Leading into the July 27 opening of Giants training camp, The Post will analyze 11 position groups based on personnel, strengths, weaknesses and key depth chart battles. Today’s look-in: Tight ends.
Show us an offense without a dangerous receiving threat at tight end and we’ll be looking at an offense lacking in at least one key area. It is the way the game is played nowadays. Tight ends rock. Evan Engram needs to be that guy for the Giants and he too often is not. He is talented and hard-working and an A-plus as far as his reliability as a teammate and locker-room presence, but more is required of a former first-round pick with so much ability. If it is not him, there is no one on the roster capable of getting this done. There are useful pieces here but Engram is the player who needs to be the lead dog in every way.
Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith, Kelvin Benjamin, Rysen John, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Cole Hikutini.
Avert your eyes if you are a member of the club that cannot hear or read anything positive about Engram without getting apoplectic. You might not understand what he is still doing on the team. A bit of advice: Lighten up. Sure, it is infuriating to see such a skilled guy come up so small at times — yes, yes, we remember that pass that fell through his hands in Philadelphia last season. We understand his first career Pro Bowl selection did not exactly attract rave reviews from Giants fans. But consider this: Joe Judge did not draft Engram and yet he evaluated the player, threw his support behind the player and signed off on the team picking up the fifth-year option on the player and never considered trading away the player. You trust Joe Judge on this one? The hope from inside the building: The influx of pass-catching talent on offense will allow Engram to feel less pressure to perform and that, in turn, will smooth out his rough spots. The signing of Rudolph, a 10-year veteran with the Vikings, was not made with the intention of replacing Engram. Rudolph is on the downside but still a capable dual threat as a pass-catcher and blocker and the big attraction here is this: 40 of his 48 career touchdowns have come in the red zone. Quarterback Daniel Jones will be looking his way in close quarters.
The routine physical Rudolph took before signing a two-year, $12 million contract revealed the foot injury that cost him the last four games of the 2020 season had not properly healed. Surgery — reportedly to repair the Lisfranc ligament — kept Rudolph out of all offseason activities and the expectation is he will be ready for the start of the season. The Giants will go easy on him in training camp. Smith as a rookie in 2019 looked as if he would develop into a legitimate pass-catching threat but his role was reduced in 2020 with the new coaching staff. He and Toilolo — primarily a blocker — might be trying to squeeze into one roster spot. Benjamin, 30, has not played in the NFL since 2018, does not run away from anyone and is trying to make the transition from wide receiver. Not easy.
Engram turns 27 on Sept. 2 — he is still so young — and what happens this season will determine if he gets a second contract with the Giants. He is somewhat scarred by all the losing he’s encountered in the NFL and is such a class act he deserves some measure of success. Rudolph, if healthy — that might be a big “if’’ — gives Jones a 6-foot-6 target to hit in the end zone. That is a big deal. Perhaps this is the year the Giants find a way to get Engram involved in the matchup advantages he can use to create big plays. That is on Engram, and also on offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. It all works hand-in-hand.
Next up: Safeties.