Throughout the offseason, we’ll be profiling players who may end up in Denver when all is said and done with the 2017 NFL Draft. The Broncos clearly have plenty of holes to fill before they get back to Super-Bowl form and we’ll be examining a long list of players they may choose to help the franchise do just that.
It’s hard to say that a potential first to second round pick is going under the radar, however, in a draft featuring O.J. Howard and David Njoku, the rest of the tight end position isn’t receiving much press. That’s exactly what’s happening to former Ole Miss star tight end Evan Engram. While Howard and Njoku are viewed as both blocking and receiving weapons at the next level, Engram is only viewed as a receiving threat, but a dangerous one at that.
At 6-foot-3, 234 pounds, Engram has almost the same physique as Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (6-foot-3, 229 pounds), yet played tight end and H-back his entire college career. In his final season of college, Engram put up receiver-type numbers—65 receptions for 926 yards and 8 touchdowns—in his campaign for first-team ALL-SEC and first-team All-American.
Engram is projected to be picked in the top two rounds in the draft due to the receiving threat he is thought to be at the next level.
Engram’s strengths on the field start and end with his receiving abilities. Although he won’t be able to line up as a traditional in-line tight end in the NFL, he will be able to line up in a variety of positions, from H-back to slot receiver, creating matchup nightmares with linebackers.
“I’m just a move guy that can play anywhere on the offensive side of the ball,” Engram said at the combine. “When I need to get down field, I can be in the slot, I can get out wide, I can learn a lot out there as well.”
Along with his versatility, Engram brings top-end speed to the position, which furthers his ability to be a matchup problem. At the combine he ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends with a time of 4.42 seconds.
Engram is also one of the most explosive players off the line of scrimmage, allowing him to create space and separation for himself almost immediately before his speed even kicks in. Due to all of this he is a threat at all three-levels of the field, specifically attacking the seem. In college not only did he consistently beat linebackers in coverage, but he routinely had his way with defensive backs as well.
“I think I can be a three-down tight end with a lot of work and a lot of preparation, but I definitely think I can be a huge weapon for a team and help their offense immediately next year,” he said. “I definitely see myself as a total package and definitely a threat down field in the vertical passing game.”
As a receiving threat, he makes up for his lack of size with his athletic ability, posting a 36-inch vertical at the combine. He also has the ability to adjust to the ball to have an extended catch radius. Finally, Engram is a natural leader as he was a two-time team captain.
Although Engram has the potential to be a dangerous receiving threat, he still has areas that need to be improved in that part of his game. Throughout his career he has had problems holding onto the ball and in 2016 that was no different as he dropped seven of the 73 targets that were in his catch radius. Additionally, Engram doesn’t go after the ball when it’s in the air, allowing defenders to make plays on it.
What may be the biggest detriment to his game, however, is his size. Engram is built more like a wide receiver than a tight end and that is prevalent in his lack of run and pass blocking abilities. At just 234 pounds, it would be a surprise if his future team uses him as a traditional tight end because he is likely to get blown up by defensive lineman in protection.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job in my college career blocking,” Engram said. “I have a lot of things to work on, definitely, and I know there’s a lot of great coaches in the league that can teach me a lot. To learn under them and know that I’m willing to get my nose in there, I’m not going to back down from anybody.”
How he fits in Denver
Engram’s one-dimensional play limits the number of teams that will be interested in him. However, his receiving skills keep him on the Broncos’ board. Last season Denver was the only team in the league that didn’t have three players to record at least 300 yards through the air.
Engram would immediately be the third receiving threat for whatever quarterback is under center. After talking with the Broncos in the pre-draft process, Engram says there was mutual interest.
“[I’ve] been talking with [the Broncos] and how they’re trying to get back to having an athletic, down-the-field tight end,” he said. “I would love to play for that organization. Great coaching staff. They got an offense that needs some vertical threats and I would love to be a part of that, definitely.”
Due to his limitations in blocking, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy would have to use him sparingly. It would be risky to use a top-round pick on a situational player, however, Engram would be a playmaker in the Broncos’ offense from Day One.