Is it possible the Giants’ search for a franchise tight end has finally come to an end? Could be. After years of plugging and playing a mixture of late draft picks and free agents, the tight end room is buzzing again.
The Giants have not had an impactive tight end since Jeremy Shockey, who last played for the team in 2007. Over the past decade, they have gotten some respectable play out of a few players, such as Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers but have not been able to find one that has stuck.
The past several seasons the Giants had their hopes on Larry Donnell developing into big target in the passing game. He was exactly that at times, but overall, he was limited and the team chose not to re-sign him this past offseason. Will Tye, a UDFA out of Stony Brook, showed flashes of braking out as a rookie two years ago, but at 6’2”, does not have the length the club desires at the position.
The Giants decided to up their game at tight end this past offseason, signing veteran blocker Rhett Ellison, whose father Riki, was a linebacker with the Bill Walsh 49ers back in the 1980’s, and then selected Ole Miss’ shifty Evan Engram in the first round of April’s draft.
Engram is scheduled to be used in multiple roles, but his real value will come as split end, where he creates a plethora of mismatches against both linebackers and defensive backs. The 6-foot-5, 250 pound Ellison gives the Giants two things their stagnant, punchless offense lacked last season – a fullback and a quality in-line blocker at tight end.
“It just has to be a mindset that you want to finish to the whistle and as a collective unit, which is how you have to be,” Ellison said this week of his blocking philosophy. “You can’t have one guy taking a play off. Everybody has to be on the same page. It really just starts with a mindset. It doesn’t mean that you need to play dirty or anything, I just think that it is more of an effort-based thing. You just have to play longer than they did.”
Also in the room are Jerell Adams, another 6’5”, 250 pound option the Giants chose in last year’s draft and Matt LaCosse (6’6”, 261), who has been with the team on and off for three seasons now but has not been able to get his footing ,so to speak, due to injuries.
This spring, LaCosse is standing out at the team’s OTAs. The former Illinois product is showing the coaches that he is a well-rounded player who is worthy of a shot at a roster spot.
“He made some nice plays,” head coach Ben McAdoo said last week. “He is a big target down there in the green zone. Matchup-wise, he gives you that length that you are looking for, he can run and he is a functional blocker, so he has a nice skillset.”
LaCosse is the forgotten man of sorts here. He was on his way to that roster spot last summer when he tore up his knee in the preseason and landed on season ending injured reserve.
“Last year was definitely hard,” LaCosse said, “but I am fortunate they let me stay around and go to meetings and be with my teammates and everything, which was nice. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tough coming in and watching film and being like, ‘Dang, I wish I was out there playing with my teammates.’ It was difficult. You are on the team and you are a part of the team, but you are really not a part of the team.”
He decided to stick around the facility this offseason to workout and to stay fresh in the team’s minds. It didn’t stop them from adding two high-end talents o the TE pool, but LaCosse’s progress will certainly give them something to think about this summer.
It’s hard to predict, but it looks like the Giants will keep three tight ends. Ellison may not be one of them. He is currently not practicing due to a calf ailment, but when he’s ready to go he will also working out with the running backs in the capacity of fullback. The Giants could list him on the roster as such. That would allow them to keep Engram, Adams and either LaCosse or Tye on the roster as TEs.
But Ellison plans on being a tight end first. That is what he’s been doing most of his pro career, which began with the Minnesota Vikings. He was their fourth round pick out of USC back in 2012.
“It is a really unique room, great dudes,” Ellison said of his fellow Giants’ TEs. “A lot of different skills and a lot of different strengths. It is definitely a fun room to be a part of.”
On what his role might be, Ellison said it depends on the team’s strategy. He’ll do whatever it takes, plus he knows the Giants want to get the others involved as much as they can.
“Rarely do two tight ends on one team do the exact same thing, so that is just the position. A tight end is kind of a hybrid of a bunch of things. It is just kind of situational on what we would do.”
And the Giants, just like that, have gone from zero tight ends to four. A longtime weakness may end up being an embarrassment of riches for them.