With the 42nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki. The addition of a 6-foot-6, 245-pound receiving tight end capable of working from inline to outside as a receiver was a dynamic addition to the Dolphins’ offense and should have given quarterback Ryan Tannehill a key weapon in the middle of the field and in the redzone.
However, in 2018, Gesicki recorded just 22 receptions for 202 yards and failed to reach the endzone, something expected to be a big part of his game. Why was Gesicki so ineffective and how does that compare to other tight ends in their rookie seasons?
This season, the top rookie tight end, in terms of yardage, was Mark Andrews from the Baltimore Ravens, who caught 34 passes for 552 yards with three touchdowns. Christopher Herndon from the New York Jets caught the most passes with 39 receptions, gaining 502 yards and four touchdowns. Also scoring four touchdowns were Dallas Goedert (33 rec, 334 yards) of the Philadelphia Eagles and Jordan Thomas (20 rec, 215 yards) from the Houston Texans. Gesicki finished ninth in receiving yards among rookie tight ends and sixth in receptions.
Since 2008, the most receiving yards for a tight end playing in their first season belongs to the New York Giants’ Evan Engram, who, in 2017, gained 722 yards on 64 receptions, also the most for a rookie, along with six touchdowns. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had the most touchdowns as a rookie, scoring ten times in 2010 (42 rec, 546 yards).
Those are the exception, however. Engram is the only rookie tight end to surpass 60 receptions. Only three others (John Carlson (2008, Seattle Seahawks), Tim Wright (2013, Tampa Bay Buccaners), Jermaine Gresham (2010, Cincinnati Bengals)) passed 50 receptions. Eight more had more than 40, including Gronkowski.
Since 2008, only 12 rookie tight ends have had more than 40 receptions in a season. Gesicki’s 22 receptions is the 32nd most catches for a rookie tight end.
He is a little lower at 47th with his 202 yards. But only 27 rookie tight ends have broken 300 receiving yards since 2008, with 19 surpassing 400 yards, 11 passing the 500 yard mark, two passing 600 yards, and just Engram over 700 yards.
Tight end is usually one of the harder positions for college players to adjust to the NFL. Gronkowski, for example, caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and a league leading 17 touchdowns in his second season, earning Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors in 2011. Eric Ebron, who had a Pro Bowl season this year with the Indianapolis Colts, caught just 25 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown as a rookie in 2014 for the Detroit Lions, then caught 47 passes for 537 yards and five toucndowns in his second season. Charles Clay, as a rookie in Miami, caught 16 passes for 233 yards with three touchdowns in 2011, then had similar numbers in 2012 when he caught 18 passes for 212 yards and two scores. In 2013, Clay broke out with 69 receptions for 759 yards with six touchdowns.
Tight ends typically need some time to find their place in an offense and in the NFL. They can reach their potential after a slow rookie season, so there is no need to panic when it comes to Gesicki and Miami’s use of a second-round pick on him last year.
Looking at the statistics for the other Dolphins’ tight ends, it shows that, across the depth chart, the Dolphins did not stress using the position this year. Nick O’Leary caught eight passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Durham Smythe, also a product of the 2018 Draft class, caught six receptions for 50 yards, while A.J. Derby caught three passes for 48 yards with one touchdown.
The knock against Gesicki coming into the league was his lack of blocking ability. While he still needs to improve, he was decent in protection this year. Teams were double covering him early in the season, as well as making sure someone pressed him at the line of scrimmage before someone else picked up coverage. They focused on taking him out of his rhythm and using the perceived lack of physicality from the tight end to disrupt any play Miami may have drawn up for him. That needs to be fixed next year, but it is also something that can be fixed.
Gesicki really was just a rookie tight end playing a tough position. He will likely see increased useage as a second-year player in 2019 - just like most of the other tight ends since 2008.