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Tale of Three Tight Ends: The Good, The Bad Ass, and The Unlucky

by Craig J. Santucci @NYGiantsRush

The matter how you look at it, the New York Giants have had a history of stellar, big play-making Tight Ends. Zeke Mowatt, Mark Bavaro, Howard Cross, Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, even Martellus Bennett seems poised to make big plays before he left via Free Agency.

The 2021 version of the New York Giants has three Tight Ends that could easily start on half of the current NFL teams. But regardless of the Pro Bowl talent, the Giants always seem stuck in neutral on getting the most out of this position. Under Offensive Coordinator, Jason Garrett the Tight End is well…ignored.

KADEN SMITH

Kaden Smith – 6’5 | 249 – Kaden Smith is the most well-rounded, traditional Tight End on the team. He was drafted by the 49ers in the 6th round and was picked up by the Giants after being cut.

Availability – since being activated in November of 2019, Smith has only missed one game. He is by far the best blocking Tight End on the team and when given a chance to catch the ball, he displays very good ball skills. He is not fluid like Kittle or Kelce, however, Smith shows more than “just something” when given a chance.

Production: In late 2019 Smith took hold of an opportunity that should have projected him forward. In back-to-back-to-back games, against Miami, the Eagles, and WFT, Smith pulled down 17 catches | 171 yards and 2 TDs. Judge and Garrett still enamored with Engram dug Smith in as a blocking TE. In 2020 Smith produced 18 rec | 102 yards. Smith is a very good underneath receiver, especially with the rollout, slow leak, and rub routes. He has also proven he can go up and pull down contested balls. His connection with Jones has always been good and is a very underutilized player. Smith is more than consistent and can only help this team if afforded the opportunity to contribute.

Teams know Smith is blocking Tight End. They do not anticipate Smith in the passing game or even being packaged. The rub route, blocking down and sliding off underneath into space, would be a perfect way for the Giants to pull the Dallas backers outside, and force the corner to account for the under.

KYLE RUDOLPH

Kyle Rudolph – 6’6 | 265 – The ten-year vet was brought in from the Vikings because he could block and catch balls in the RedZone, as well as be a good locker room guy and help lead this team.

Production: This is Bad Ass! Rudolph has 48 TDS | 4545 yards over 10 years, making the Pro Bowl in 2017, five years after his last trip. He wanted it and went out and got it. That is not a guy sitting on a contract. Rudolph will make plays if used correctly. One has to wonder if Garrett ever coached Jason Witten because he shows little understanding of how to create mismatches with these three Tight Ends. At 6’6 Rudolph should be a constant threat, especially in the Red Zone. Even stretching the field with Toney and Ross and running stick routes and flare routes with Rudolph underneath. Rudolph should have at least 6 targets a game, plenty to keep the defense off-balanced. Currently, the Giants are very predictable. How do you keep the D honest if you don’t utilize a guy like Rudolph?

Availability: It has been a slow start for Kyle Rudolph who is coming off foot surgery this past Spring. He seems to be healthy. Most fans are scratching their heads wondering why Garrett blanked him last week vs. Atlanta and why he only has six catches on the year. Two catches, in particular, one against Washington crossing the middle under the safety and behind the backer, second along the sidelines on the TD drive were examples of the “explosive” Rudolph opportunities. However, in true Jason Garrett form, on the Jones two-point conversion run, Engram in and not Rudolph.

EVAN ENGRAM

Evan Engram – 6’3 | 240 – Engram was a 1st round pick in 2017. He will forever be tied to the draft that had Giants passing up on OLB/DE – TJ Watt and OT – Ryan Ramczyk.

Availability: Engram has been plagued with a handful of injuries since entering the league. He has missed 16 games over four years. Whether the medical staff is overly cautious with him we will never know, however, time missed hurts the team.

Production: Engram is flat out fast and gets vertical at full speed in 3 steps. He’s a mismatch for most NFL linebackers. Every year, the sky is the limit; however, Engram has a propensity to drop the ball. Most times you can see him jump unnecessarily for a pass which changes his line of sight on the ball causing him to misjudge the catch. At this point, it’s more mental than physical especially since it happens almost weekly. Engram is more suited for the open field, vertical routes where he catches the ball in space and apply speed. His route running is average however, they could afford to be more creative with him. Receiver screens, wheel routes, and slants…he needs to be moving to succeed. His rookie year showed amazing promise: 64 rec | 722 yds | 6 TD’s.

What’s hard to figure out is how three different coaching staff’s have not “unlocked” him. His inability to seal block, get dirty, and “put a hat on a hat” also makes it hard to see him with increased snaps. There are at least eight momentum-changing plays the Giants have needed from Engram over the last two years which ended with the ball on the turf or a missed block. Before it’s too late Garrett needs to split him out instead of forcing him into curl routes, pitches, and reverses.