The Jacksonville Jaguars have put together a well-rounded roster ahead of the 2023 season. And while many of their players will be pivotal to their success, Andy Benoit of The 33rd Team believes that there's not a more essential one than tight end Evan Engram.
Benoit took a look at every team's X-Factor in 2023 and picked Engram for the Jags, noting his athleticism helped Jacksonville frequently run 1x3 formations, which often reveals whether a defense is playing zone or man coverage, last year.
"You don’t need a dynamic receiving tight end to do this, though the teams that have one can really benefit. One could argue Travis Kelce has built his Hall of Fame career headlining this formation in Kansas City. The Jacksonville Jaguars can feel extra comfortable with the 1×3 formation because they have an uber-athletic receiving threat in Evan Engram.
The former Giant will not draw double-teams as a Y-iso the way Kelce does, but he can win 1 on 1 outside (128 of Engram’s 766 receiving yards last season came here). This can make defenses pause before dedicating the lion’s share of their coverage to the three-receiver side."
Benoit goes on to say that Engram allowed receivers Zay Jones and Christian Kirk to find favorable matchups but the former Ole Miss Rebel will need to match his output from last year if he wants to get the lucrative multi-year deal he's been seeking this offseason.
A first-round pick in the 2017 draft by the New York Giants, Engram signed a one-year deal with Jacksonville last year and became an integral piece of their offensive puzzle, hauling in 73 receptions for 766 yards — both career-bests — with four touchdowns. Also, the Georgia native set new team records for yards in a game by a tight end, catches in a season by a tight end, and receiving yards by a tight end in a season.
Even though Engram was open to re-signing with the Jags and there was mutual interest to get a long-term extension done, the team's brass applied the franchise tag, which ensured he remains in Jacksonville for at least one more season.
Getting the tag prevented Engram from hitting the open market and if he doesn't strike a multi-year contract with the Jags before July 17, he will play the 2023 season under the tag and hit become a free agent in 2024.
Make no mistake, Engram was a key cog on the Jaguars' offense last year and one of the top tight ends in the league. But is he their X-Factor in 2023? Leaving Trevor Lawrence aside, you could make the case that running back Travis Etienne was Jackosnville's most valuable player in the second half of the season and the playoffs. Similarly, Calvin Ridley will allow the Jaguars to do things they couldn't do last year.
Ridley is the kind of deep threat that will open things up for other receivers and prevent opposing teams from loading up the box. Meanwhile, Engram's presence in the middle of the field is huge, and so is his ability to gain yards in chunks after the catch. However, the team's brass has other options at tight end, unproven but options nonetheless.
The Jaguars used a second-round pick in this year's draft on Brenton Strange, who consistently showed a penchant for creating yards after the catch at Penn State. While his route running needs a bit of refining, he's got the tools to potentially earn considerable playing time as a rookie. Also, Jacksonville signed Sammis Reyes, an intriguing talent that has flashed playmaking skills even though he began to play football just a few years ago.
There's no question Engram will enter the 2023 season as TE1 on the depth chart and nobody can argue about his impact on offense. However, there are other Jacksonville Jaguars players more deserving of the X-Factor label.