There's an old saying that you don't give up on talent.
There's another saying that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
Welcome to the case of tight end Evan Engram, an insanely talented player who was the Giants' first-round draft pick in 2017 (No. 23 overall) but who has yet to live up to the expectations befitting of his wide receiver-like talent and ability to create mismatches against linebackers and defensive ends.
Part of the problem has been the coaching staff hasn't always optimized Engram's talents.
But a large part starts with Engram's adventures in the health department. Last season was his first full regular-season campaign ever, and one in which he had one receiving touchdown and eight of his career 25 dropped passes.
Engram has also never been very good at going up for contested catches. According to Pro Football Focus, he's caught 32.1% of his contested pass targets (25 out of 78)
All that said, the Giants are willing to risk insanity and not give up on Engram's talent. Engram, remember, has played in three different NFL offensive systems in his first four years. He is also going on his fourth position coach this coming season.
This is probably why the team is not ready to cut bait on Engram, but with that said, he needs to finally start producing in this, the option year of his rookie deal?
While it's understandable that the Giants would want to feature a first-round draft pick, Engram is more of a complementary player to an offense.
Last season, Engram was deployed a career-high 86.8% of the offensive snaps. He recorded 654 receiving yards on 63 receptions in 16 games--less yardage than from his rookie season where, in 15 games, he had 634 yards on 63 receptions.
A likely reason for this was the shorter routes Engram was asked to run. In 2020 his average yards per route run was 1.28 versus 1.45 yards/route run as a rookie.
Was this because Engram was coming off season-ending foot surgery the year prior? No one in the Giants will admit as much, but it wouldn't be surprising to find out why Engram was sent on more of the shorter stick routes.
That all being said, it's time to unleash Engram on deeper routes and those up the seam, where he's historically been more productive against zone coverage.
Per data culled from Pro Football Focus, Engram caught 67.6% of his pass targets against zone and only 57.8% against man coverage.
Let's see what else Engram does well and what he doesn't.
What He Brings
Engram's open-field speed is an asset, but as previously mentioned, it wasn't used as much as one would have hoped last year (again, was the fact that he was coming back from foot surgery to blame?).
The Giants' heavy reliance on Engram is nothing new. The team turned more to him when former receiver Odell Beckham Jr missed the last quarter of the 2018 season, and the Giants did so again last year after Saquon Barkley went down for the season.
But where this becomes a problem is in the running game, where asking the 6'3", 240-pounder to block defensive ends that outweigh him by anywhere from 30 or more pounds makes zero sense. While Engram is a willing blocker and can get in the way--there's even some merit to lining him up as an H-back.
But the coaching staff is more often than not is putting him at a disadvantage when they ask him to square off against bigger foes from an in-line blocking position.
The biggest problem with Engram is his hands—he led the league at his position in drops. If he only catches a couple of his most egregious drops, the Giants very likely win a couple more games.
Dropped passes aside, Engram has yet to show instinct and awareness to adjust on the move. Ironically, he was at his best at doing this as a rookie in 2017 when Kevin Gilbride Jr was his position coach.
Since then, he's struggled with mostly the same issues. And unless there are changes made to what the coaches ask Engram to do, to expect different results this year is like wishing for the sky to open up and rain gold coins.
Engram is currently in the option year of his rookie deal in which he is due to count for $6.013 million, all of which is now guaranteed.
As frustrating as Engram has been at times, the Giants aren't about to give up on him and his talent.
There is hope that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will have more flexibility in how he draws up plays. In turn, perhaps Engram won't be asked to do as much as he has been in the past, especially now that Kyle Rudolph is on board.
That said, there is no guarantee that Engram finishes the 2021 season with the Giants.
If he still is stuck in the mud regarding his development, the Giants could look to trade him before the deadline (might as well try to get something for him rather than let him walk away at the end of the season and not have anything to show for it in 2022).
If that were to happen, the Giants would only be on the hook for about half of his $6+ million salary.
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