By William McInerney
The New York Giants signed TE/FB Rhett Ellison to a four year $18 million contract, with $6 million of that money guaranteed. The immediate questions that come to mind are how will he fit into the offense and what it means for the rest of the roster. Ellison plays a role like that of Will Johnson, and Johnson has said the team plans to release him. Considering Johnson was injured last season and Ellison is making a good amount of guaranteed money this is not a surprise.
Ellison, for his career, has somewhat underwhelming numbers, as he has put up 51 receptions for 515 yards and 3 touchdowns in his career, as well as having one carry that went for one yard. However, Ellison has been a very good blocker for the Vikings during his career, as the fourth-round pick graded at 70.2 in pass blocking and 62.5 in run blocking per Pro Football Focus. His contributions as a blocker are what made him desirable to teams, and the reason he was able to land a four-year contract. Additionally, his blocking ability allows him to play as a blocker on special teams as well as on offense.
There are some questions as to where Ellison will line up more often, be it at tight end or fullback. With the Vikings, he played more frequently at tight end, however that could change with the Giants.
The Giants already have both Will Tye, a decent receiving tight end. He isn’t a field stretcher or a deep threat, but he does have a good set of hands and is a reliable target for a check down. While that is by no means irreplaceable, it is hard to sit him for a player with an average of seven receiving yards per game for his career. The Giants also have Jerell Adams, their sixth round pick last season whom they believe has the potential to develop as a very good blocker.
Although Ellison is a better and more experienced blocker, putting him at fullback would allow them to get them both on the field to block at the same time. In fact, it would not be a surprise if a common run formation next season is Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall at wide receiver (both pretty good up-field blockers), Adams at tight end, Ellison at fullback, and the ball carrier (probably Paul Perkins) at halfback. Plus, it is possible, maybe even probable, the Giants draft a tight end, in which case they would have five at the position if Ellison plays at that spot often (Tye, Adams, Matt LaCosse, Ellison, and the TE they draft). It is very unlikely they would want to carry five tight ends, thus making it more likely that Ellison plays fullback more often.
However, Ellison’s ability to play both tight end and fullback should be used, and it happens another area that Ellison can help the Giants is in pass protection, an area the team struggled with a lot. A lot has been made of Flowers’ struggles at left tackle, especially last year. Additionally, I was not impressed with Bobby Hart at right tackle, either. Ideally, the Giants would be able to find an upgrade at one of the two spots, or have one of their tackles improve, especially in pass protection.
Ellison does grade very well as a pass blocker in addition to a run blocker. Thus, the Giants could consider using Ellison to help in pass protection, chipping edge rushers as they try to get around our tackles. Although it is generally ideal to have five route runners on a play as opposed to four, with receivers as talented as Beckham, Marshall, and Sterling Sheppard, plus Shane Vereen and Perkins (the latter of whom is underrated in his pass catching ability), the Giants will have four route runners that are very, very talented on the field with Ellison. Additionally, Ellison could run a flat route as a check down option for Eli after throwing his block.
A third benefit of having Ellison is it gives Adams a good blocking tight end to learn from. The Giants drafted Adams in the sixth round hoping he could develop into a good blocking tight end, and although he showed flashes there was plenty he needs to clean up. With many players, seeing somebody else do it, especially in games, can be very beneficial. Coaches telling you how to do it can only get you so far, but seeing another NFL caliber player do it can help make the point click. The Giants did not have a tight end who was a particularly good blocker last year for Adams to learn from, especially once Johnson got hurt during the preseason.
One would believe the Giants hope Ellison can help Adams learn to block for a year or two, and then Adams will be ready to be the primary blocking tight end after the guaranteed money for Ellison has come off the books, and they have the option to move on with no dead money on the cap.
Ellison is a known commodity that can bring positional flexibility at a relatively cheap rate, as well as giving the Giants a good fullback, something it appears coach Ben McAdoo wants to have on the roster. His contract is not very high, and allows the Giants to get out of it after a couple of years if Adams develops into what they hope he can, and provides a measure of security in the blocking game should Adams fail to develop. This, while not a flashy signing and not the vertical threat at tight end that Giants fans were hoping for, is nevertheless a good signing by the team, and should help provide Eli Manning and the running game with better protection than they received a year ago.