The Plan at Tight End

In 2020, tight ends were a focal point of the Miami Dolphins offense. 3rd year star Mike Gesicki posted his best season as a pro with 700 yards and 6 touchdowns. While Gesicki was the main attraction, Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen were key contributors in run blocking, providing strength up front while creating holes for Miami’s running backs.

Even with the success of Mike Gesicki, who is looked at as a top 10 tight end in the NFL, the Dolphins still selected another tight end in the 2021 NFL draft. With their 3rd round pick, Miami selected Hunter Long of Boston College.

Unlike Gesicki, who is primarily looked at as a pass catcher with lackluster run blocking ability, Hunter Long looks to offer a mix of both traditional tight end skills, running in-line routes as well as providing size in the run game with his 6’5″, 254 pound frame.

He was one of the most effective receiving tight ends in the country, posting 57 receptions and 685 yards in 2020. Those stats were enough to earn him a spot on the all ACC first team.

Dolphins rookie TE Hunter Long catches a touchdown.

As far as his strengths, he excelled in open field speed and showed an innate ability to haul in contested catches. Much like Miami’s use of Smythe and Shaheen in 2020, Long was often used on screens and dump-off passes, with Boston College relying on his ability to gain yards after the catch. His knack for making big plays off of short passes should help the Dolphins, as they ranked 23rd in yards after the catch in 2020.

A play against the Cardinals displays how Hunter Long could be used in 2021.

Along with Long and the retainment of the other 3 tight ends, the Dolphins continued to show that they are not content with their current group, adding rookie Jibril Blount and utility man Cethan Carter.

With Head Coach Brian Flores’ focus on competition, and the tight end depth chart, it begs the question: How will the Dolphins use their tight ends under new Offensive Coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville?

Dolphins TE/FB Cethan Carter catches his first career touchdown.

While Eric Studesville lacks playcalling experience, Godsey called plays under Bill O’Brien’s Texans in 2015 and 2016, the latter of which saw 2 tight ends (Ryan Griffin and CJ Fiedorowicz) eclipse 400 yards.

Although the group wasn’t nearly as talented as this 2021 Dolphins group, Fiedorowicz saw 7 or more targets in 9 of the 16 games he played, showing Godsey’s commitment to the utilization of tight ends. And more than their stats, the type of tight ends Godsey has worked in the past can potentially show what he looks for.

Primarily a blocker, much like the majority of the Dolphins group, Fiedorowicz showed the versatility and ability to be in for pass and run plays. This unique skillset was one Godsey took with him to Miami when he came in under Chan Gailey, who often used Shaheen and Smythe as threats in the short pass game along the line, with Gesicki having more of a Wide Receiver type role.

George Godsey saw production with lackluster QB play.

With Hunter Long fitting the mold of the dual threat tight end that Godsey wants, the real wild card is Gesicki. He doesn’t block at a particularly high level, and most of his snaps came from the slot, rather than the in-line styles of the other tight ends on the roster.

While we can guess that his role as a big slot receiver will remain the same in 2021, his future with Miami is uncertain.

Entering the final year of his contract in 2021, Gesicki will be looking for an extension this training camp. Proving himself to be an elite talent, the recent patterns of signings and draft picks show that there may not be a fit for him on this roster.

Many are looking at Long as the tight end of the future, with quality backups behind him. And if you want to look at Gesicki as a receiver, that room is also crowded, with Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Albert Wilson all being able to do work out of the slot. Under Miami’s current cap situation, they may have to choose between giving an extension to a tight end who doesn’t fit their ideal skillset or Xavien Howard, who is looked at as a top 5 cornerback in the league.

Since Gesicki doesn’t fit the mold of the other tight ends on the roster, he could still be in the Dolphins future plans.

In 2020, only 4 teams ran more 12 personnel, which includes 2 tight ends and 1 running back on the field. The potential of a pass catching tight end tandem of Gesicki and Long is dangerous, with both offering unique skillsets that help quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who excelled in 12 personnel, no huddle looks last season, as well as his experience with deadly YAC receivers at Alabama.

Gesicki has also shown improvement every year in the league, having a career year in 2020, which came off of a breakout in 2019. The belief is that he can be a top 5 tight end in the league with some time and continuity at the quarterback spot, something he hasn’t had over the course of the season since he entered the league. Having a second year with Tua Tagovailoa should help with communication and improving the connection they already have.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a deep touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki.

Waiting on giving Gesicki a contract could help the Dolphins, as they only have about 5 million dollars in cap space now (assuming they sign all of their rookies). But that number balloons to about $51 million in the 2022 offseason when you include linebacker Jerome Baker’s new extension.

This gives the Dolphins the future cap the get a Howard and Gesicki deal done over the next year or so.

At the end of the day, training camp will show a lot of Miami’s true plans for the future at the tight end spot, but the behaviors of the team and the coaching staff have already shown plenty as to what they may do. The battles on the depth chart and reports of negotiations will be exciting to watch as we determine how the vision for the Dolphins roster will be realized, especially at tight end.

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