The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Engram said he came to his decision after consulting his family, the Rebel coaching staff and numerous NFL scouts, general managers, etc.
“After much consideration and getting a lot of information from coaches and other sources and talking with my family, I decided it’s best to return for my senior year,” he said. “I’ve had too much fun here. We have a goal of bringing an SEC championship here to Oxford. I wouldn’t be able to rest easy without leaving with one, without giving it another shot. I’m going to return next year. We’re focused on this bowl game, but I’m really excited about playing here for my senior year.”
Engram is the all-time Ole Miss leader in receiving yards by a tight end (1,298), and he’s second all-time among Ole Miss tight ends with 91 catches and seven touchdown catches. He was named All-SEC by league coaches this season, his third-straight selection.
“It was a good toss-up,” he said. “It’s definitely been a dream for a long time (to play in the NFL), just having it at my fingertips and having an opportunity that’s right there, it was a tough thing to think about. The facts, I had a tough road ahead of me. It was better to come back next year and getting more balls maybe and having a more explosive year. Get bigger, get stronger, get my build up and I can improve my chances of getting drafted higher after next year. That was the main factor in my decision - getting another year to grow and have some more fun with my brothers and win. Have a big year.”
Engram weighed several factors over the last few weeks. Ultimately, his decision came down to timing. The 2016 NFL Draft class is shallow for tight ends, and Engram’s thinking throughout, sources indicate, was the knocks against him - namely his size - would still be there in 2017. There was a temptation to capitalize now with the field smaller, and his goal would have been to impress in pre-draft workouts for NFL teams.
Engram didn’t specify what draft grades he got back from teams, though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots, the Ole Miss Spirit learned, had a mid-round grade (third and fourth) on him.
“Our coaching staff, just getting a lot of feedback from teams directly, scouts and GMs. A lot of teams said another year would benefit me a lot more,” Engram said. “They know I can catch and be explosive down the field. They just want to see me put a little bit more weight on and show that I can be a consistent SEC player. Other than my freshman year, I’ve been really healthy, I’ve been really durable. They just want to see a more proven player. I think this offseason, really just working on getting stronger, getting bigger and being able to still keep my speed will help me. There were concerns about consistency. They know I’ll mix it up. They know I have the motor, too. It was just the consistency. That’s one thing that’s going to be in my tank this offseason after this bowl game is to get bigger and stronger.
“My parents believed in me. It was facts. I think 55 out of the last 70 tight ends drafted were seniors. It’s a real rare position to get drafted high as I wanted to as a junior. It was just hard facts that were basically reality. Knowing my ability and my work ethic and knowing the things teams want to see from me, I can accomplish that in the offseason. Being a senior, that allows scouts to come to practice and watch me one-on-one. They peak around a little bit at juniors, but I’lll be more on their radar next year coming back as a senior. They’ll be able to lock in on my film and watch me do stuff. It’s a lot more opportunity for me to maximize my potential in next year’s draft with me returning.”
Engram said his goal now is to use the offseason to get bigger.
“I played this season around 228, 229, 230,” he said. “I think maybe this offseason I can get up to around 240, 245. I always lose weight once camp hits; the weight starts to drop a little bit. Next season to play around 245 would probably be ideal for me to still be able to move around like I can. Just talking to some of the coaches, move around a little bit more, maybe in the slot or one-on-one with corners or a safety out wide. Just move me around and show my versatility, I think that’s going to be the big plus side of me coming back.”
The return of Engram is significant for Ole Miss, not only for his on-the-field production, but for what he brings in the locker room as well. Engram is widely-respected by his teammates, and with the Rebels set to lose at least juniors Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche following the Sugar Bowl Jan. 1, his voice will be more important than ever in next season.
He also provides the Rebel offense with another anchor alongside quarterback Chad Kelly, who leads the SEC in passing, total offense and points responsible for. He’s the sixth SEC player ever to reach 4,000 total yards in a season.
“Me and Chad talk about that, honestly,” Engram said. “He even had his input about how the team kind of looks up to me. When we had our captain voting, a lot of the guys put me No. 1 on their list this year for captain. I take pride in that as well, and I think being a senior that’s going to amplify that role even more. It’s definitely going to be a privilege. We have a great class coming in, and we still have some guys from the 2013 and 2014 classes that are growing and turning into great leaders.
“We have something here that’s very special. Just being a senior leader, that’s going to be a real special thing for our team next year.”
* Robert Nkemdiche was nowhere to be seen at practice Tuesday, though Freeze said this week the junior defensive tackle is in Oxford. No decision has been made regarding his playing status for the Sugar Bowl. However, a school official said a decision will likely come well in advance of the game, as opposed to a long, drawn-out process.
* Speaking of Nkemdiche, Treadwell was asked if he’d spoken to Nkemdiche about his fall from about 15 feet from Grand Hyatt Hotel window. “It was very difficult. He’s one of my great friends. He’s a great teammate. I contacted coach Freeze first and foremost and spoke with him. He said, ‘Robert is doing well. He should be fine.’ Just got to keep praying for him and keep him in our prayers and make sure we keep him in our prayers. That was the moral of the story. Once I see him, we’ll chat about it. I’ll make sure he’s confident and feels comfortable with everything that’s going on with him.”
* Senior Justin Bell is currently running with the first team offensive line at right guard. Sean Rawlings, in turn, is getting a look as the No. 2 center. He could find a home there. Remember, Ben Still, the team’s current starter, is set to graduate, while Robert Conyers, who opened the year at center, is out with an ACL injury. Conyers has the versatility to play either tackle position and center, and with Ole Miss losing both Fahn Cooper and Laremy Tunsil after the season, he could start at any of the three depending on need. Rawlings started seven games at right tackle in place of Cooper, who was shifted to left as Ole Miss awaited the return of Tunsil from NCAA suspension.
* Collins Moore was granted a sixth year of eligibility Thursday. Moore has played in nine games as a reserve wide receiver and on special teams, including as the primary punt returner since the Memphis game. Since he’s already graduated, he has options, be it a return to Ole Miss or a transfer to another school without penalty.