The Giants’ best receiving option this week might not be a receiver at all. At least not officially.
Tight end Evan Engram likely will become an even larger cog in an offense that will be starving for playmakers on the field Sunday night against the Broncos. With the Giants’ four best wide receivers on the shelf, Engram enters the game as the team’s healthy leader in receptions and passing yards, numbers that figure to go up exponentially now that there are so few other viable options.
“It’s hard, it’s an unfortunate happening,” Engram said of the injuries to Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard that have led to the restructuring of the passing game. “But I’m excited for the opportunity it presents. We still have a long season left and we have a lot of games to play. I’m definitely excited about attacking the rest of the season and just fighting.”
Engram, this year’s first-round pick, is almost uniquely positioned for this period of change. The Giants selected him because of his versatility and his speed, attributes that often are compared to those of receivers. When the wideouts started dropping off in last week’s loss against the Chargers, it was Engram who started lining up in their place.
The Broncos will be leery of that happening again.
“Obviously, he’s a tight end with a receiver skill set,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said. “So we’ve got to be careful on the matchups with Engram, and we’ve got to be careful of how we play certain formations with him as a receiver versus him as a tight end in-line. That’s going to take some game-planning, obviously, but also some adjusting once we kind of figure out what Ben [McAdoo’s] game plan is going to be to attack us.”
This week, though, Engram said he won’t be back to that spot. At least not all the time.
“I’m just going to go out there and make plays when the ball comes to me,” he said. “It’s nothing different. We still have guys playing receiver, still have guys on offense, so I’m just going to go out there and compete and do the best I can.”
The difference is that what is normal for him is moving around.
“He’s played pretty much every spot on the field to this point, so we’ll move him around,” McAdoo said. “We’ll see what he can handle. Evan is a talented player, but he’s still a young player, learning.”
That’s where the Giants are hesitant. They do not want to overload Engram.
“We have to make sure we’re cognizant of the fact that while he is doing a lot of good things and he’s shown versatility, we don’t want to over-tax him,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “We don’t want to try to make things overly complicated in the sense that he’s not able to go out there and play fast.”
Engram said throughout this week of practice, he has not once been asked to do something or play in a spot that is completely foreign to him.
“They do a good job moving guys around, putting them in different spots,” he said. “I’ve been inside, I’ve been in the slot. I’ve been in-line. I’ve been in the backfield. It’s nothing new.”
Engram isn’t just putting up numbers better than any other (remaining) Giant. Through five games, he leads all rookie tight ends in receptions (19), receiving yards (200) and first-down catches (10).
“He’s a young player who’s learning to play the pro game,” McAdoo said. “He practiced well and he’s going to have opportunities in games to get his hands on some footballs and to block, to play special teams. That won’t change.”
On this offense this week, that may be the only thing that won’t.
TE No. 88
Vitals: 6-3, 240
Born: Sept. 2, 1994, in Powder Springs, Georgia (Age 23)
College: Ole Miss
Drafted: By Giants, 2017 first round (23rd overall)
10.5 Yards per catch