Tight Ends Preview: Giants Have the Talent, But Need to Deploy It Better
WHO THEY HAVE: Evan Engram (D1-17), Levine Toilolo (UFA/SF), Kaden Smith (FA-19), Eric Tomlinson (UFA/OAK), Kyle Markway (UDFA-2020), Rysen John (UDFA-2020)
KEY ADDITION: Levine Toilolo (UFA/SF)
KEY LOSS: Rhett Ellison (Retired)
WHERE THINGS STAND: Despite his inability to stay healthy, the Giants are not about ready to give up on fourth-year player Evan Engram just yet.
Of all the receiving options not named Saquon Barkley, Engram, whose rookie year option was exercised by the club, offers the most versatility regarding how he can be deployed in the passing offense.
The problem though is that the past coaching staffs haven’t been creative enough to take full advantage of Engram’s unique skillsets and have relegated him to primarily an inline blocking role, which is not a fit.
Meanwhile, the Giants replaced the now-retired Rhett Ellison with Levine Toilolo form the 49ers. In 137 run-blocking snaps, Toilolo earned a 60.2 run-blocking grade, the second-best mark on the 49ers behind George Kittle, who played nearly three times as many run-blocking snaps.
Toilolo figures to be a key piece in helping the Giants' offensive line, which this year will have at least one rookie (offensive tackle Andrew Thomas), become more of a help rather than a hindrance in the run blocking game.
The X-factor among this group is second-year man Kaden Smith. Smith doesn’t have one particular defining element to his game, but he does a lot of things right to where he lines up in line, opponents shouldn’t automatically expect that he’s going to be a decoy in the passing game or look to power block.
On paper, the Giants have more than enough at the tight end position. But will new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett be creative enough to get the most out of this talent? That’s the question that needs to be answered from a big picture perspective.
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE: If nothing else, let’s hope that Garrett is all about adapting to what he has rather than trying to jam square pegs into round holes.
If he does, that’s potentially good news for Evan Engram, an incredibly talented but fragile type who has yet to make it through a 16-game season.
Some might want to point to Engram’s brittleness, but ask yourself this: If Engram is built more like a receiver, then why did prior coaching staffs expect him to regularly block defensive ends who were significantly bigger and heavier than him consistently?
That kind of thinking quite frankly is about as foolish as asking a smaller receiver weighing under 200 pounds to block a defensive lineman at the point of attack. But I digress.
Last year, Engram, a willing blocker, was used inline 284 times. And how many times was this receiving talent used in the slot and out wide? The answer is 121 and 39 times, respectively, an absolute waste of his abilities.
If ever there was a case of coaching malpractice, folks, that would be it.
But here’s the good news. The Giants tweaked their tight end group to where they obtained a solid blocker in Toilolo, projected (and better built) to handle all the dirty work inline. This doesn’t mean that Engram won’t be inline in certain packages.
Still, it would not be surprising if Garrett reduces some of the pounding Engram has taken in the past at the point of attack and instead puts him out against a smaller safety or defensive back where Engram’s physicality is a much better match.