Fantasy Football: The Case For Evan Engram

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This article is part of The Fantasy Court series, where two writers for the Fantasy Footballs go head to head and each gives their take on drafting a polarizing player. In the latest installment of this series, I’ll be providing a counter-argument against my good friend and fellow writer, Matt Okada (@FantasySensei). Be sure to check out his article, The Case Against Evan Engram.

Check out where AndyMike, and Jason have Evan Engram projected in the Ultimate Draft Kit. Also, be sure to check out the latest podcast highlighting the top 10 TEs for 2018.

Opening Statement

Last season was Evan Engram’s rookie year in the NFL, and all he did was finish as the fourth best overall tight end in fantasy in PPR formats. Do you know how many rookie tight ends have finished with numbers as good as Engram had in his rookie year? None. Zero. Ziltch. He had the best rookie season for a tight end in the modern NFL era.

The argument against Engram largely revolves around the fact that the Giants have big-time playmakers returning to the field. After all, Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall were both out for the majority of the year with season-ending ankle injuries. With Beckham back in action and Saquon Barkley now catching passes out of the backfield, Engram has to regress for fantasy football, right? WRONG! Evan Engram is a legitimate top 5 tight end in 2018.

2017 Season

To get a true sense of just how good Engram was in 2017, let’s compare his rookie stats to Rob Gronkowski‘s rookie stats from 2010.

Rob Gronkowski Evan Engram
Games Played 16 15
Receptions 42 64
Receiving Yards 546 722
TD 10 6
Total Fantasy Points (PPR) 155 174

My goodness! Evan Engram was so good in 2017, that he scored more points than arguably the best tight end in NFL history during his rookie season. Engram’s success came due to the fact that he was one of Eli Manning‘s favorite targets in the passing game, receiving a total of 115 targets on the year, good for 19% of the team’s target share. Was this a result of Odell Beckham going down with an injury? At first glance, it may seem that way. However, let’s look at what Eli Manning has done over the course of his career in terms of targeting his tight end.

Year Top Receiving Tight End Receptions Receiving Yards TD
2016 Will Tye 48 395 1
2015 Will Tye 42 464 3
2014 Larry Donnell 63 623 6
2013 Brandon Myers 47 522 4
2012 Martellus Bennett 55 626 5
2011 Jake Ballard 38 604 4
2010 Kevin Boss 35 531 5
2009 Kevin Boss 42 567 5
2008 Kevin Boss 33 384 6
2007 Jeremy Shockey 57 619 3
2006 Jeremy Shockey 66 623 7
2005 Jeremy Shockey 65 891 7

Simply put, Eli uses the tight end position, and he makes them very relevant for fantasy football. When you look at the names on this list, Engram is a far superior pass-catching talent, so it’s certainly reasonable to expect him to put up much better numbers than guys like Will Tye and Larry Donnell. Manning will help Engram continue to produce as a top option at the tight end position.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Sport

Expectations for 2018

I expect another big season from Evan Engram in 2018. Why? Let us not forget who enters as the new head coach, Pat Shurmur. When you look back at his coaching history, he was the tight ends coach for the Eagles from 1999-2001 prior to earning his first offensive coordinator position. He then returned to being a tight ends coach for the Vikings in 2016, so he clearly likes the position and knows how to use it. When you look at what he did during his time as the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 2013-2015, he helped shape Zach Ertz into what he is today. In fact, Shurmur was the O.C. in 2015 when Ertz had his breakout campaign, posting his career high in receiving yards of 853. Take a look at this interesting quote from Shurmur in this article with nj.com. “The fact that we have a pass-catching tight end is something that is very valuable to a team because now a defense has to decide when you have two tight ends and Evan being one of them, are they going to stay base or play nickel? And then the chess game begins from there.

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Engram is going to be a focal point in an offense that figures to significantly improve compared to what they were in 2017. The Giants offense was so bad in 2017 that they were the second-worst scoring offense in the league, and Engram still finished inside the top five at the position. The offense will certainly improve in 2018, allowing for more production and scoring opportunities from their sophomore tight end.

Closing Argument

I’m not arguing that Engram will probably see a slight reduction in his target share in 2018. He will, especially with the emergence of Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham. BUT, what I am going to argue is that Engram’s numbers will still be good enough to finish inside the top 5 at the tight end position. Even if we give Engram a stat line that is a mere 80% of what he accomplished in 2017 from a production standpoint, he still would have finished inside the top 10 at the tight end position.

Finally, we’ve seen him do it before when Odell Beckham was in the lineup in 2017. Granted it was a small sample size, but in the four games where Beckham did play in 2017 (Weeks 1-4), Engram finished inside the top 12 twice. When you look at the landscape of tight ends across the NFL, Evan Engram provides both an excellent floor and nice upside as the sixth tight end off the board in drafts. I’m perfectly content taking him in the back of the sixth/beginning of the seventh round if it gives me a surefire weekly starter at the tight end position. After all, it is the most barfy position in fantasy sports, with very few serviceable options.