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2017 Player vs. Player - Evan Engram vs. David Njoku


Fantasy football draft season is upon us and RotoBaller is here to help! In this series, two RotoBaller experts will discuss the merits of two players with similar value and average draft position (ADP). Remember that situations will change for all players over the course of the summer and it may impact where they are selected in drafts.

We kick off this year's Player vs. Player series by looking at a pair of rookies that were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft and are going in the first round of many dynasty startups and rookie drafts.

Nick Del Vecchio (@NickyDelta) and Pierre Camus (@pfunk00) take sides on behalf of dynasty league owners choosing between Evan Engram and David Njoku, with each making a compelling case for his preferred player.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!

 

Evan Engram (TE, NYG) - Nick

Tight end Evan Engram was selected 23rd in the 2017 NFL Draft. Immediately some fans and scouts wondered if Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku would have been the better pick. He was not picked until 29th overall, but the reason for questioning was the slightly higher rank and basically all of the draft analysts big boards.

If you ask me, when you have two players this similar, you go with who you believe will be the better fit for your team’s system, and perhaps more importantly, into the organization. The New York Giants are as straight-laced as it gets as far as choosing players in the draft who have clean records and sparkling reports from all of their collegiate coaches. Evan Engram fit the mold a little better apparently.

Not to take a whole lot away from David Njoku, as he is clearly an extremely gifted athlete with a world of potential. He will likely blossom into a very good fantasy option, I just don’t believe it will happen this year with Cody Kessler under center.  One of the few things that the Giants' staff and front office could have been turned off by is Njoku’s reportedly less than ideal self-motivation, and running style. A draft scout said about the young tight end “He’s very explosive and linear, but when he runs, he’s kind of still in the upper body, a little herky-jerky. He had a lot of drops two years ago, but last year cleaned up his hands a little bit. I don’t know how self-motivated he is to be a really good player. He needs a boot to his butt.”

When you take a look at Evan Engram, your first thought is that he is a not tight end. He looks like a big body wide receiver a la Mike Williams or Kelvin Benjamin. He has the size and speed to fit that description at 6-3, 234 pounds and a 4.42 40 yard dash speed at February’s combine. One scout was quoted saying “He’s a smooth athlete who’s gonna play a lot in the slot.”

Ben McAdoo has to believe that scout to be right on point. The slot is likely where Engram will end up on any given player, even on running downs, and you have to like that for fantasy purposes. The Giants ran more three-receiver sets than any other team in 2016. Engram’s in-line blocking still needs work, and he is about 40 pounds short of an ideal blocking tight end weight. That is what the Giants went and signed Rhett Ellison for however. Engram will not be asked to block more than receive.

Engram profiles as a Jordan Reed or Jimmy Graham type of receiver, who can take advantage of the matchup by running by linebackers and going up for the ball over defensive backs. Engram has the ability to excel at both. Another scout had higher much higher praise for Engram, saying “He’s a better college football player than Jordan Reed was. He’s a matchup nightmare for slot defenders. He’s in and out, he catches the ball well. Not afraid to block, but that’s not his forte. He’ll be in the slot all the time.

It is reported that he will sometimes be lined up in the backfield as an H-back, only to be motioned to the matchup side that quarterback Eli Manning likes best for him. With the plus matchup aside, Engram should be able to find space over the middle all season long as defenders try to slow down star wideouts Odell Beckham Jr and Brandon Marshall, along with Sterling Shepard drawing attention over the middle as well. 

 

David Njoku (TE, CLE) - Pierre

Njoku only needed one year as the starting tight end at the University of Miami to make it known he is a first-round talent. He had some injuries and played sparingly as a freshman, but last season he was Brad Kaaya's safety blanket, particularly on third down. Njoku turned in 43 catches for 698 yards and eight TD, while averaging 16.2 yards per reception (two yards more than Engram's career average). He didn't need four years to develop as an NFL prospect either. While comparisons have been made to Greg Olsen, it should be noted that Njoku is following in the footsteps of several current and former standout tight ends from the U such as Olsen, Graham and others.

If we agree that Njoku and Engram are both freakish athletes for their position, we need to focus on opportunity to differentiate their respective values. It might seem counterintuitive to think that any skill player on the lowly Browns could outperform someone from the perennial playoff contenders in New York. As it so happens, tight end is the very position where that has occurred. Cleveland tight ends over the past three years have outproduced those in New York, despite having future Hall of Fame QB Eli Manning at the helm.

Cleveland Browns TE New York Giants TE
2016 68 receptions, 760 yards 79 receptions, 609 yards
2015 87 receptions, 1,117 yards 88 receptions, 828 yards
2014 54 receptions, 822 yards 84 receptions, 861 yards
2013 95 receptions, 1,052 yards 63 receptions, 639 yards
2012 69 receptions, 727 yards 59 receptions, 661 yards
Totals 373 receptions, 4,478 yards 373 receptions, 3,598 yards

 

Amazingly, the teams turned out to have the exact same number of receptions to tight ends over a five-year period, but Cleveland's bunch came out with almost a thousand more total yards. Despite having a staggering 14 different players take a snap at quarterback in the past five years alone, the Browns were more productive at the tight end spot than the Giants.

It isn't a matter of Cleveland having a Gronk-like talent at the position either; players like Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge emerged from nowhere to have Pro Bowl seasons. Imagine what kind of damage a player like Njoku, who is built like a stronger, bulkier wideout, can do in the same system. The truth is, no matter how good Evan Engram turns out to be, there is no chance he is anything higher than the fourth option on a team with three extremely talented receivers, including two future Hall of Famers. Meanwhile, Njoku has to fight for targets with... Kenny Britt? It would almost be shocking if Njoku doesn't become the team's leading receiver by 2018 and it could even happen this year.

The fact that Engram was selected before Njoku was a surprise to most draftniks, who had Njoku almost neck and neck with O.J. Howard as the top player at the position. It turns out that his landing spot in Cleveland might have been the best thing to happen to his fantasy fortunes. Engram is a nice play for long-term value as a low-end TE1, but Njoku is a player with a chance to put up elite numbers from the very start. He is the better pick in re-draft and dynasty.




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