Why Evan Engram Doesn't Fix Jaguars' Problems at Tight End

Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram
Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - In these editions of Four Downs, we'll review the biggest hole on each team in the division and then give a short look at each team's major free agents for 2023.

Houston Texans

Biggest Need: Quarterback

The Davis Mills experiment did not go well last year, in case you weren't paying attention. Mills finished 31st of 34 qualified quarterbacks in passing DYAR and 30th in DVOA. The Texans spent the latter part of the season platooning Mills with practice squad non-entity Jeff Driskel in the red zone and on early downs, which is as damning a move as has ever existed when it comes to a quarterback whom you're ostensibly evaluating .

Mills will be back for Year 3 of his rookie deal, but almost undoubtedly as a backup to someone else. The easy-to-connect dots on quarterback are a) drafting one with the No. 2 overall pick, b) trading for Trey Lance, or c) signing Jimmy Garoppolo. The Texans brought in 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik as offensive coordinator under former 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, so obviously they are going to be linked to their former 49ers charges. But it seems a little unlikely that Lance will be dealt if there is uncertainty over Brock Purdy's status for the start of next season, while Garoppolo looks to be a backup plan at quarterback for the teams that are closer to contention such as the Jets and Raiders.

The path of least resistance is probably just picking whomever strikes their fancy at the top of the draft—perhaps with a trade-up if necessary—and letting that quarterback take his lumps as the Texans play the role of young team that's a year away in 2023.

Notable Free Agents: ER Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, ER Rasheem Green, C Scott Quessenberry, WR Chris Moore, S Jonathan Owens, CB Tavierre Thomas

Okoronkwo had a breakout season of sorts in 2022, notching a career-high five sacks and finishing second on the team in hurries behind Jerry Hughes. He'll likely be a consolation prize for teams that miss on the big edge rushers on the market, and with Lovie Smith deposed there's not really a connective tissue in bringing him back. Moore had a nice under-the-radar season and has done more downfield work than most Texans wideouts have with Mills, but he is an older free agent and might just be a No. 4 for a good team. Quessenberry was one of the worst starting centers in the NFL last year, but it's not his fault that Justin Britt flat-out abandoned the team after Week 1—he could be good depth somewhere.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Need: Quarterback

When the team owner openly admits that he hired the new head coach with developing a young quarterback in mind at said head coach's opening press conference … it's probably a pretty good sign that you're going to be drafting a quarterback with your fourth overall pick. Perhaps even higher in a trade-up to get ahead of the Texans.

Matt Ryan's future with the team is probably non-existent as he can be cut to save $18 million in cap space this offseason. Nick Foles was here only for Frank Reich by his own admission. The team will likely enter the offseason with Sam Ehlinger at the top of the depth chart, but he didn't play well enough in his small sample last season to conclusively say he has to be the No. 2 quarterback either.

The Colts could chase a veteran in addition to a youngster—perhaps an addition such as Mike White or Gardner Minshew (who has experience in Shane Steichen's offense) to bridge to a rookie quarterback in the short term. But it's abundantly clear what the owner wants this team to do, and he meddled enough last season that we all had to watch Jeff Saturday coach an NFL team.

Notable Free Agents: S Rodney McLeod, LB Bobby Okereke, WR Parris Campbell, ER Yannick Ngakoue, CB Brandon Facyson, LB E.J. Speed

McLeod turns 33 over the offseason and played well in incumbent defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's system in 2022; he would seem to be a solid re-signing while the Colts can give Nick Cross another offseason. Okereke has been more of a league-average fill-in than a solid player over the course of the last four years, but he had perhaps his best season in run defense. Campbell finally played a healthy season in his fourth year but was mostly just a short-range YAC guy in Indy's impossibly short-game-heavy offense. His market will likely depend on what other teams project him to do deeper down the field. Ngakoue, an AFC South and Bradley veteran, could be a good bet to re-sign.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Need: Tight End

A one-year deal for Evan Engram last offseason wound up being a big hit in 2022—the sixth-year tight end had a career-high 766 receiving yards and was an offensive focal point at times, snagging eight or more targets in five different games, including a 162-yard, two-score devastation of the Titans in Week 14 to key Jacksonville's AFC South comeback.

But now that he has done the prove-it part of a prove-it contract, the Jaguars have franchise tagged him rather than hand out a real deal. Engram turns 29 in September, and handing out long-term deals to older tight ends who aren't historically unique players is generally regarded as bad general manager practice. That leaves Engram on the roster, but leaves his long-term future in some doubt. 

And the problem is that the rest of the tight end position is also in some doubt. Even beyond Engram, Dan Arnold is a free agent. Chris Manhertz is a free agent. The only non-Engram tight end on the 53-man roster under contract is former Urban Meyer Legacy fifth-rounder Luke Farrell. Farrell has just 351 offensive snaps in two seasons. The Jaguars have done a pretty solid job of rebuilding over the last few seasons, and we weren't going to waste a spot in this series on something like "linebackers" when they spent heavily to bring in Foyesade Oluokun, then drafted Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma. But the long-term plans at tight end remain a bit of a mystery. 

Notable Free Agents: OT Jawaan Taylor, WR Marvin Jones, ER Arden Key, TE Chris Manhertz, ER Dawuane Smoot, TE Dan Arnold

Taylor wants to be back in Jacksonville and had his best season to date in 2022, blowing only 14 blocks in 15 starts per Sports Info Solutions' data. With Cam Robinson already under contract and 2021 second-rounder Walker Little ready for a real role, it would seem that something has to give somewhere on the tackle depth chart. Key could command some real money after putting up 11 sacks combined in the last two seasons in the interior. Marvin Jones turns 33 in March and his target share fell off drastically as Zay Jones and Engram took over as main ancillary pieces behind Christian Kirk. Plus, you know, the Jaguars did trade for Calvin Ridley.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Need: Offensive Line

Taylor Lewan has been released. Ben Jones (concussions) and Nate Davis (ankle) both ended the year on injured reserve; Jones is 34, Davis is a free agent. Those are the good players on this offensive line. Aaron Brewer and Dennis Daley—your 2023 blown block leader per Sports Info Solutions—were ghastly in extended trials. Nicholas Petit-Frere didn't show much to be optimistic about in his first season. The less said about Dillon Radunz, the better.

The 2022 season was a reckoning for an offensive line that has been patched up over the years. It finally gave way, and gave way in an ugly enough way that names such as Jordan Roos and Le'Raven Clark surfaced to find real playing time.

Not only do the Titans need to re-sign Davis and find a real long-term replacement for Lewan, but you can argue that Jones' replacement Corey Levin was the least of their worries as compared to ex-general manager Jon Robinson's Radunz and Petit-Frere picks. The Titans have always prided themselves on being a physical, wear-you-down team in the trenches under Mike Vrabel. They'll find some cap space this offseason, but their No. 1 priority to play the way that Vrabel wants to is fixing this line. You could argue that they need to sign three new starters with a straight face and I wouldn't argue with you.

Notable Free Agents: G Nate Davis, LB David Long, OT Dennis Daley, TE Austin Hooper, RB Dontrell Hilliard, TE Geoff Swaim

Long took major steps forward in run defense in 2022 (well, really 2021, and then another step forward in 2022) and has always been a good pass-rusher for a linebacker. He could be someone the Titans lose as they jostle with the cap, as they have certainly never seemed overly committed to him throughout the course of his rookie deal. Tackling will probably always be an issue for him. Both Hooper and Swaim could find new homes as Tennessee establishes Chig Okonkwo as a foundational piece of their game, but the Titans will probably be on the lookout for at least one blocking tight end. Hilliard has been an exceptional change-of-pace for Derrick Henry and the Titans haven't exactly seen big success from the younger backs they drafted or prioritized to beat him out. He's a potential returner.


25 comments, Last at 07 Apr 2023, 12:32am

#1 by Ryan // Mar 08, 2023 - 10:29am

Jags need a tight end? What's Tebow up to?

Points: 5

#2 by rh1no // Mar 08, 2023 - 10:37am

Houston Texans

Biggest Need: Football Team

Points: 4

#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 08, 2023 - 10:56am

There are a lot of em but the Texans are one of the teams that should regret giving Kyle flippin Allen guaranteed money and then not drafting someone like, idk, Brock Purdy. Bad process. 

He may be forgettable but Gerrit Prince is also under contract for Jacksonville. 

Points: -2

#5 by rh1no // Mar 08, 2023 - 11:41am

I think Brock Purdy's success is very much due to his coaches, supporting cast, and the system in place in San Fran. I'm doubtful he would've played at replacement level if he'd started for Houston, Chicago, the Jets, or any other franchise where QB prospects routinely go to die.

Points: 5

#8 by BigRichie // Mar 08, 2023 - 4:31pm

New, "like" doesn't really cover it. Saying 'they should've drafted a late-round QB who can start and win games for them' is akin to saying 'they should've bought a winning lottery ticket'.

Points: 4

#10 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 08, 2023 - 4:51pm

I'm talking about process. I listed an example of one working out (for those that think it's impossible and not worth the time, but when I am specific people just miss the point anyway. Dang, lose-lose for me).

Points: 1

#7 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Mar 08, 2023 - 12:32pm

JAX was 9th in the league in offensive DVOA last year and are bringing their TE1 back this year.  Meanwhile, they were 30th in the league in defensive pass DVOA.

I don't follow the team that closely, but it seems surprising to me that they're viewed as so well set in all defensive units, despite last year's stats, that what they really need most is an upgrade at TE.  I get the comment about their line backer unit and I can believe from what little I did see of them that their DL may be set.  But do they really have enough talent in the secondary, too, that people are expecting dramatic improvement / regression to the mean in their defense overall?

Points: 3

#9 by BigRichie // Mar 08, 2023 - 4:43pm

JAX's 9th place finish in offensive DVOA is an indictment of DVOA. Not as awful as "my, didn't Tom Brady really have a nice year last season?" But along the exact same lines.

DVOA just adores the 'dink, dink and dink again' passing offenses. Wrongly so. It's got a glitch somewhere. Which they'll never find until they decide "OK Tom Brady did NOT! have a good 2022 season, so let's figure out why DVOA wrongly thinks so".

Points: -5

#12 by Oncorhynchus // Mar 08, 2023 - 7:02pm


The Jags were 8th in EPA/play last year; 6th when you consider only passing EPA. They were 10th in points scored. 10th in yards. 8th in adjusted net yards per attempt. 7th in average drive length. 11th in points per drive.

All of the other stats are pretty much right in line with a 9th rank offensive DVOA. Where would you rank them?

I'm mean sure Trevor Lawrence was ranked 22nd in intended air yards for pass attempt at 7.4. So maybe that's a signal they weren't throwing deep often? You know who as 23rd with 7.2 IAY/A? Patrick Mahomes. Noted dink and dunk artist Joe Burrow was 27th with 6.8 IAY/A.


Points: 3

#14 by BigRichie // Mar 09, 2023 - 11:47am

They did it playing a last-place schedule in a historically terrible division. If DVOA takes schedule into account, they should be clearly lower than their base stats indicate.

Points: 0

#23 by Oncorhynchus // Mar 10, 2023 - 1:20pm

DVOA does take schedule into account. But by any metric the these teams had similarly soft or softer schedules: KC, PHI, SF. Those are 3 teams higher than JAX in offensive DVOA, they're also 3 teams that are higher in more traditional metrics. But that's if you consider the total strength of schedule. Since we're talking particularly about their offense, lets look at their offensive strength of schedule. There they rank 14th. Way ahead of KC, PHI, SF. They played against some good defenses.

It's absolutely silly to argue they weren't a good offensive football team - particularly in the back half of the season. They gained 365 yards against the stout NYJ defense (#5 by defensive DVOA). Second most yard the Jets gave up all year. They scored 19 points in a win against the Jets. The Bills scored 17 and 20 point in their two games. They scored 40 points in an overtime win against DAL (#2 by defensive DVOA). That's the most points DAL gave up all year. Against the Ravens (#7 DVOA) they scored 28 points - 2nd most the Ravens gave up all year. 

They beat the Chargers in the playoffs and kept it close against the Chiefs. They gained more yards against the Chiefs in in the playoffs than the Bengals and scored the same number of points.

Like whatever, sure, they were a relatively weak team in a top-heavy AFC. But this is a case where the 4 seed actually deserves that seeding. They proved they were better than the Chargers and they sure as hell would've beaten the Ravens and Dolphins who were playing their backup QBs. 

It's just criminally stupid to say their offense wasn't in the top third of the league. Sorry, not sorry.

Points: 0

#13 by Noahrk // Mar 08, 2023 - 11:24pm

The Brady case has been adequately explained in two ways, my favorite one being DVOA loved him because he didn't turn the ball over. And it's true, he was exceptional at that. Excluding interceptions he was pretty mediocre by DVOA.

Points: 0

#15 by BigRichie // Mar 09, 2023 - 12:13pm

Having studied systems analysis, I understand DVOA is internally consistent. Its love for Brady 2022 logically flows from DVOA's construction, nothing arbitrary about it.

Having been a computer programmer, I understand GIGO. (Google it if you need to)

I do have a theory as to how DVOA runs off the rails here. Just as runs per se are not that causal (you run because you're winning, not win because you run), neither are interceptions (you throw interceptions because you're behind, rather than are behind because you've thrown interceptions). DVOA just has no conception of this.

Likewise it treats all interceptions alike, and man they are not. Even separate from game situation. (though I just love when a defender catches a 4th down interception well down the field rather than knocking the ball down, then all the defenders go to mug for the end zone camera) A defender catches a jump ball 40 yards down the field, it counts as a turnover, it counts as an interception, but it's really just a glorified punt. Often times a good one on 3rd-and-long.

A dink pass gets intercepted, right at that spot you've gained 40 or so yards of field position in comparison to the deep ball. Then add in those are the kind that often get taken all the other way to the house, man are those INTs worse.

Of course long passes are way more likely to be picked off. But even aside from when those are 'effect' rather than 'cause' interceptions, they're inherently much less damaging ones.

Points: 0

#18 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 09, 2023 - 3:10pm

I do have a theory as to how DVOA runs off the rails here. Just as runs per se are not that causal (you run because you're winning, not win because you run), neither are interceptions (you throw interceptions because you're behind, rather than are behind because you've thrown interceptions). DVOA just has no conception of this.

DVOA accounts for score gap. Quarterbacks who are playing from behind tend to throw more sacks and interceptions, and DVOA recognizes this.

This is one of the reasons Brady ranked higher here at Football Outsiders than he did elsewhere: his average pass came while trailing by 4.8 points, which ranked 27th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks. He was playing from behind most of the time and still never gave up interceptions (or sacks, for that matter). 

Likewise it treats all interceptions alike, and man they are not. Even separate from game situation. (though I just love when a defender catches a 4th down interception well down the field rather than knocking the ball down, then all the defenders go to mug for the end zone camera) A defender catches a jump ball 40 yards down the field, it counts as a turnover, it counts as an interception, but it's really just a glorified punt. Often times a good one on 3rd-and-long.

DVOA also accounts for air yards on interceptions. There were 19 interceptions last year that were caught at least 40 yards downfield (not counting Hail Mary situations); average passing DYAR on those 19 plays was -15.1. Meanwhile, there were 26 interceptions caught at or behind the line of scrimmage; average passing DYAR on those plays was -67.5.

This does Brady few favors, though. His average interception was caught 12.0 yards downfield, which ranked 28th. Good thing he only threw nine of them. (Patrick Mahomes was next to last with an average depth of target of 8.6 yards on INTs, which, LOL.)

Points: 0

#19 by BigRichie // Mar 09, 2023 - 3:48pm

OK, I'm more impressed with the mechanics of DVOA. Anyways, re the first part, what is the measured difference between an interception thrown while ahead by 14 and one thrown when behind by 14?

Unclear on what point you're making in your last paragraph, tho'.

Points: 0

#21 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 09, 2023 - 5:26pm

Just pointing out that it's the low number of interceptions where Brady excelled, not that his interceptions were discounted due to being far downfield.

Points: 0

#20 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 09, 2023 - 4:57pm

though I just love when a defender catches a 4th down interception well down the field rather than knocking the ball down

*stares at Marlon McCree*


Points: 0

#17 by guest from Europe // Mar 09, 2023 - 1:48pm

Also, Brady's specialty was throwing the ball away when in danger of pressure, before getting sacked. Several times per game he would throw the ball deliberately to the ground, out of bounds or out of end zone. He wouldn't panick and throw to a covered receiver when facing pressure. Hence, no interceptions. He was the all-time master of that.

(This was all uncalled intentional grounding, in my opinion. Similar to the last pass Burrow threw in the AFC CG, which was called for grounding, or the last pass Mahomes threw in the Super Bowl to noone in the end zone.)

Brady was also great at playing no huddle up tempo at the end of games. He didn't panick and try to get a TD in one or two throws, but dink and dunked down the field. DVOA loves that.

Points: 1

#11 by Tutenkharnage // Mar 08, 2023 - 6:14pm

The Davis Mills experiment did not go well last year, in case you weren't paying attention.

The Texans finished with a top-two draft pick in a draft with at least two consensus top quarterbacks, if not more. Sounds like the experiment went very well. 

Points: 3

#16 by jedmarshall // Mar 09, 2023 - 12:52pm

But not *quite* as well as the Jeff Saturday experiment.  Secure #4 pick - check.  Knock division rival down to #2 pick - check.

Points: 1

#24 by Ineved // Mar 12, 2023 - 7:34am

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Points: 0

#25 by cstoos // Apr 07, 2023 - 12:32am

Did you all just completely forget the AFCW exists in four-downs?  7/8 divisions covered?

Points: 0

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