Evan Engram lined up in a three-point stance to the right of the formation and awaited the snap. First play of the third quarter, Giants down 28-10 against the Buccaneers on Sunday, and Engram was about to run a simple crossing pattern over the middle of the field off a play-action pass.
As Daniel Jones, making his first start as the Giants’ quarterback, took the snap at his 25-yard line, Engram raced upfield and quickly found an opening in the Bucs’ zone defense at the 37. Jones delivered the ball in stride, and Engram made the catch, outran one defender, and suddenly found himself open as he ran toward the left sideline. With one man to beat, Engram made it around the defender and raced into the end zone for the touchdown.
It was the latest example of Engram’s extraordinary talent, and yet another reason the Giants drafted him in the first round in 2017. Engram is making that pick pay off in a very big way this season.
Engram already has 23 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns, on pace to far surpass his previous highs of 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. He’s also becoming a favorite target for coach and offensive play-caller Pat Shurmur.
He’s off to a monster start, but Engram insists there is so much further to go.
“I come in here each and every day, try to be the best tight end I can be, and prepare for those plays and prepare for those moments,” he told Newsday in the Giants’ locker room. “Just trying to be consistent and keep doing the best for our team.”
The talent has always been there, but a combination of injuries and instability on the offense in general the past two years have somewhat limited Engram’s effectiveness. He missed five games last year because of knee and hamstring injuries and was sidelined during the 2019 offseason with a hamstring problem that limited him to just one preseason game (nine snaps against the Bengals).
But Engram has been the Giants' most explosive skill position player so far.
It’s still not enough.
“I mean, I’m going to keep working for more,” said Engram, who is second among NFL tight ends in catches and receiving yards. “Never get complacent. Just continue to stay hungry and keep working.”
Engram’s catch-and-run touchdown on Sunday ignited a furious second-half rally, as the Giants beat the Bucs, 32-31, and began the Jones Era in spectacular fashion. Engram ended up with six catches for a team-high 113 yards and the touchdown.
“It’s one win, and we still have a lot of opportunities left, a lot of games left to go out and repeat that,” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and say a lot, where it feels so good and we’re satisfied. No, we’re going to continue to keep that hungry mindset, we’re going to continue to fight like our life is on the line. It’s definitely good to win, but we have another task this week that we’ve got to get done.”
The Giants host the Redskins in Jones’ first game at home as a starter, and Engram almost certainly will be a big part of their plans. He’ll face former Giants safety Landon Collins, who signed an $84 million contract after being spurned by the Giants. Engram says he owes Collins a debt of gratitude in his development.
“It definitely made me a better player versus man coverage and things like that, so it’s going to be exciting playing against him,” Engram said.
Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula is delighted at Engram’s progress.
“Speed is very valuable, and Evan’s got it,” Shula said Thursday. “You can see his confidence grow, just with time on the field and time in our system. He’s versatile, he’s getting better in the run-game blocking, and I think as we move forward hopefully it will continue.”
Fellow tight end Rhett Ellison said Engram has “just gotten better every single year, and he works for it. It’s not like it just happened overnight. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. It’s awesome to see his work get a little recognition.”
Engram insists there is much more to be done. And not simply as an individual.
“That feeling [of winning] is addicting,” he said. “It adds motivation, so I think it makes us hungrier.”
None hungrier than the third-year tight end, who is already proving invaluable to an offense that will be central to whether Sunday’s win was a sign of bigger things to come.