‘Polished’ Ole Miss TE Evan Engram visits Bears on path to draft
Mississippi tight end Evan Engram hasn’t watched a lot of Bears games, but he understands what they need.
‘‘I know they just lost Alshon [Jeffery], so they’re definitely looking for that big-body receiver,’’ Engram said. ‘‘They have Zach Miller. He’s been doing a great job and doing a lot for the offense, when healthy.
‘‘I definitely know that they’re looking for another vertical threat in the passing game and a guy who can mix it up and a ‘move’ guy.’’
That explains why Engram, a pass-catching, ‘‘move’’ tight end, flew here Sunday and met with the Bears at Halas Hall.
At 6-3 and 234 pounds, Engram is more of a receiver than a blocker, having led the Rebels with 65 catches and 926 yards last season. He was the first-team All-Southeastern Conference tight end, beating out Alabama’s O.J. Howard, who sits atop the best tight end class in memory.
‘‘He’s got it all,’’ ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Howard, who caught 45 passes for 595 yards last season. ‘‘He’s a matchup nightmare. He’s certainly one of the top five, six, seven players in this draft.’’
The Bears, who draft third, have bigger needs than tight end. But with Miller entering the final year of his contract, they need to find his pass-catching replacement to pair with new in-line tight end Dion Sims.
That might come on the second day or, given the depth of the position group, the third day of the draft.
Engram likely will be gone by the third day. He played on the South team — opposite John Fox and his staff — in the Senior Bowl, but he met with Bears coaches there and at the NFL Scouting Combine. His visit to the Bears this week was the first of four — the Patriots, Panthers and Rams are the others — in an eight-day span.
Engram has been compared to the Redskins’ Jordan Reed, but he has taken to watching old tape of Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, who at 6-2 and 228 pounds was roughly his build.
‘‘He was more of an undersized guy, more of a receiver, but he was physical when you asked him to and was a huge threat in the passing game,’’ he said of Sharpe, who played from 1990 to 2003. ‘‘That fits my mold. He kind of paved the way for us undersized tight ends, if you want to call us that.’’
Scouts have wondered about Engram’s blocking skills — ‘‘the big question mark in my game,’’ he said — but he thinks he showed good physicality in Senior Bowl practices. He already has picked up blocking pointers during meetings with coaches, who have emphasized hand placement, footwork and leverage.
‘‘If you’re telling me to get physical with these ends, I’m definitely going to give everything I’ve got,’’ Engram said. ‘‘I can’t wait for the coaches to get with me. I can learn so much, especially from the veterans that have been doing it, too.’’
Engram, though, will be drafted for his receiving ability.
‘‘I think I’m definitely one of the most polished guys in the draft,’’ he said, ‘‘from my route savvy to attention to detail in the routes.’’
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Position spotlight: Tight end
Rating the Bears’ need
Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker, MyCole Pruitt, Justin Perillo.
You should know
The Bears dealt Martellus Bennett last offseason, but coach John Fox said they really didn’t address the position until signing Dion Sims to a three-year contract in March.
The Bears envision Sims as an in-line, blocking tight end, though they’ve been quick to praise his receiving skills.
‘‘A guy who can block, a guy who has good-enough hands to be a threat in the passing game,’’ Fox said of Sims. ‘‘Regardless of who your quarterback is, you have to have some playmakers around.’’
Best of the best
Alabama’s O.J. Howard, a potential top-10 pick, highlights perhaps the best tight-end class in a generation. Miami’s David Njoku and Mississippi’s Evan Engram are stellar second-day options. Michigan’s Jake Butt, three months removed from a torn ACL, could provide value later in the draft.
‘‘It’s one of his skill sets that I don’t think a lot of people realize he’s actually pretty good at.’’ — Dolphins coach Adam Gase, on Sims’ receiving ability.