When Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki measured in at just above 6-foot-5 with an 81.5-inch wingspan at the NFL Combine in 2018, it was an important box checked for a player who made his name off vertical receiving ability as a “big slot” type.
Then when he proceeded to put on one of the most athletically marveling weekends we’ve ever seen from the position, there wasn’t a single draft follower who didn’t know his name.
At his size, Gesicki ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, had a 41.5-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-, 9-inch broad jump, a 6.76 3-cone time, a 4.1 short shuttle time, and an 11.33 60-yard shuttle time. Every single one of those scores was in the 90th percentile for the position.
Simply put: the moment Gesicki stepped foot on an NFL practice field for the first time, he was one of the most explosive players at his position.
That didn’t amount to much in his first season, as 2018 yielded marginal results for the rookie in his first season with the Miami Dolphins. In 16 games with seven starts, Gesicki recorded just 22 catches for 202 yards and no touchdowns. A big reason for those results was timid quarterback play and Gesicki’s role.
As a big slot player, Gesicki’s best role on a team is his ability to stretch the middle of the field up the seam. This requires a quarterback who is fearless with getting the ball over the linebackers and into tight coverage. Miami didn’t have that in 2018. They also didn’t ask Gesicki to do that as often as one might think; they threw in more pass blocking assignments than one would prefer for a tight end shy of 250 pounds.
But in 2019, two things changed: they freed Gesicki to attack the field more with his speed as a receiver, and the fearless, gun-slinging Ryan Fitzpatrick was throwing him the ball. These factors produced much better stats from Gesicki, as he finished another 16-game season with 51 catches for 570 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
After the season, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores made a change at offensive coordinator, firing Chad O’Shea after just one season with the team. Though Gesicki saw improved production with O’Shea, the other players weren’t his biggest fans. Coming from the Patriots’ system as their wide receiver coach, O’Shea’s offense was complex and difficult to understand. For a young team, that’s a bad recipe. The reason why it worked was because when Fitzpatrick became the quarterback, he could run it. But moving forward with a young core of players, they knew they needed a change.
Flores went out of left field for his next OC hire, as he lured long-time offensive coach Chan Gailey out of retirement to come coach with him in Miami. The 68-year-old Gailey last coached as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets in 2016.
Gailey’s offense should be much simpler for the Dolphins’ young core to understand and execute. But where there are plenty of questions surrounding what will happen with the Dolphins under Gailey, the one we are focusing on today is how Gailey’s presence could affect the career momentum of Gesicki.
Gailey is not typically one to utilize tight ends as receivers in his offense. The last time a Gailey-led offense had a tight end record a 1,000-yard season was Tony Gonzalez in 2008 with Kansas City. As a future Hall of Famer, it’s tough to slow down Gonzalez’s production no matter what an offense typically looks like. Outside of that, no tight end has recorded more yards in a Gailey offense than Gesicki did last year (a year Dolphins fans hope is a building block for better things, not the peak).
But in order to (correctly) have more faith in Gesicki’s potential production in 2020 under Gailey, we have to open our minds a bit.
Via Matthew Betz, Gesicki lined up in the slot 461 times versus just 159 times in-line in 2019. In terms of percentages, Gesicki was a slot receiver 66 percent of the time versus just 23 percent as a traditional tight end. As a slot player, Gesicki ranked 11th in completion percentage, 17th in receiving yards, and tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (minimum of 200 snaps in the slot). For even better context, he was the only tight end inside the top 20 in the category of receiving yards from the slot.
In the grand scheme of things, Gesicki isn’t a tight end, he’s a slot receiver.
Now the question is how much were slot receivers used in Gailey’s offense?
In the last six seasons of Gailey calling the shots (2008 as OC of the Chiefs, 2010-2012 as HC of the Bills, and 2015-2016 as OC of the Jets), Gailey’s slot receivers finished the seasons ranked, 2nd, 19th, 3rd, 28th, 5th, and 12th in terms of targets seen from the slot compared to the rest of the league.
Gesicki saw 89 targets last season, which would be the second-most targets for a slot player in Gailey’s six-season stretch. But as the game has evolved, Gailey’s view of the slot and tight end position has, too. Gesicki has a chance to be one of the most productive slot players in Gailey’s play-calling history.
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