Perhaps one of the known truths about Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson is his affinity toward the tight end position.
That much isn’t a secret, either. Pederson himself has admitted over the years, and recently, about how much he values the position and it was clear to see he had an impact on this year's free-agency class when the team sought out former first-round pick TE Evan Engram.
Prior to free agency, Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke mentioned the tight end position being a focal point, as it always is, but particularly under Pederson as the head coach.
“The tight end position is a focal point. It always is. It has been with Doug’soffense as you mentioned,” Pederson said when asked about the position group at the NFL Combine in late February. “It is going to be a position that we certainly look to address, but we feel very good about the room that we have there currently right now.”
With Engram now in the fold, the Jaguars certainly have addressed the position, adding the athletic TE to a group that includes Dan Arnold, Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell. Pederson believes that adding Engram into the mix makes the room that much better.
“He’s a runner, he’s got great speed, he’s smart, he can separate, he does well against safeties, obviously against linebacker matchups, even third quarters and things that you see on tape that he can do and have success with,” Pederson said the first day of the new league year earlier this month.
With Arnold and Engram, the Jaguars feel they have a duo that can really stretch the field at the TE position. Engram certainly has shown that he can do some of that, during his time both in college at Ole Miss, but also in the pros with the New York Giants, after being selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Statistically, Engram posted his best NFL season in 2020, hauling in 63 passes for 654 yards and a touchdown. He would make the Pro Bowl that year. But, what was poised to be his best, and most productive, team-influencing season occurred in 2018, when he played in just 11 games, catching 45 passes for 577 yards and three touchdowns.
Evan Engram finished as TE13 although he only played 11 game. With Golden Tate's suspension looming, Engram should be an vital piece of this offense.— Damian Parson (@DP_NFL) August 1, 2019
321 routes ran in 2018
A healthy season should increase his target share in 2019. #FantasyFootball #fantasy pic.twitter.com/YS66FW2oz0
That year, Engram was graded as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, posting a yards per route run average of 1.83, good for the seventh-best among tight ends that year behind players such as George Kittle, Travis Kelce, O.J. Howard, Mark Andrews, Vernon Davis and Zach Ertz.
He was ahead of players like Jared Cook and Rob Gronkowski, for example.
Given his abilities, and the team’s investment - a one-year deal worth upwards of $9M -, its very likely that Engram becomes the primary target at tight end moving forward in Jacksonville.
But, coupled with Pederson’s affinity toward the position, and the trends showed during his time in Philadelphia, it stands to reason that Engram can have much more of an impact than already expected.
During Pederson’s tenure in Philadelphia, his to-go player on offense was Ertz. From 2016-20 Ertz was the team’s receiving yards leader four out of five seasons. In terms of targets, he led the team during two of those seasons, 2018 (156 targets) and 2019 (135).
Target leaders:— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) March 23, 2022
2016: WR Jordan Matthews (117)
2017: WR Alshon Jeffrey (120)
2018: TE Zach Ertz (156)
2019: TE Zach Ertz (135)
2020: WR Greg Ward (79) https://t.co/zKrr2G40Yj
Given his skillset, Engram figures to be that player for quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Pederson moving forward, and it was Pederson’s history with the TE position that even drew him to Jacksonville in the first place.
“A big part of my decision was [Head Coach] Doug[Pederson] coming in here. Obviously playing against him twice a year the last four years when he was in Philly and his resume and pedigree, using the tight end position, and some of the talent that he’s developed was a big part of my decision.”
Where Engram thrives is playing all over the field, including out wide, in the slot and, of course, in-line at the TE position. The versatility that brings to an offense cannot be overstated. Pairing him with what the Jaguars plan to do under Perderson gives him hope that they can be successful and explosive.
“We could be in 11 personnel, we could be in 12 personnel, two tight ends, we could have three tight ends on the field at once and teams are going to have to make a decision to play that way to defend that,” Engram said when asked what Pederson’s biggest selling point to him was.
“I think just his knowledge and views of tight ends and putting them in positions to be successful and to kind of be that security blanket for the quarterback but also be an explosive piece. That’s how I view myself and then that’s the vision he has for myself in this offense.”
Now Engram will have that opportunity, to work with Pederson and see if the development and scheme can allow him to blossom into the player he should be in this league. Regardless, it won’t be for lack of trying, and that’s just the Pederson way.