The Tight End Core: Finally A Formidable Unit?
The Miami Dolphins have attempted to overhaul, arguably, the weakest position on the roster, tight end. At the end of the season last year, they picked up AJ Derby off waivers from Denver. In the draft, the Dolphins picked up two TE’s, one athletic freak from Penn State names Mike Gesicki and one blocking extraordinaire with raw pass catching potential, Durham Smythe of another Dame. These new tight end options will join the 2016 7th round pick, Thomas Duarte of UCLA, and look to fill out the hole left by Julius Thomas, which is not a hard hole to fill. The outlook on the tight end position is much more positive than when the season ended. The Dolphins will probably keep three tight ends, and with H-Back MarQueis Gray being a key piece on the team, AJ Derby may be the one on the ropes. Now, let’s look in depth at the options for the TE’s in Miami for 2018-19.
We’re going to start with the most dynamic option, Mike Gesicki, the 6’6, 250 pound athletic freak, and former basketball player, who average 20 points a game (MaxPreps). The comparison for Gesicki is obvious. The first player to come to mind is Jimmy Graham, former basketball player at UM, standing at 6’7, 260 pounds. The traits they share are obvious. They both can outjump anyone on the field to get a 10 foot pass or fade in the corner of the end zone. Both of them also possess good speed for tight ends and have receiver like features. However, the knock on both of them coming out of college, the blocking wasn’t there. Gesicki’s blocking has seen fierce criticism as many scouts cited lack of willingness to block much like his comparison, Jimmy Graham coming out of college. However, when prompted about blocking by reporters, Gesicki said in an interview with Joe Rose on 560-WQAM, “Media wants to focus on negatives and all that type stuff. Obviously, that’s the part of my game I need to continue to get better at. But if you know anything about me, I’m extremely motivated determined player.” Gesicki knows what he has to do to improve at blocking, but really, that is not what he was brought into do. The Dolphins were looking for a threat in the red zone, something Ryan Tannehill has never had. They were looking for the primary target that they can isolate on a corner or linebacker in the red zone and throw a fade to. That is what Mike Gesicki is. Enter Durham Smythe, the blocking part of this new young, dynamic duo.
Durham Smythe, standing at 6’6, 253 pounds, did not have a very impressive college career. He only had 28 catches for 381 yards and 6 touchdowns throughout his career at Notre Dame as he was trapped in a run first offense. However, this allowed him to stand out as one of the best run blocking tight ends in the country and when he got his chance, he flashed his raw pass catching ability and the ability to shield off defenders. In the Senior Bowl, Smythe led the team with three receptions and caught a touchdown from Buffalo Bills new draft pick, Josh Allen. Smythe’s raw strength and exceptional blocking provide him a very unique skill set that compliments Mike Gesicki perfectly. Smythe can become a sneaky target on rollout passes where he slips out of his block and hopefully, him and Gesicki will be around for a long time in Miami.
The odd men out on this depth chart, AJ Derby and Thomas Duarte, are going to have to fight to get their spot on this roster. Derby, who saw minimal action in Miami last year, looks to show Denver why they were wrong to release him. 2017 was the most productive season for the 6’5 tight end as he totaled 21 receptions for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns. 19 of the receptions came with the Broncos and both touchdowns came in the Mile High city. Derby only totaled 2 receptions for 20 yards down here in Miami. After only playing two games in a Dolphins uniforms, he officially average 10.0 yards per catch in 2017 with the Dolphins. He looks to improve upon his 2017 season and make a mark in Miami. On the other hand, Thomas Duarte has only appeared in 1 NFL game, a 2016 Week 9 contest where the Dolphins faced the Jets in Miami. Duarte did not see a target in the game. Duarte has always been touted for his raw pass catching potential as he hauled in 53 catches for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns with freshman QB at the time, and new Cardinals QB, Josh Rosen, at UCLA in 2015. Duarte lacked the interest in blocking which led to a hit in his stock and his size, as he is only 6’2, made scouts worry if he could play in the NFL and control the possession and corral a ball in the air. It remains to be seen what he can do in the NFL, but hopefully, the Dolphins will get what they have been waiting for from their 2016 7th round pick.
A player that often gets overlooked but does a lot of good for the Fins is MarQueis Gray. Gray is a staple on special teams in 2016 flashed potential with Ryan Tannehill connecting with him 14 times for 176 yards. Tannehill used Gray as a checkdown option, but Gray’s athleticism and vision turned the plays into big chunks of yardage for the Dolphins. You could also find him attempting a to throw passes, as he has had 3 or 4 plays drawn up for him to pass but only one of them has resulted in an actual attempt, where he overthrew Jakeem Grant against Tennessee. When talking about the tight end/H-Back situation in Miami, he is often forgotten, however, with Ryan Tannehill back at the helm, Gray will get his favorite QB back and we may see a jumpstart in the production of the former University of Minnesota QB.
All in all, the Dolphins outlook on the TE position has improved dramatically, and with Adam Gase’s two TE system and looking to heavily involve his TE’s, Ryan Tannehill will finally have formidable options at the TE position and since Devante Parker has yet to become the red zone threat he was supposed to, Gesicki will likely fill that void. This may become a very strong part of Miami’s team, even if only one or two of the players produce efficiently.
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