The Miami Dolphins used their third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Boston College tight end Hunter Long. The Dolphins landed a receiving-threat tight end who can be the all-around guy to perfectly compliment Mike Gesicki and a two tight-end offense. To get a better look at Long, I turned to Curtis Flannery, the football lead at BC Interruption, SB Nation’s Boston College team site, to answer some of my questions.
Long actually led Division I in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end last year, surpassing even Kyle Pitts. Was that a factor of a lack of targets at BC, or is he just that much of a machine catching the ball?
Hunter Long is a pass-catching machine. Boston College had a rare wealth of pass-catchers last season for a program that has historically been ground-and-pound under previous head coaches. Despite this, he was a powerful presence in the passing game and one of the best route-runners on the team, save for our top WR Zay Flowers. Long has extremely powerful hands that allow him to grab the ball out of the air like few others, he has the smarts to consistently know where he should be placing himself on the field to make the catch and get additional yards, and his pass-catching numbers appropriately back that up. Pass-catching is easily the strongest part of his game and something that should allow him to carve out some playing time immediately in Miami.
The talk after the selection was that Long is more of a true/in-line tight end, while Gesicki is a move tight end, with the team able to move him outside like a receiver or on the line like a tight end. How much movement did Long do at Boston College and can Miami use him split out wide or will he be limited to lining up like a traditional tight end?
Long was actually positioned out wide for a decent number of snaps at Boston College and succeeded there. He has most of the skill set required to make an impact in that role, but his speed isn’t anything to write home about and will probably be his biggest hurdle in spreading the offense out in a consistent manner. His terrific pass-catching ability and way he uses his body was able to make up for his deficiencies in speed and athleticism in college, but jumping up to the NFL may create a steep curve for him to be ready to line-up out wide. I’d expect him to eventually be able to do that for Miami, but not right away.
The other thing we heard was that Long is a good pass-catcher, but he struggles to block. How much truth is there to that and should Dolphins fans be worried about him in support as a pass protector or run-blocker?
While Long was by no means a prolific blocker, he got the job done when he needed to and I certainly wouldn’t call him a “bad” blocker. Run-blocking was a particular struggle of his as his pure body strength isn’t what you’d find in a typical NFL TE. He understands his assignments and blocking schemes well, but can sometimes simply get overpowered by bigger LBs or defensive linemen. If the Dolphins coaching staff manages to scheme around his size, Hunter will absolutely thrive. Otherwise he’ll need to put on some weight to serve in a run-blocking role consistently.
What do you think is his ceiling at the NFL level?
I’d say his ceiling would be the 1st passing option on a bad NFL offense, or a 3rd or 4th option on a great NFL offense. His nose for the ball and really strong hands make him a threat to get open and catch any football that comes his way. His lack of body strength or pure speed may prevent him from becoming something like a pro-bowler, but he absolutely will be a solid contributor for the Miami Dolphins.
What else should Dolphins fans know about their new tight end?
BC fans love this guy, and I hope Dolphins fans will too. He’s a great locker room leader and a hard-worker who succeeded under multiple coaching staffs up here in Chestnut Hill. Plus he’s a New Hampshire native who has played football in New England his whole life, so maybe look to him to be a beast if you face a snowy game in Foxborough or Buffalo!