The New York Giants passing game looks very promising in 2020. There’s the arm of Daniel Jones, who surprised the NFL universe with an impressive rookie season. There’s Saquon Barkley, who isn’t given enough credit for being an outstanding receiver coming out of the backfield. His backup, Dion Lewis, is already an accomplished third-down receiving back in the NFL.
The Giants receiving corps isn’t flashy, but the top three (Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton) wideouts are precision route-runners who catch the football in heavy traffic. Then, we come to the tight end position.
Rightfully, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has earned criticism on questionable player moves in the past. But kudos to him on claiming tight end Kaden Smith off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers last September. He’s a definite sleeper prospect, but his playing time will be dependent upon Evan Engram’s health in 2020.
Kaden Smith: A Viable Target in the New York Giants Passing Game
2020 Is a Big Season for Evan Engram
Smith is expected to become a viable target in the Giants passing game this season. Albeit, he will be behind Engram on the Giants depth chart at the tight end position. Engram is an outstanding receiver, but there are concerns about him staying healthy for an entire season.
The G-Men have until 2021 to decide if Engram is a long-term fit in their plans. Following this spring’s NFL Draft, the franchise picked up his fifth-year option. It was a long-expected move as the Giants truly believe Engram will have a major role in the offense moving forward.
He was the 23rd overall pick in the 2017 draft. The attraction to Engram is that he is a coverage nightmare for opposing defenses. Engram is fast, athletic and has moves that can create space from a defender. He caught 44 passes for 467 yards with three touchdowns in eight games played last season. His 2019 campaign was cut short by a Lisfranc injury that required surgery on his injured foot last December.
The Giants have nothing to lose by picking up the option on Engram’s contract as he is relatively cheap ($6 million) in today’s NFL economic climate. Still, the league is all about how you produce on the field in games. If Engram cannot perform up to expectations, then the coaching staff will waste little time in promoting Smith to the starting lineup.
The Evolution of Kaden Smith as a Tight End
It was important for Smith to have snaps with the first-team offense last season. He showed some upside with 31 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the nine games played for the Giants. But more importantly, Smith developed on-field chemistry with Jones. The young quarterback seemed very comfortable using the young tight end as a safety valve on most pass plays. It’s that type of partnership that will get Smith more playing time, especially as a red zone scoring option.
The Giants have had an eye on Smith since his collegiate days at Stanford. He caught 70 balls for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons with the Cardinal. Smith earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was named a finalist for the John Mackey Award in 2018. He elected to forgo his senior season and declare himself eligible for the 2019 NFL draft. Smith was drafted by the Niners in the sixth round later that spring. The Giants wasted little time in claiming him off waivers. Gettleman believes the dividends will be big compared to the small investment made to acquire Smith off the NFL’s scrap heap.
The tight end position is expected to play a large role in new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s passing game in 2020. Come training camp, there shouldn’t be much of a competition between Engram and Smith for the starting position. However, the youngster will need reps to showcase his skills to the new coaching staff. Engram has the advantage, but Smith is hungry for some playing time.
2020 could be the year where he becomes a viable target in the Giants passing game.