EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There is a new look and different feel as the New York Giants begin their offseason workout program Monday. Gone is the polarizing presence of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He has since been replaced by the steady veteran presence of Golden Tate.
Or was he?
The Giants can’t realistically expect Tate to completely fill that ultra-productive void. They know that. Tate is a fine player, but Beckham averages 92.8 receiving yards per game, the second most in NFL history. That’s not fully replaceable with one person. It will take “a village” to offset the loss of such a dynamic player, as coach Pat Shurmur has explained.
A key component for the Giants is going to be tight end Evan Engram. He will be asked to become as much a big-play downfield receiver as any of the receivers themselves.
Forget that Engram is labeled a tight end. He has 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash and flashed an ability to make game-changing plays down the middle of the field during his first two professional seasons. That was especially apparent during the final four games of 2018 when Beckham was sidelined with a quad injury.
The Giants are leaning on that to carry over into the post-Beckham era, all over the field.
“I can flex Evan out, put him outside the wide receiver and move him around. He can also play attached,” Shurmur said recently at the annual NFL owners meetings in Arizona. “As we get a better feel for him, we will keep him in the mix.”
Engram is coming off an up-and-down season that saw his production and playing time dip on occasion. The latter was the result of his limitations as a blocker. After starting the season playing close to 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, that dipped to 60 percent when healthy in the second half of the season.
Despite the decreased playing time, it’s probably not a coincidence Engram’s production spiked when Beckham didn’t play the final four weeks of the season. Engram’s four biggest games (in terms of receiving yards) came during that span, and so did four of the six longest plays of his season. His 320 receiving yards over the final four weeks was 10th among all receivers and second among all tight ends, behind only San Francisco’s George Kittle.
The Giants are counting on more of that this season from Engram, even if they seem to credit the spike in production more to his health than the absence of Beckham.
Engram hurt his knee in Week 3 against the Houston Texans and missed the next three games. He later missed a pair of games with a hamstring problem. The season was a physical and emotional struggle marred by some early drops and injuries.
It took a while but Engram, 24, finally looked like the player who appeared on the verge of being something special his rookie season.
“When he got healthier, he was able to produce in a way we think he can,” Shurmur said.
Whatever the reason, the difference in the numbers is glaring.
Engram’s 14.6 yards per reception over the final four weeks dwarfs his 11.2 average from his first seven games.
He was targeted on 27.3 percent of his routes over the final four weeks compared to 16.7 earlier in the season. Kittle led all tight ends last season by being targeted on 29.1 percent of his routes.
A healthier Engram averaged 7.75 targets per game compared to 5.3 from earlier in the season.
This is what life post-Beckham could be like for Engram. Busy. And more productive.
At least that is what they’re all hoping.