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Miami’s tight end depth chart is worth watching throughout the preseason

There is a lot left to learn about this group.

Houston Texans v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The stock of Miami’s tight end group was at an all-time high following the 2020 season. A three-headed monster of Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen set franchise records for yards and receptions by a tight end room — while also matching a franchise record with 11 receiving touchdowns.

How quickly can things change?

Just one offseason later, the unit features solidified starters in Gesicki, who is likely playing under the franchise tag, and Smythe, who just signed a fresh two-year deal to remain in Miami. However, it’s hard not to wonder if a change is coming with first-year head coach Mike McDaniel looking to implement his own offense.

Gesicki will likely be the team’s first option of the group — at least for 2022. Smythe inked an $8 million deal one month after McDaniel was announced as the head coach of the Dolphins.

I’d say it’s safe to assume McDaniel will utilize Smythe’s abilities as a blocking tight end and it’s worth noting that he caught 34 of 41 targets while playing all 17 games a season ago.

As mentioned earlier, it’s hard to imagine a world where Gesicki and Smythe aren’t Miami’s top-two targets in the group. From there — it begins to get interesting.

Shaheen is entering his third season with the team and caught 12 receptions in each of the last two years, but didn’t score in 2021 after three touchdowns in 2020. Additionally, his yards per reception dropped by 3.3 from 2020 (12.5) to 2021 (9.2).

Will McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier see Shaheen as someone who can find his way back to the end zone, or will they view the 2020 season as lightning in a bottle under former head coach Brian Flores?

The same is true for Cethan Carter, one of the first signings made by Grier and Flores last offseason. Two years remain on his three-year deal and after playing 57 percent of special teams snaps, 52 total snaps on offense, and considering the addition of fullback Alec Ingold, will Carter convince McDaniel and the coaching staff that he can be impactful between the margins?

Lastly, the tight end with arguably the highest range of outcomes is second-year pro Hunter Long, who played 95 snaps on offense and caught 1 of 3 targets last year.

Long went to Boston College — the same college as Flores — before being drafted due to his large frame, decent speed, good ball skills, and 57 receptions for 685 yards and five touchdowns in his junior season.

The former third-round pick didn’t see much action as a rookie and NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein knocked Long for not being aggressive against the run and the need to become more feisty.

While Long is capable of completing a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute, it’ll be interesting to see if McDaniel, and tight ends coach Jon Embree, can help ignite that intensity in Long and take advantage of his dynamic skill set.

There is no “simple” transition from college to first-year professional football — and just look at Mike Gesicki’s career — a tough rookie year doesn’t always signal things to come.

In year two, out-performing Gesicki as a receiver, or Smythe as a blocker, may not be necessary. Long establishing himself as a tight end sturdy enough at blocking and receiving — someone versatile enough to impact the game no matter the play, could a clear path to consistent playing time.

As training camp approaches, the Miami Dolphins have a firm 1-2 punch in Gesicki and Smythe for the 2022 season, but there will be some worthwhile developments for the unit before Week 1 arrives.