63 45 71.4 577 3 12.8 3 115.6
Rhett Ellison 32 25 78.1 272 1 10.9 2 112.5
Scott Simonson 13 9 69.2 86 1 9.6 0 80.9

2019 preview

Rather than moving on from Engram, the Giants should really be figuring out more ways to utilize him. Especially when Odell Beckham Jr. is in the lineup. In both of Engram’s NFL seasons, his role in the offense has spiked when Beckham has been hurt. To take another step on offense, the Giants need to find more ways to incorporate the talents of both players.

These are the kinds of things Engram can do for the Giants:

The Giants do have decisions to make in regards to whether Ellison and Simonson are back next season.

Ellison is a good player and a Shurmur favorite. He will, however, be 31 next season, has probably reached the peak of his production as a receiver, and carries a 5.75 million cap hit that is high for what he brings to the table. The Giants could save $3.25 million against the salary cap by cutting him, $4.5 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut.

Simonson can be a restricted free agent. He is a similar player to Ellison and a less expensive one, so perhaps his fate is tied to whether or not the Giants bring Ellison back.

If the Giants move on from Ellison they will likely need to add a player at this spot. Considering all of the other needs the Giants have, though, it doesn’t seem likely that they would spend big free agent dollars or a high draft choice to add to the tight end spot.

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