EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Evan Engram has his goals. He doesn’t like to talk about them but when asked if reaching 1,000 yards receiving this season is among them, even he can’t help himself and deny it’s on the list.
“You can say it’s up there,” the explosive New York Giants tight end said.
It’s a lofty goal. Engram barely got halfway there (577 yards) in an injury-filled 2018 season and only seven tight ends have been able to top 1,000 yards receiving over the past nine years.
Engram could join them this season considering his talent and the circumstances, which have a strong chance to make him their top pass-catching option. Their so-called No. 1 receiver. The opportunities should be there.
The Giants traded star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason and his replacement, Golden Tate, is suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. That leaves Sterling Shepard and a bunch of veterans (led by Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler) who have yet to prove they can be consistent playmakers at wide receiver.
If the summer told us anything, it’s that quarterback Eli Manning will be looking at his tight ends and running backs often. Specifically, Engram and Saquon Barkley. They looked to be Manning’s most popular targets throughout training camp. It sets the stage for Engram — who led the NFL averaging 4.4 yards of separation per target last season — to have a massive season.
“That’s just our position. In this offense, tight end is the No. 1 option on a lot of plays,” Engram said. “Obviously our quarterbacks go through their progressions, but I’m going to have a lot of opportunities, [Rhett Ellison] is going to shock a lot of people. There is a lot around the tight ends in this offense. We’re going to have a lot on our plate each week and we’re going to get it done.”
It’s only possible if Engram stays healthy. He missed five games last season with various injuries and was managed carefully this summer after a minor hamstring problem in the spring. The Giants even went as far as keeping Engram out of live drills on the second day of training camp to manage his workload. That is not the normal handling of a 25-year-old tight end. It’s an approach used primarily for vital players.
Engram noted there were things he identified this offseason that he could be doing better as a professional. Things that he could control to take care of his body.
He’s put a stronger emphasis on his sleep (deep sleep, REM sleep) and now has a chef who cooks him fresh dinners. He even has a whole recovery room set up in his house, complete with foam rollers, Normatec boots and an inversion table.
Engram spends more than an hour each day in his personal recovery room and often finds himself stretching, hydrating or recovering while watching television or playing video games. He’ll even find himself at times in his bathroom doing leg lifts on his elevated bath tub and uses what he called the Grandma/Grandpa Monday to Friday pill carrier to make sure he’s supplementing his body correctly.
The result is he’s actually dropped a little weight — to 238 pounds — and is leaner. And hopefully healthier.
“I feel amazing,” Engram says as he enters his third professional season after being a first-round draft pick in 2017. “My body feels great.”
A lot of Engram’s success late last season coincided with him finally getting healthy. But it also can’t be completely dismissed that he averaged 7.5 targets per game without Beckham in the lineup compared to 4.7 when they were on the field together. Engram also finished second among all tight ends with 320 receiving yards the final four weeks when Beckham was sidelined with a quad injury.
The Giants are aware of the damage he can do with that 4.4 speed running the crossing routes in coach Pat Shurmur’s offense and working the middle of the field. It has them leaning heavily on his presence.
“We expect that he is going to have an outstanding year for us,” Shurmur said. “I think we’ve seen, when he has been healthy and out there, what he can do. The challenge for any player is to stay healthy and stay out there. I think that’s first and foremost for all players and then when he is out there, we have to use him in a way that can really accentuate and really take advantage of his skills.”
No wonder the Giants handled Engram with superstar care this summer and preseason, when he played a grand total of 10 snaps in the third preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s going to play a massive role in the passing offense, looking to take advantage of teams leaving him in one-on-one coverage with all the attention that will be given to Barkley.
That has him excited.
Those are some of the highlights on this season’s manageable schedule. It has Engram believing that with his more polished route running and comfort in this offense that 1,000 yards and a breakout season is possible as the Giants’ No. 1 receiver.
“Yeah, like I said, the tight ends are going to have a lot of opportunities. … We’re going to get a lot of opportunities. Make a lot of plays,” he said. “Just have to get it done and all that stuff will happen. All the numbers and stats, all that will come.”