EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are likely going to be without tight end Evan Engram against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, and potentially longer. Engram is dealing with a sprained MCL in his right knee that came on a low hit in the second quarter last week against the Houston Texans.
It’s a significant loss for the Giants' offense. Engram is a weapon in the passing game, even if he had started slowly this season. He had 10 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown before the injury, but that doesn’t fully illustrate the threat he presents to opposing defenses. Engram also had a 34-yard reception negated by a penalty and forced a holding and pass interference in the first 10 quarters of the season.
When he’s on the field, the second-year tight end demands attention. He's a threat to make big plays after a strong rookie season.
Engram also warrants targets that will now be distributed elsewhere. But where exactly?
Rhett Ellison: He’s the 1b tight end on the Giants roster who was used mostly as a blocker the first two weeks. Now he will also fill the receiving void left by Engram. The Giants like him, to the point that he was compared to legendary Giants tight end Mark Bavaro.
“He’s very good at what he does, he can line up anywhere, he finds a way to make plays. Some guys just have a knack for that. He finds a way to make plays,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Very trustworthy and very tough, and he’s wired like a football player, and that is what you’re looking for.
"I made the analogy, and this probably isn’t fair because I don’t know Mark Bavaro that well, but I sensed the same kind of aura when I met him the other night -- just a tough guy that’s going to do what he’s asked and let the chips fall. That’s what Rhett is.”
That's a much different player than Engram, who is a pseudo-slot receiver.
Ellison ran 20 routes in the first two games and had three catches for 21 yards. He had three catches for 39 yards and a touchdown -- all after Engram left with his injury -- on 23 routes in a Week 3 victory over the Houston Texans. So, clearly, Ellison will see an increase in his production as the every-down tight end. His ceiling isn’t as high as Engram, but the veteran should be able to provide steady production, even if his target rate is slightly lower.
Sterling Shepard: The Giants’ No. 2 wide receiver should be the biggest beneficiary of the shrinking targets to the tight end position. Odell Beckham Jr. is already receiving his fair share of targets, while Shepard averaged six in the first two games. That could spike a bit without Engram in the lineup for a more extended period.
After Engram left against the Texans, Shepard had five targets -- the same number as Beckham and Saquon Barkley -- over the final two-and-a-half quarters. It’s as if Shepard went from the No. 4 target on the Giants (behind Beckham, Barkley and Engram) to No. 2 or 3.
Odell Beckham Jr.: Beckham was already receiving a hefty target share. He saw 24 passes thrown in his direction the first two weeks. That’s not likely to spike much from Engram’s absence. Maybe he gets another target here or there, but don’t expect it to be anything substantial. The Giants are intent on spreading the ball around to whichever playmakers are on the field.
Saquon Barkley: He’s in the same category as Beckham. The rookie running back is already receiving his fair share of targets. The Giants are scheming to get the ball in Barkley's hands, and he’s the safety valve for quarterback Eli Manning. That means plenty of opportunities for him regardless of whether or not Engram is in the lineup. Barkley’s targets aren’t likely to change much one way or the other. He’s already averaging nine per game.
Others: Third-string tight end Scott Simonson now becomes the No. 2. He could sneak in a catch here or there. The same applies to recently promoted tight end Garrett Dickerson or wide receivers Cody Latimer or Russell Shepard. None will make a significant impact in the overall passing game, though.