Underrated is a theme most Jaguars fans have some familiarity with. A franchise that for too long has failed to be considered relevant by the rest of the league, Jacksonville has, at times, not been given the due respect it deserves. But as the Doug Pederson era enters year two with this franchise on an upward trajectory, the NFL will hopefully soon learn what those in Duval County already know; this team is a serious contender.
But which member of this roster is the most underrated of them all? Every team has one guy that flies under the radar, whose contribution to the cause is appreciated within the building but seldom discussed outside of it. Well, Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated decided to name one player from each franchise in the league that fits that description. And for the Jaguars, that honor fell to tight end Evan Engram.
Engram, it should be said, is held in high esteem in Jacksonville. After spending his first five years in the NFL with the New York Giants, he required a clean break and a fresh start. The former Ole Miss Rebel began brightly as a rookie before injuries mounted and production tailed off in the Big Apple. But his arrival in Jacksonville saw him rejuvenated, and in 2022 he recorded the most single-season catches (73) and yards (766) in his career to date.
Engram’s exploits led to him being put on the franchise tag for 2023, with general manager Trent Baalke working hard to strike a long-term deal with the tight end. As Orr explains in his article, Engram’s ascendence coincided with that of the Jaguars’ offense and the impressive development of Trevor Lawrence:
The Jaguars drafted a tight end, Brenton Strange, in the second round this year and are currently paying Evan Engram $11.3 million on the franchise tag. This will be interesting to watch, as Engram was critical to the opening up of Jacksonville’s offense over the second half of the 2022 season. Perhaps Doug Pederson wants to pivot toward more 12-personnel looks (a formation with two tight ends). Last year, the Jaguars used the formation more than 22 other teams in the NFL. Engram is valuable, because he’s athletic enough to come out of bunch formations as a behind-the-line receiver and pick up significant yardage.
These words from Orr are interesting; the rest of the NFL may consider Engram just another guy, but his athleticism plays perfectly into head coach Doug Pederson’s tendency to be creative with tight ends. We saw Trey Burton throw the iconic ‘Philly Special’ in the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory over the Patriots, in a season that also saw Zach Ertz put up more than 1,100 receiving yards. Adding Brenton Strange to the mix shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to Engram should a long-term deal not be struck - the 61st overall pick should be viewed as a complement.
In a similar vein, the plethora of weapons this passing game now has should also bode well for Engram in 2023. The addition of Calvin Ridley may seem like another mouth to feed. But a receiver of his caliber will command extra attention, meaning Engram should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage.
Orr goes on to further identify how Engram helped take this offense to another level by being a chain mover on the interior:
Engram also broke more tackles and is honing his skills after the catch, which has helped the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence own the middle of the field. This, in particular, was valuable in helping Jacksonville more dependably extend drives with high percentage throws.
Ridley and Zay Jones look set for outside roles in 2023, with Christian Kirk spending more time at his natural position as a slot receiver. Whilst all eyes will be on Ridley after his reinstatement, it’s fair to argue that a trio of Engram, Strange, and Kirk working the middle has the capacity to be devastating. And just wait until Pederson breaks out the playbook and splits Engram out wide in trips or bunch formations to take advantage of his linear speed. When all is said and done, 2022 could just be a taste of what is to come from him this season.
Evan Engram underrated? Only by those who haven’t been watching. The Jaguars will be happy for the competition to keep sleeping on him all they like - and watch Engram make them pay the consequences.