Evan Engram is Being Overvalued (2018 Fantasy Football)
When we talk about rookie tight ends, the whole “top-three” conversation doesn’t even get brought up, and for good reason. Going through data over the last 11 years, there hasn’t been a rookie tight end who has finished in that territory, though two players did get close. In 2010, Rob Gronkowski finished as the No. 5 tight end, and then in 2017, Evan Engram also finished as the No. 5 tight end.
While some were expected big results from Gronkowski, nobody was expecting Engram to be fantasy relevant in his rookie season considering all the talent that was around him. As we head into 2018, most are expecting a repeat for the young tight end, as his current ADP (average draft position) is the sixth tight end off the board. There are some concerns that you need to be aware of before jumping on that bandwagon.
EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE
When going into the 2017 season, most stayed far away from the talented rookie tight end because the Giants had Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and then signed Brandon Marshall as a free agent. When you have three wide receivers who can potentially see 100 targets, there’s not going to be much room for the tight end to get anywhere near the targets he needs to be relevant. You all know what happened… Beckham missed the start of the season, returned for three full games and was hurt in the fourth game, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Marshall was also hurt in that same game, forcing him out for the season. Heck, even Shepard missed five full games, leaving Roger Lewis and Tavarres King to start multiple games for the Giants.
Needless to say, Engram was going to be targeted by default. But finishing with 115 targets, which ranked second among tight ends? That should’ve never been in the realm of possibilities. While Marshall is gone, the Giants will have Beckham and Shepard at full strength, and they’ve also added the top pass-catching running back that’s come out of the draft in quite some time, Saquon Barkley. The offense has changed as well, but we need to figure out whether or not this helps Engram’s case.
WHAT IS A REALISTIC EXPECTATION FOR 2018?
With the additions to the offense and the changing of the coaching staff, there’s going to be quite a bit of changes in 2018. Pat Shurmur comes over from Minnesota where he was the offensive coordinator over the last year and a half, producing plenty of fantasy viable options. There will be a lot of people pointing to Kyle Rudolph seeing a league-leading 132 targets in 2016 as a reason for optimism, but I’d urge you to approach with caution. If you recall, Stefon Diggs was in-and-out of the lineup, and Matt Asiata was operating as the lead running back in that offense. Similar to Engram in 2017, Rudolph walked into a lot of those targets. That was proven when he saw that number dip to 81 targets in 2017, despite playing all 16 games.
Let’s do a little exercise. Picture how many targets you expect Odell Beckham Jr. to get in 2018, provided he plays all 16 games. As a gauge, he’s seen 169 and 158 targets in his last two full seasons played. If you said higher than 120 targets, it’s bad news for Engram. There were 12 teams who had a wide receiver with more than 120 targets last year, and none of those teams had a tight end with more than 87 targets. We haven’t even considered Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley’s target share. On top of that, there was no TE/RB duo that combined for more than 185 targets last year. Again, Barkley was brought in to be a threat in the passing-game and is likely a better receiver than runner.
Now that we know Engram’s role with decrease in 2018, why is he being drafted almost exactly where he finished in 2017? According to the proof from 31 other teams, it’s unlikely he sees more than 87 targets if Beckham stays healthy. Let’s be overly optimistic and say that Engram is an outlier and gets to 90 targets. His 55.7 percent catch rate ranked as the sixth-worst among tight ends with 40 or more targets. That would amount to 50 receptions. Over the last five years, there’s been just two tight ends to finish top-10 with 50 or less receptions. One was Cameron Brate, who finished as the TE8 with 591 yards and six touchdowns, while the other was Julius Thomas, who finished as the TE7 with 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. So, even by being optimistic with Engram’s target/reception total doesn’t amount to anything better than the TE7 over the last five years.
I’m sure there’s readers out there who are saying that Engram was a rookie and that he’ll improve in 2018. That’s fine and I wouldn’t disagree with you on that aspect, but targets have always been king to tight ends and it’s extremely hard to find him more than 80-90 targets in this offense. The only tight end to finish top-five with less than 90 targets over the last five years was Vernon Davis, who saw 84 targets in 2013, but turned them into 850 yards and 13 touchdowns. Engram had 115 targets in 2017 and turned them into 722 yards and six touchdowns. To explain exactly how much the targets meant to Engram in 2017, here’s a chart of his games where he was targeted seven-plus times, as well as those where he was targeted six-or-less times.
|Games||Tgts/gm||Rec/gm||Yds/gm||TD/gm||STD Pts||PPR Pts|
|7 or more tgts||11||8.9||5.3||59.7||0.6||9.4||14.7|
|6 or less tgts||4||4.3||1.5||16.3||0.0||1.6||3.1|
You don’t need me to tell you that he’s not going to see seven targets all that often with all the pass-catchers healthy. I do have faith in Shurmur as a play-caller, so I’d expect his per target efficiency to go up this year, but it won’t make up for all his lost targets.
This profile is not me telling you that Engram isn’t going to be a good football player, because he most definitely is. What this profile did was dispel the notion that he should be drafted as a top-six fantasy tight end in 2018. Does that mean he can’t do it? No, but it would take an injury on the roster as it currently sits, which is not something you want to bet on. Knowing all of the uncertainty at the tight end position, he still belongs inside the top-10, but I can make a very logical case that Trey Burton should be drafted ahead of him. But here’s the best part – you can get Burton three full rounds later, which makes it a no-brainer. If you want absolute safety, take Delanie Walker who is being taken 10 slots after Engram in early ADP. My 2018 projection: 89 targets, 55 receptions, 633 yards, 6 touchdowns