DAVIE — The Dolphins are taking tight end seriously in this year’s NFL Draft after a few years of struggling at the position.
They took Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe in the fourth round today at No. 123 overall and will pair him with Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, who they chose 42nd last night.
Smythe, 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, has been credited as one of the better blocking tight ends in this year’s class, which will be particularly important for Miami if veteran Anthony Fasano does not return. Fasano, who also played at Notre Dame, was someone he studied on film as he developed in college.
While Gesicki is a basketball-style athlete who the team hopes will become a huge factor in the passing game, Smythe was brought in to fill a different role. In 22 career games at Notre Dame, he caught just 28 passes for 381 yards and six touchdowns.
Gesicki and Smythe have a chance to be Miami’s top two tight ends going into the season. Prior to the draft, the team had four players at the position who have yet to prove themselves as viable contributors in the passing game.
A.J. Derby would have been the likely starter and he has 37 career catches. Now he’ll compete with Gesicki for the top job. The Dolphins also have MarQueis Gray, Thomas Duarte and recent signee Gavin Escobar.
Here are the Dolphins’ picks so far:
First round, No. 10 overall: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Second round, No. 42 overall: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Third round, No. 73 overall: Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
Fourth round, No. 123 overall: Durham Smythe, TE, Notre Dame
And here are their remaining selections today:
–Sixth round, No. 209 overall
–Seventh round, No. 227 overall
–Seventh round, No. 229 overall
DAVIE — The Dolphins got skunked on the top quarterbacks in the draft, watching the last of them go one pick ahead of them at No. 10, then turned down a chance to grab one from the next tier in the third round.
Leading up to the NFL Draft, it seemed unlikely Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph would still be around when Miami’s spot came up in the third round, but there he was at No. 73. The team had arguably the fifth- or sixth-best quarterback sitting there for them to take, but opted for Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker.
“It was a consideration,” general manager Chris Grier said of taking a quarterback. “But for us, Baker was a guy at that spot who was just too good for us to pass up.”
The Dolphins didn’t feel that way about Rudolph, who didn’t overwhelm them with his personality and playing style, and he went three picks later to Pittsburgh.
He’s a 6-foot-5 pocket passer who proved himself as an accurate thrower on deep balls and was proficient running the kind of up-tempo offense Adam Gase has wanted to implement.
Rudolph piled up 12,765 yards and 86 touchdowns while completing 63.6 percent of his passes in three years as a collegiate starter. He had decent mobility as well, which is a must for Miami.
Once the Dolphins lost out on the first four quarterbacks, especially Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, it set them up with the daunting task of trying to find an undervalued quarterback they believed to be someone they could develop as a challenger to Ryan Tannehill.
However, they had to balance it with addressing major needs at tight end and linebacker. Miami wasn’t necessarily out to grab a safety at No. 11 overall, but they were thrilled to see a potential top-five pick fall to them in Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is believed to be an incredible talent with the potential to vie for a starting spot this year, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world for the Dolphins to go into the season with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald.
Had they gone with a linebacker at No. 11, like Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, they still could have taken tight end Mike Gesicki in the second round and maintained the flexibility to pounce on Rudolph in the third.
Instead, he goes to the Steelers and will get at least one year to learn behind Ben Roethlisberger. When he is ready, he’ll step in as the quarterback of an exceptionally stable organization with many good pieces in place offensively.
That’s good a spot for Rudolph.
In Miami, he would’ve been expected to beat out David Fales and Brock Osweiler for the backup job this year. And that’s a particularly high-pressure spot considering there are no guarantees when it comes to Ryan Tannehill’s health.
At this point, any quarterback the Dolphins get will be more of a long-term developmental prospect. They have two picks in the fourth round — Nos. 123 and 131 — to go for someone like Kyle Lauletta from Richmond or Luke Falk of Washington State if one of them hangs around long enough.
The chances of hitting jackpot decrease as the draft goes on, and there’s a reason most of the analysts and teams had Rudolph ranked decisively ahead of the rest of the class. The Dolphins didn’t think he would be a franchise-changer in the long run, and now it’s possible they’ll be in the same situation at quarterback a year from now. Unless they strike gold in the late rounds or Tannehill puts up a monster comeback season — they’re betting big on the latter — the next young quarterback could be a year away.
If you’re a Gators fan, blame LeBron James and the firing of Will Muschamp.
They helped persuade Baker to change his plans and embark on a career path that Friday night took another turn. The Dolphins drafted him in the third round to help solve their linebacking needs.
Just after Baker committed to the Gators, James announced he was leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The headline on SportsIllustrated.com, “I’m coming home,” resonated with Baker. So did James’ desire to enjoy success at home.
When Baker learned that Muschamp was out in Gainesville, it not only gave Baker something to think about, it gave Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer — yeah, the ex-Gators coach — something to talk to Baker about. When recruiting around Ohio, Meyer likes to point out there’s nothing like winning in your home state.
“LeBron, when he played in Miami, he won a world championship, but it’s a different feeling when you’re playing in front of your home,” Baker told the Plain Dealer in 2016. “That’s my approach of it. You’re playing in front of your home. It’s a different feeling.”
Baker teamed with Raekwon McMillan, the Dolphins’ second-round pick last year, on the Buckeyes’ linebacking corps. Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier joked the organization participated in “insider trading” by getting a scouting report on Baker from McMillan.
It may never have been possible had Florida stuck with Muschamp. Baker believes he probably would have fulfilled his original commitment had he not been fired.
“Potentially, yeah, I believe so. I’ll say yeah,” Baker said. “I really just wanted to be comfortable going in, and knowing they weren’t going to be there and not knowing who is going be there, it was kind of scary.
“The biggest thing is they got fired, so I felt a little uneasy. I didn’t want to go into somewhere I didn’t know the whole coaching staff. But I’m a family guy, so staying in Columbus, two hours away, worked out fine for me.”
Maybe LeBron knew it all along. Years ago, Baker received a flyer from Ohio State featuring a picture of James. It was an Ohio thing, of course. The quote from James on the flyer:
“If I had one year of college, I would have ended up here.”
Here are five things you probably don’t know about the Fins’ newest linebacker:
1. Baker was one of the most coveted athletes in his recruiting class, ranking as the fourth best athlete in the nation and the 61st-ranked overall recruit, according to 24/7 Sports.
2. Baker played some quarterback at Benedictine High School in Cleveland, but he was mainly recruited as a linebacker and originally committed to play college football at the University of Florida before flipping his commitment to Ohio State.
3. In three years at Ohio State, Baker made 159 total tackles and had seven interceptions. He had only one double-digit tackle game last season, but he made it count, racking up 16 tackles and a sack against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.
4. Baker had the fourth best 40-yard dash time among linebackers at the NFL Combine and placed in the top seven among linebackers in the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump.
5. Even though he’s a Cleveland native, Heat fans will be pleasantly surprised with Baker’s apparent basketball rooting interests.