East Rutherford, N.J. — Thursday's first round was the first in 65 years not to feature an offensive lineman among the top 19 selections. So even though left tackle was one of New York's weakest spots during a surprise 2016 playoff season, the shallow crop at the position meant the Giants chose not to use their No. 23 pick on competition for incumbent Ereck Flowers. Instead, they'll hope to finally get top-level production out of the 2015 first-rounder while bringing in Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram to improve the offense in other ways.
"There are some offensive linemen that we think are good football players [in this draft], but we stay true to our board and we picked the best player that was up there," said general manger Jerry Reese.
That meant helping Eli Manning by adding a fellow Rebel—who has played catch with Manning in off-seasons past—to an arsenal that also includes free agent catch Brandon Marshall. At 6' 3", 235 pounds, Engram is more valuable split out wide than attached to the line. He left Mississippi having set the school record for receptions (162), receiving yards (2,320) and touchdown catches (15) by a tight end and ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the position at this year's combine, finishing in 4.42 seconds.
The Giants could certainly use the additional weapon after they placed 26th in points per game in 2016. "The fastest way to the endzone is down the middle of the field," coach Ben McAdoo said. "Anytime you can add someone to your offense that can run down the middle of the field with that type of speed and length, it stretches the defense."
Both McAdoo and Engram said there had been little contact between the two sides in the pre-draft process—no visits or workouts—but Engram still felt he would be a good fit in New York. "I've been watching the Giants," Engram said on a conference call after the pick. "The Giants are missing a piece like me. They have a great player, [Will Tye], but I feel like I could be a more dynamic piece."
Engram was the second tight end off the board after Alabama's O.J. Howard (who Reese confirmed the Giants did not try to trade up for). Most mock drafts also had Miami's David Njoku going before Engram (he ended up going six picks later to Cleveland), but the Giants leadership valued Engram's versatility and big-play ability. Reese even compared his newest player's potential to fellow SEC product and NFC East nightmare Jordan Reed.
As for the O-line holes, New York now has two days and a full collection of picks to address a unit that failed to protect Manning almost every week and was a big reason why the team had the league's 29th-ranked rushing attack. There was talk of the Giants using some of those picks to move up and take a quarterback for the future, but instead it was Kansas City that leapt to No. 10 to take Patrick Mahomes (even though Alex Smith is four years younger than Manning) and it was Houston that gave away next year's first-rounder for the opportunity to select Deshaun Watson at No. 12.
Yet no matter how many picks the Giants spend on linemen Friday or Saturday, there are no Day 1 starters at tackle still on the board. Coaches have mentioned trying Flowers at other positions this off-season, and the addition of D.J. Fluker in free agency (a former first-rounder himself) will afford them some flexibility, but there's still a good chance they end up with Flowers returning to the left anchor position come September.
McAdoo gave Flowers (who is still younger than the top lineman taken, new Bronco Garett Bolles) a vote of confidence after the season, saying that he played his best game in the playoffs and adding, "If he comes out and works hard and has a little bit of success to start the season, that confidence will come." Marked improvement is not out of the question. Eric Fisher, 2013's first overall pick, progressed significantly in year three. Maybe the two players share more than a first name and a last initial? Or at least that is the type of rosy thinking that Giants fans are left to fall back on.
Engram will make an impact, but the biggest story out of the Meadowlands is the pair of positions—left tackle and quarterback—that the Giants opted not to address with their first pick.