2017 Training Camp Preview: TE Rhett Ellison

Is Rhett Ellison the missing piece in the run game?

TE Rhett Ellison
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 250 pounds
College: USC
Exp.: 6 years

Here’s an interesting fact (I think) uncovered as I researching this series.

According to Spotrac’s historical contract information, dating back to 2007, no Giants player to hold the title “fullback” in his job description has ever collected more than $1 million in base salary.

That’s right. not Madison Hedgecock, who maxed out at $900,000 in 2010, nor Henry Hynoski, who maxed out at $725,000 in 2014, came close to collecting that magic million-dollar base salary, even though both had contract years in which they would have collected that amount had they been on the roster.

You’re probably saying, “So what? Most fullbacks are limited skill-wise and aren’t worth big bucks anyway.”

You’re also probably wondering “What does this have to do with Rhett Ellison, a tight end?”

The answer to the first question is that if you find a fullback who is versatile, who can do more than just lead block especially on an offensive line that has some question marks going into the new season, you pony up the Benjamins as the Giants will do in 2018 when Ellison’s base salary jumps from $975,000 this year to $2.475 million.

The answer to the second question is that Ellison is much more than just another gruff and tough lead blocker who just happens to have the fullback title adjoined by a slash to his tight end position.

 

Burning Questions

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. What’s with his injury?

Very good question. Head coach Ben McAdoo didn’t get into specifics about why Ellison wasn’t working during the third OTA other than to say he was “sore,” but Ellison later revealed his calf has bothered him since the tail end of Phase 2 of the offseason program.

Ellison, for those who don’t know, he suffered a torn patellar tendon (same injury as what set former Giants receiver Victor Cruz back)  in the Vikings’ 2015 regular-season finale against Green Bay, but hardly missed a beat the following season, playing in 15 of the Vikings’ 16 games.

The good news is that Ellison was present for the workout, standing on the side during the entire practice in sneakers. If his issue were that bad, it’s probably safe to say he wouldn’t have been allowed out there, let alone to stand on his feet for so long. He also was seen doing some running, an encouraging sign.

The proof will be in the pudding when he hows up for training camp and has to pass a physical. If he can do that, then the time off for maintenance purposes will have been worth it.

 

Okay, so assuming he’s good to go, how will the Giants use him? 

Before we try to answer that, let’s have a quick look at how Ellison was used in the past:

As the chart shows, Ellison was mostly used as an in-line tight end (66 percent) while playing from the backfield on 16 percent of the snaps for the Vikings.

The Giants, as readers know, struggled with their in-line blocking from the tight end position last year. When you consider that plus the still unrealized potential of the offensive line, it would be a stunning development if the Giants don’t use him as mostly an in-line blocker, a sixth offensive lineman, especially in the running game.

As for playing in the backfield at fullback, the Giants, under Ben McAdoo, have greatly reduced formations featuring a fullback.

There are some who believe that not having a lead blocker last year hurt the team. McAdoo himself even suggested during the combine that the season-ending injuries to former fullbacks Will Johnson and Nikita Whitlock forced the team to go in another direction.

Ellison’s versatility allows McAdoo to go back to the traditional power formations, if he so desires.

We don’t think Ellison will be used much as a pass receiver–maybe he’ll have a ball thrown to him here and there, but so long as Odell Beckham Jr,, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall are playing, we don’t see him getting more than maybe a couple of pass targets per game, if that many.

 

Can he help on third down?

Using official league stats, let’s review the Giants’success rate on third down under McAdoo, who became the offensive coordinator in 2014.

Season Third Down Conversion % League Rank Avg. 1st Downs/Game Used a Fullback?
2014 42.98% 10th 21.0 Yes
2015 37.79% 20th 20.7 Yes
2016 34.44% 30th 18.1 No

While not all the Giants’ third-down issues were related to the running game, we can all probably agree that having an extra blocker up front who can also double as a lead-blocking fullback won’t hurt.

So the answer is yes, we think Ellison can help out on third downs, as well as short yardage and goal-line situations.

Outlook

If he is healthy, Ellison will prove to be worth the money he’s about to receive not just because of his versatility, but because he gives the Giants coaches a backup plan if they should need to scheme around any problems on the offensive line, a plan that the coaches didn’t have last year.