Evan Engram: RSO Cheat Code?

Updated: July 24th 2017

This week we examine one of the rookies who I am taking in many rookie drafts, New York Giant tight end Evan Engram. The title of this article really emphasizes the fact that Engram is a receiver but gets the tight end designation in fantasy leagues.  It is a big advantage and the reader might look to last year’s fantasy stats for why that matters.  Last season’s WR32 scored more fantasy points than the TE4 in PPR leagues.  A player must only put up moderate receiving numbers to become a consistent fantasy starter at tight end.  I take a deeper look below as to why Engram could eventually become a monster for your RSO team.

The Player

Engram led all FBS tight ends, by a significant margin, with 926 receiving yards in 2016. The next closest tight end from a power-5 conference was Clemson’s Jordan Leggett with nearly 200 less yards.  Unlike other players taking advantage of small school athletes, Engram routinely beat up on upper-level competition.  His top 6 receiving games, all with 95 yards or better, came against five SEC conference opponents and ACC powerhouse Florida State.  His top receiving performance of 2016 came against national champion runner-up Alabama, whom he dismantled for 138 yards.  Per Pro Football Focus, Engram led all draft eligible tight ends in touchdowns and yards per route run out of the slot.

Put simply, Engram is the best route runner and receiver at tight end in this rookie class by a wide margin. Linebackers looked silly trying to stay with Engram and he routinely defeated defensive backs.  His tape shows a player with the quickness and agility to separate easily for short, easy completions while also displaying blazing straight line speed to win deep as a “seam-buster” or on the boundaries.  The Mississippi standout attacks all levels of the field with success as shown by his target map below.  Another weapon in the Rebel’s arsenal is his ability to win near the endzone where his leaping ability and route running stood out.  If you do not trust my evaluation, just listen to 2016 Giants defensive captain linebacker Jonathan Casillas describing Engram during New York OTAs:  “He is not a small guy. He runs routes just as good as any receiver we have on our team. He creates separation and he has great hands.”

 

Evan Engram Target Map (Pro Football Focus)

 

The Athlete

Engram is a physical marvel. His 4.42 forty yard dash at the NFL combine is among the fastest ever for a tight end.  His size adjusted speed score is the eight best at the position since 2000.  Player Profiler shows a player testing in the top 16% of each workout metric for tight ends.  In fact, Engram is such a high-end athletic outlier that he has no true comparable at tight end in terms of draft position, size, and athleticism.  One must look to big and fast receivers like Terrelle Pryor and Demaryius Thomas for players with athletic traits approaching Engram’s.

But do those traits work at the NFL level? Some people say a “tweener” like Engram rarely succeeds in the NFL.  This is a myth.  There are many recent examples of smaller move tight ends and large wide receivers with similar physical profiles having successful seasons in the NFL.  A few high level examples of these players, all of whom weighed within about 10 pounds of Engram at the combine, include Delanie Walker, Aaron Hernandez, Jordan Reed, Marquise Colston, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Calvin Johnson, and the aforementioned Thomas.  Engram is a superior athletic specimen to many on that list.  The main reason that few players with Engram’s size and athleticism have succeeded in the NFL is that there are so few players with Engram’s combination of size and athleticism.

Situation

The community seems somewhat polarized on the situation in New York with many claiming a bad, crowded situation and others seeing a very nice landing spot. I am somewhere in the middle.  Most people agree Engram should see the big majority of tight end targets in short order with only undrafted Will Tye and late rounder Jerell Adams as the primary competition for touches.  The passing game is a mixed bag in New York.  On the plus side, the Giants have finished eighth or better in passing attempts the last two seasons.  The offense should continue emphasizing the pass game with a bad offensive line and running backs who are replacement level type players.  On the down side, those attempts will be made by Eli Manning.  Manning has always been one of the more erratic quarterbacks throughout his career but is nearing the end and looked dreadful in 2016 finishing between Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz in QBR.

The receiving core is also not nearly the obstacle many people claim. Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to dominate targets without much question.  Brandon Marshall, on the other hand, produced one of the worst receiving seasons in recent memory last season and turned 33 this year.  It was not all his fault.   Jets QBs burdened Marshall with one of the worst catchable ball rates in the league.  Marshall’s new contract and interviews make it clear he likely has, at most, two years left in the league.  Sterling Shepard had a decent rookie campaign but his production was over exaggerated by a big target load necessitated by a lack of quality receiving options in New York.  Shepard recorded the third least receiving yards and yards per reception of anyone with his target load. His production per target was more in line with running backs and older tight ends than quality receivers.

Role

Engram will move all over the field in the slot, out wide, attached, and even in the backfield at times. Most importantly, the addition of Engram (and Marshall) brings diversity to a somewhat predictable Giants offense.  New York used more three wide receiver formations than any team in the league last year relying primarily on undersized Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Shepard.  The Giants can now use more 2-WR and multiple tight end sets with Marshall, OBJ, and Engram as the primary receivers.  Perimeter blocking should be improved for the run and shallow passing game with two large receivers matching up against smaller defensive backs at times on the perimeter.  This is done without losing much in the passing game.  At other times, Manning receives isolation opportunities for easy completions when defenses attempt to cover Engram with linebackers.

RSO Outlook

Engram’s distribution of outcomes is wider than most tight ends given his unique skillset and size at the position, meaning he has higher probabilities on both the high side and low-end of production possibilities. This is exactly what you want at tight end where middle of the road starters are both cheap and plentiful through trade or the waiver wire in most leagues. The floor for Engram is a multi-dimensional H-back type of player who the Giants do not figure out how to use consistently.  He does not see the field regularly due to his smaller size and lack of blocking ability leading to fantasy irrelevance.  The fantasy ceiling sees Engram used consistently on the field as a receiver who is a tight end in designation only.  This is where his wide receiver-like attributes give Engram a big leg up on the other rookie tight ends for fantasy purposes.  One might think of a Marques Colston or Jordan Matthews type of role in which Engram eventually sees 100+ targets yearly. This would put him in the conversation as a yearly top 6 option at tight end given the likely efficiency at the NFL level and touchdown potential.

Engram is currently going off the board as the 13th player in rookie drafts and the third tight end behind O.J. Howard and David Njoku.  I am happy to take the discount on the player with the highest fantasy upside at the position and is only a moderate risk at his cost.  The difference between Engram and other tight ends is clear.  One hopes the other rookie tight ends eventually become good tight end options for your RSO team.  You hope Engram evolves into a good receiver who happens to be designated as a tight end which makes for a potential fantasy monster.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.