Much like his team, Evan Engram played his best football after the bye week.
The sophomore tight end injured his knee in Week 3 and missed the next three games. He also had a two-week detour because of a hamstring only to end his year with his four best games. Engram caught 22 passes for 320 yards and touchdown in the final quarter of the season. In the first three, he had 23 receptions for 257 and two scores. Engram couldn’t deny his satisfaction with the way the 5-11 season ended for him individually.
“Just stayed the course,” said Engram, the 23rd overall draft pick in 2017. “There were some ups and downs, and you just kind of learn some things through those times and then when I got my opportunities when I was healthy and we were playing good football, I just tried to make the most of it.”
The bye week, which fell exactly at the midway point of the season, marked a shift for the offense and tight ends in particular. Head coach and offensive play-caller Pat Shurmur, who got the job in part due to his track record of tailoring schemes to players and not the other way around, brought in big personnel to run the offense more through rookie running back Saquon Barkley. That meant more of fellow tight ends Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson, and the three of them played a combined 1,320 snaps.
“We came together as a whole room after the bye week and just wanted to find ways to get better and work on things that we needed to get better at,” Ellison said. “I think that we really attacked that. We put the hard work in. When we were asked to be in those personnels and our roles increased, each guy answered. So I’m proud of those guys and I was really lucky to be in that room with them this year.”
The results were drastic. The Giants averaged 27.4 points per game in the second half of the season compared to just 18.8 in the first. They finished with an NFC East-leading 369 points.
“When you have a solid run game, it’s important to play together and just play for each other,” Engram said. “When you’re going out there trying to blow guys up for the guy next to you, big plays like a lot of the ones Saquon had, those happen. It was just us playing together, us coming together, and us having some dog in us. That’s going to help get the job done for the guy next to us.”
Position coach Lunda Wells hates the term “receiving tight end” because everyone in his room has to do both catching and blocking, but the label tends to follow Engram. You can see why. Engram, who led all rookie tight ends in most major receiving categories last season, made one big play after another down the stretch in his second year. After the bye week, he never played a game in which he didn’t have a catch go for at least 22 yards. He had a pair of 50-yarders in that stretch after his longest as a rookie was 35 yards. His 54-yard gain against the Buccaneers in Week 11 sparked a touchdown drive to put the game away late in the fourth quarter. A 31-yarder the week before did the same on the game-winning drive against the 49ers.
“He got off to a little slow start during the year,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “I thought he had a great camp and was doing a lot of things. He got off to a slow start and had the injury that kept him out a few games. Same deal, second half he came back and has played great. … We know he is a playmaker. He was making those plays, felt confident and stepped up his role. Just knew what to do and became a leader of this team and this offense.”
Engram’s yards after catch also increased year over year. He averaged 4.5 YAC per catch as a rookie and 8.5 in 2018. He had nearly 100 more YAC this season despite playing in 300 fewer snaps when he was the featured playmaker after the wide receiver corps was decimated by injuries in 2017. Still, Engram thinks he can improve in that category. His offseason goal is to get more explosive.
“With this offense, it gets us in space,” Engram said. “I had a couple opportunities this year after the catch, and I definitely want to take my game to the next level just with being more dynamic after the catch and securing the ball.”