Few offensive positions shined as bright as tight ends during the Giants’ glory years; Aaron Thomas, Bob Tucker, Mark Bavaro, Jeremy Shockey. Others have played key roles at key times (Howard Cross, Zeke Mowatt, Jake Ballard, Kevin Boss).
Will the Giants Kyle Rudolph, Evan Engram, and Kaden Smith join this elite group?
The Giants’ history shows success has come with multiple impact TEs on the roster. In the 1986 Super Bowl XXI run, the team had Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt. In the 1990 Super Bowl XXV Championship season, the team had Bavaro and Howard Cross. The Giants’ next Super Bowl season (2007) had Jeremy Shockey contributing heavily for 14 games until a broken leg ended his season, and his attitude ending his career with the Giants.
Michael Mathews and Kevin Boss then finished it with Boss making a spectacular catch and running on a 45-yard reception that set up the Giants touchdown to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII. Some people may remember another Tyree catch in that game that ended the Patriots’ undefeated season. And in the 2011 Super Bowl XLVI season, the TE duo of Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe helped to, again, upset the Patriots.
Yes, tight ends have been key to the Giants championship success.
Do the 2021 Giants’ TEs stack up? Let’s take a look.
Evan Engram, like Shockey, was a first-round draft pick. Engram, again like Shockey, seems to have come up short of his potential. Evan isn’t a party animal like Shockey. But, they both have been viewed as special talents that should wreak havoc on linebackers and safeties.
Despite 2020 being a Pro-Bowl season for Engram, he had some key drops and miscues that cost the Giants a game or two. Last year, Evan was able to stay healthy and play the full season. That alone was a positive outcome compared to 2018 and 2019. His catch rate is steady, yet unspectacular 58%. Engram enters his fifth season with no contract beyond this year.
The Giants seem to be playing wait and see with Engram even though Coach Judge speaks highly of his starting TE. Instead, the Giants signed another TE, Kyle Rudolph.
Kyle Rudolph is the prototypical TE…tough, durable, hard-nosed in the trenches type with excellent hands and a reputation for red zone success. He’s a Pro-Bowl TE with ten years of experience. Here’s the big difference for this year’s Giants: Kyle’s catch rate is 78% over the last three years. In the same four-year span, Rudolph has 19 touchdowns to Engram’s 14. Rudolph is not a running threat like Engram. But he’s a steady, consistent first down and red zone threat.
The Giants need to improve their red zone success dramatically. As a veteran, Rudolph can help all the young TEs improve. The Giants love teachers and team players. Adding Kyle Rudolph brought both to a young offense. He’s recovering from foot surgery. Let’s hope he’s ready for camp.
Kaden Smith is one of my favorite TEs on this roster. I view Smith also as more of a prototype TE with sure hands and excellent blocking skills. I think Kyle Rudolph can help him immensely. Smith’s catch rate in his first two seasons is also an outstanding 78%.
If it weren’t for the Giants’ emphasis on getting Engram involved in the offense, Smith would clearly be a greater success. In fact, in 2019, when Engram was hurt, Smith was a great first option and did well as the #1 TE. I hope years from now people will give Dave Gettleman the credit he deserves for stealing Kaden Smith from the 49ers.
The rest of the Giants’ TE room is crowded with young players and a former starting WR that is trying to make a comeback as a TE. Levine Toilolo returns this year as one of the main blocking TEs on the Giants. He’s currently viewed as #4 on the depth chart (based on last year).
After a two-year layoff, Kelvin Benjamin earned a preseason spot on the Giants’ 90-man roster. He’s gained some weight as he played WR for three NFL teams. When he’s focused, he can catch the ball in traffic.
Cole Hikutini has traveled on the 49ers, Vikings, and Cowboys practice squads before signing with the Giants. Rysen John enters his 2nd year on the Giants as a 2020 UDFA signing from Canada.
The 2021 Giants TEs are a deeper, more talented group than 2020. Let’s hope Rudolph’s catch rate can rub off on Engram.
With the trio of Rudolph, Engram, and Smith, the Giants have one of those special groups of TEs that can make a difference in the season…a big difference.
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