The New York Giants will need to adapt to a changing wide receiver group, and Evan Engram might be the key to that.
The New York Giants wide receiver room looks very different than it did last season. Odell Beckham Jr. is now with the Cleveland Browns. Golden Tate, brought in to replace Beckham Jr., is suspended for four games and likely to lose his appeal.
Sterling Shepard has a fractured thumb, and while the team expects him back for Week 1, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be ready. Corey Coleman, a favorite to be the third receiver, tore his ACL and will miss the season.
The Giants are going to need to change on the fly, as they’ll potentially be missing their top three wide receivers on opening day. Luckily, there is a group on the roster that can help. Evan Engram and the tight end group can cover for the G-Men until the wide receivers are back to full strength.
Engram is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body, sitting at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, but runs a blazing 4.42 40-yard dash. The team can use him inline or split out wide, as his speed makes him hard for linebackers to cover while his size gives him an advantage over defensive backs.
Health has been a concern for Engram, as he’s played only 26 games through two years. But when he’s been on the field, he’s produced 109 receptions, 1,299 yards, and nine touchdowns. He stepped up big time over the last four games last season when Beckham was out, snagging 22-of-31 targets for 320 yards and a touchdown.
Engram stepped up when asked, and should see more targets. Beckham picked up 10.4 targets per game last season, and Engram should see a large uptick without Beckham in the fold. With a wide receiver group that could feature Darius Slayton and Russell Shepard as the top two receivers during Week 1, Engram could see a lot of targets out wide.
Engram is a modern tight end, who can stretch the field and make explosive plays. It works well because his backup Rhett Ellison is a throwback tight end. He’s a great blocker, who can play tight end and fullback. He’s a safe but unspectacular receiver, who can grab what’s thrown his way but won’t make many big plays.
In two years with the Giants, the sure-handed Ellison has 49 receptions for 507 yards and three touchdowns. He’s grabbed 74.2% of targets thrown his way since joining the team and should see a lot of time on the field as a blocker and check down option for Eli Manning.
Using two tight end sets is a feature of coach Pat Shurmur‘s offense, but Engram’s speed allows him to use him to play as a quasi-wide receiver and go to three tight end sets when he wants. Shurmur has a couple of options he can put inline with Ellison while Engram lines up out wide.
Scott Simonson established himself as a favorite of Shurmur last season, playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career. He didn’t flash much, getting nine receptions for 86 yards and his first career touchdown. He adds another solid pass blocker and can free Ellison up to run more routes should Shurmur want him to.
A fourth option that Shurmur has is undrafted Kentucky product C.J. Conrad, who impressed in the spring. Conrad has caught the eye of Shurmur.
“He’s done a good job,” Shurmur said via SB Nation’s Ed Valentine. “He’s kind of caught our eye as a rookie. He’s a tough, kind of gritty guy.”
An undrafted free agent catching the eye of the head coach is a good sign that he’s got a legitimate chance at making the 53-man roster. He’s a solid blocker with strong enough hands, who will give the Giants more options.
Ultimately, the team’s wide receiver injuries can be partially offset by a strong tight end group. While a fully healthy squad would be ideal, the team can absorb the loses and keep their heads afloat until they’re back to full strength.