Giants 2021 Position Breakdown: Evan Engram-Kyle Rudolph tandem highlights tight ends

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Kyle Rudolph/Evan Engram Treated Image
Kyle Rudolph/Evan Engram Treated Image

Heading into the 2021 season, the Giants have a much-improved roster on both sides of the ball and are looking to finally make their way back into the playoffs to become a Super Bowl contender once again.

In this series, we’ll break down every position group on the depth chart for Big Blue. This time, we’ll go in depth on the tight ends…

Depth Chart

TE1: Evan Engram, Levine Toilolo
TE2: Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
Depth: Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Cole Kikutini, Rysen John

- Top 2020 Performer: Evan Engram – 63 receptions (109 targets), 654 yards, two touchdowns, Pro Bowl

What Giants tight ends have going for them

Engram will be entering his fifth NFL season – a crucial one after the Giants picked up his fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Though it was a Pro Bowl season in 2020, there was still a lot to be desired from this playmaker after his drops led to some pretty crucial turnovers and one particular loss. He also didn’t find the end zone as much as he has in the past, though the Giants’ offense as a whole is responsible for the lack of six-pointers.

But Engram is still one of the fastest tight ends in the league, and he has showcased his play-making abilities for some time now. Daniel Jones also likes working with him in the middle of the field. Fixing that drop issue this season would do wonders there.

Rudolph is also in the fold, as the Giants signed the veteran after the Minnesota Vikings surprisingly made him a cap casualty. Rudolph wasn’t used as much in the past couple of seasons due to the emergence of Dalvin Cook in Minnesota’s offense, so the Giants might bring the end zone threat back with two tight end sets.

Toilolo also returns with a pay cut to mostly be a big blocking threat that Joe Judge liked to have on his team last season. And Smith is solid depth as well, whether it’s picking up solid yardages on a catch or providing solid blocking.

Key Concern: Engram’s hands

The argument could be made about how Jason Garrett will deploy two tight end sets, or if Rudolph’s foot – he underwent surgery that should have him ready by Opening Day – will hurt his production throughout the season.

But ultimately, this is the biggest question of the year: Can Engram stop the drops?

According to Pro Football Reference, Engram was second in the league with 11 drops last season, behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson. And a lot of his drops were just unacceptable, whether it was a perfectly thrown over-the-top ball from Jones that slipped through his hands (Eagles fans, rejoice), or just a simple curl or hitch route that Jones put on the money but Engram couldn’t catch.

A lot of those balls led to turnovers, too, and that’s just not going to fly for a Giants offense that is poised to take big leaps forward this season. They need to if they want to win. Engram will be a big part of that if he can fix this bugaboo of his.

If not, there’s plenty more options for Jones to trust instead.

Player who must step up in 2021: Evan Engram

Pretty self-explanatory, right?

Engram’s production was worthy of a Pro Bowl, but it wasn’t better than his rookie season when he showed tons of promise with 722 yards on 64 receptions and seven touchdowns. He’s capable of that and more.

This is an extremely crucial season for Engram not just to help the Giants’ offense and get the drops monkey off his back, but also if he wishes to stay with New York given this being a contract year. The fifth-year option was picked up, but now he must perform for a new deal.

Nov 2, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) reacts during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) reacts during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Biggest Camp Battle: Levine Toilolo vs. Kaden Smith

Because of the addition of Rudolph, reps for these two depth tight ends will likely diminish. Who will get hit more?

That’s what this camp battle will determine in the end. The depth chart at the top is settled with Engram and Rudolph there, but these two will be fighting all summer for playing time when September rolls around.

2021 Outlook

The biggest spotlight will likely stay on Engram all season in terms of this position group because he has a lot to prove to the Giants regarding his own NFL future. Judge has consistently backed up his work ethic and motor during games and at practice, and the “matchup nightmare” tag that’s been put on him since his rookie year still shows up on game day despite the drops last season.

Rudolph should also provide some crucial red zone targets for Jones because that’s his forte. Garrett knows how to use a tight end in those situations – look at Jason Witten with the Cowboys – so expect Rudolph to go up and snag a few with his large frame when the Giants are near the paint.

Finally, with so many eyes peered at Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and the other weapons on the field for Big Blue, this tight end group could be the catalyst to a successful offense in 2021. You can’t have blanket coverage over everyone, so those 1-on-1 matchups that Engram has been able to exploit in the past must be capitalized on. Those mismatches in the end zone with a smaller linebacker on Rudolph must be cashed in.