Engram Not Thinking of NFL Future

HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram isn’t getting ahead of himself.

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He’s entering his junior season, meaning he’s now eligible for the NFL Draft. And while he hasn't received the same early-season draft publicity of fellow juniors Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner, there’s enough momentum surrounding Engram that it's not unrealistic to think he could leave school early should he have another impressive season as a Rebel.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” Engram said. “But we’re still so focused on the season. The NFL will have its day come for us. Right now we push each other and demand of each other to not worry about it, to show up every day to work for the Ole Miss Rebels. That day will come. We’re not really worried about it right now.”

Engram has totaled 59 catches and 930 yards in two seasons at Ole Miss, including a breakout sophomore season of sorts in 2014 when he finished with 38 catches and 662 yards. He’s an integral part of the Rebels’ up-tempo offense, even if he doesn’t put his hand in the dirt much, if at all, as a “traditional” tight end might.

In many ways, he fits the criteria of the modern NFL tight end. At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, he’s more of a wide receiver hybrid, playing the role of coverage mismatch when pitted against opposing linebackers and safeties.

Still, Engram is focusing on what he said are much more important goals right now. Like winning the SEC and a national championship. Engram was a member of the much-heralded 2013 Ole Miss recruiting class. This season was always targeted as the year. Expectations are high, even if league media here at SEC Media Days tabbed the Rebels to finish fifth in the West.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we expect of ourselves,” he said. “We work every day as if we’re trying to go win a national championship. That’s the goal. You ask anybody here on any other team, they’re going to want to go in an SEC championship and a national championship. That’s how we work. That’s been our expectation since day one. We’re definitely looking forward to week one and getting into camp and making plays and bettering ourselves to be able to make that run.”

And it starts with the offseason. Engram said the team has responded well to the strength and conditioning program of Paul Jackson.

“It’s been fun. It’s been really hard-working,” Engram said. “We’ve been keeping busy bettering our craft as a team and bettering our craft as leaders. We’re ready for a big year.

“Of course we’ve been getting bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room and stuff, but we’ve been really focusing on being more consistent play-making-wise. We have young guys constantly working with the older guys to try and learn the ins and outs so they can come in and contribute this year. That’s a difference-maker. We’re having fun, and that’s one thing we’re focusing on is being consistent. In this league it’s a demand to be successful in that.”

Engram will combine with Jeremy Liggins to head the Ole Miss tight ends, and the pair couldn’t be any more different. The 6-foot-3, 302-pound Liggins is the blocker, Engram the pass-catching threat. But Engram said he’s worked to make himself a better all-around player.

“Both of us getting better this year, myself especially getting stronger, we’ll be able to mix it up a lot more,” he said. “Last year, it was kind of predictable. Jeremy would come in to block and I’m in there (it’s) a pass play. We’ll be able to mix it up a little bit with both of us being strong and myself getting better in the blocking game. That one-two punch is going to be a lot more unpredictable this year.”

Who will be throwing to them, though, remains a question. Sophomore Ryan Buchanan exited the spring with a slight lead on junior college transfer Chad Kelly and sophomore Devante Kincade. Engram has been impressed with all of them.

“All three had a great spring,” he said. “They’re all working their butts work getting better at their craft, bettering the things they need to work on. They’re looking to have a good camp.”

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