The Giants have not had much luck with tight ends in recent years.
Not that they have put much effort into altering that. Their approach to a position that many other teams seem to rely so heavily upon has been to round up a bunch of undrafted players and see what they can squeeze out of them. Sometimes there is juice, as there seemed to be with Jake Ballard in the last Super Bowl run before he suffered a career-ending injury. Sometimes there are a few misleading drops, as there appeared to be with Larry Donnell. More often than not, though, these experiments fall flat.
The track record is worse when it comes to tight ends the Giants have drafted. Names such as Adrien Robinson and Travis Beckum are spoken in hushed tones around the team’s front office, especially at this time of year, so as not to spook anyone from past miscalculations or raise the specters of high promise followed by undeniable failure.
The fact is the Giants have not drafted a tight end in the first round since they picked Jeremy Shockey with the 14th overall selection in 2002. The last pick at the position that they hit on was Kevin Boss, the fifth-round pick in 2007 who eventually supplanted Shockey.
So when general manager Jerry Reese looked at this year’s incoming class and said “we do feel like a tight end could come in and help us” and “there are some good tight ends in the draft,” observers could be forgiven for wondering just how the Giants would bungle filling that need.
The good news for the Giants: This year, it would seem pretty hard to do that.
This class is considered by most observers to be one of the deepest and most talented at the tight end position since, well, maybe forever. And with the Giants picking 23rd overall, there is a good chance they will have an opportunity to select one of those gems at a position that has been a bit of a vacuum for them in recent years.
In the three years that Ben McAdoo has been in control of the Giants’ offense — two as the coordinator and one as the head coach — the focus has been more receiver-centric than tight end-friendly. It’s a strange occurrence, given that Eli Manning has always seemed to be at his best when he has had a big, lanky, seam-busting tight end he can hit down the middle of the field.
“Whatever your offensive coordinator is, what your head coach’s philosophy is, I think that is what determines what your tight end role is,” Reese said. “You look at different teams and tight ends are a big part of what they do, and you look at us and we haven’t been a two-tight end kind of offense under Ben.”
Is that cause or effect? McAdoo, after all, started his career as a tight ends coach in Green Bay. He’s not opposed to using players at that position.
It’s just that he hasn’t had any during his tenure with the Giants.
“I think that the best coaches make an adjustment to what your personnel is. I think that is part of being a coach,” Reese said. “You don’t always have the perfect pieces to what you want and you have to make the adjustment.”
That may be about to change.
The coup would be to grab Alabama’s O.J. Howard. He is the gold standard for tight ends in a 14-karat crop of them. Likened to Greg Olsen, he is an athletic pass-catcher and a good blocker and is considered a can’t-miss prospect.
The problem is when the Giants pick.
“I don’t think he’ll be there at 23,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this past week. “As a matter of fact, if I had to name my top 10 . . . he’ll be in the top 10 or 12.”
The second-best tight end in this draft, however, could fall right into the Giants’ lap. Which is pretty convenient, given that David Njoku played at Cedar Grove High School in New Jersey before attending the University of Miami.
“David Njoku is an intriguing conversation, also, at 23,” Mayock said. “I think, more than anything, you need a playmaker.”
Njoku may not be the complete package that Howard is, but he doesn’t need to be. The Giants brought Rhett Ellison in as a free agent to handle the blocking of the position. Adding Njoku, the kind of physical freak that Reese has gravitated toward in past drafts, would give the Giants a day-one playmaker and a tight end who finally can take advantage of mismatches in the secondary the way others in the division such as Jason Witten and Jordan Reed have.
Reese famously — infamously — referred to Robinson as “the JPP of tight ends” when the Giants used a fourth-round pick on him out of Cincinnati in 2012. That comment came back to haunt both the GM and the player.
Reese will never utter those words again, but Njoku may actually be the JPP of tight ends. He is abnormally long and scarily athletic and has a knack for making big plays at big moments.
And if the Giants draft him, it could represent a bit of a full circle. When Manning came into the league, his first favorite target was Shockey, the first-round pick from Miami. If the Giants draft Njoku, they would have another first-round tight end from The U.
Those kinds of players have been few and far between for the Giants, but they could become bookends to Manning’s career.
A look at some of the top – or most intriguing – tight ends in the 2017 draft class:
6-6, 251, Alabama
Ran an eye-popping 4.51 40 at the Combine … The top receiver for Alabama in heir past two National Championship games … Had 45 catches for 595 yards with three TDs in 2016, all career highs, but many scouts think he was underused (or misused) by Alabama OC Lane Kiffen ... Needs to get stronger as a blocker.
6-4, 246, Miami (Fla.)
Consider that he is almost two inches shorter than Howard, but his arms are almost two inches longer providing a much larger catch radius … Was a national champion high jumper in high school (6-11) … Comes to the NFL after just two active seasons and three years in college … Had 43 catches for 698 yards and eight TDs in 13 games in 2016 … Still a raw talent who needs to improve in the basics; had
eight dropped passes over last two seasons.
Jake Butt, 6-5, 246
A second-day pick after suffering a torn ACL in the Citrus Bowl, Butt would be a solid addition to the Giants and fit the mold of former hoops players such as Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard … Has good hands and is strong underneath, but may not have the speed to push down the field … Was the Big Ten Tight End of the Year in 2015 (51 catches for 654 yards and three TDs) and 2016 (46-546-4) … Like most at the position, needs to improve blocking to become an every-down player.
Evan Engram, 6-3, 234
A possible first-round selection who also could be there at the top of the second-round … Comps to former Jets TE Dustin Keller in Nolan Nawrocki’s NFL Draft Preview … Lacks the size of others in the class, but his 4.42 40 at the Combine was wide receiver-worthy … Would play more of a flex position than in-line … Set the school career record at Eli Manning’s alma mater for catches and receiving yards in his first three years. As a senior he added 65 catches for 926 yards and eight TDs.
6-7, 278, Ashland
A big player from a small school … An intriguing possibility for the Giants, if they can get past the bad memories of WR Ramses Barden who was their last draft pick with imposing physical specimen to dominate at a lower level of competition … Had 70 catches (a DII record for TEs) for 803 yards and 10 TDs in 2015; 57 catches for 867 yards and 16 TDs in 2016 … DII Ashland has had just three other players drafted, none before the seventh round. Shaheen should go well before that.