It’s a little early for draft talk if you’re not a Dolphins fan, but you have to take note when an SEC head coach says their player would be a great fit in New England. When Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze isn’t serving as a Batman villain, he is leading the #12 Rebels to a 3-2 record in a highly competitive SEC conference and he thinks the Patriots would be a perfect landing spot for his star tight end.
Evan Engram is a 6’3, 235 pound move tight end in the mold of Aaron Hernandez. He is regarded as a 2nd round prospect and has been one of the top college tight ends over the past three seasons.
Engram posted 38 receptions for 662 yards and 2 touchdowns as a sophomore, the second most receiving yards by a tight end in 2014. He had a down year in 2015, which is why he returned to college, and he currently leads college tight ends with 479 yards and 4 touchdowns on 30 receptions through five games in 2016.
It’s Engram’s receiving ability that Freeze thinks the Patriots can utilize.
"Evan doesn't belong in an offense that has a tight end with a hand on the ground and has to block a 6-technique all the time," Freeze said on Wednesday during the SEC media teleconference, via NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread. "That's not his skill set. But you put him in a fit like the New England Patriots or one of those, I think he'll flourish."
And now I know what you’re thinking- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett both play with their hands in the dirt. Freeze is literally describing a throwback to the 2011 offense while the Patriots have moved on to a different style of two-tight end play.
But I don’t think that is Freeze’s point. I think he’s highlighting that the Patriots find a way to maximize the talent of each player on the field by putting them in a position to succeed. Head coach Bill Belichick won’t ask a tight end to stay in to block if they aren’t able just because they have the “tight end” label.
Instead, Belichick would find a way to use Engram in the slot or out of the backfield or out wide to create mismatches. Engram could be the player that Clay Harbor wasn’t able to be this year.
Bennett will be a free agent after this season and AJ Derby has the inside lane to replace him in 2017 should Bennett leave in free agency. But the Patriots like having three tight ends on the roster and Engram could be a fit.
The 2017 draft is going to be extremely deep at tight end. Engram is the #4 tight end per NDS rankings and there are five players that could arguably go in the first two rounds. The other four players- Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges, Michigan’s Jake Butt, and Clemson’s Jordan Leggett- all fit the traditional tight end mold better than Engram.
Howard and Hodges are both competitive blockers, while Butt and Leggett present better frames to eventually become successful blockers. Engram is undersized and will never be an in-line blocker, but he could be a Jordan Reed-type tight end for an NFL team.
The Patriots might not even be in the market for a tight end next season if Bennett decides to stay in New England. But if the Patriots are looking for a tight end, Engram could be an interesting fit.