DAVIE—The Dolphins’ second- and third-round draft picks faced each other in college, and they’re about to spend the next month and beyond going head to head again.
Jerome Baker is the type of linebacker who can cover tight ends, and that’s exactly how Ohio State used him against Penn State: to handle Mike Gesicki. He covered Gesicki each of the last two years, and that’s almost certainly going to be an ongoing assignment for him when Organized Team Activities begin.
“He’s a great player and he’s definitely gonna compete,” Baker said. “Individually, he’s big and he can go get the ball. But I look at it from a team aspect. He got me one year and I got him the last one.”
Penn State spoiled the Buckeyes’ bid for an undefeated season by beating them in 2016, and Ohio State squeaked by with a 39-38 victory last year.
Gesicki totaled 10 catches for 113 yards in the two games, while Baker had 11 tackles including 1.5 for negative yardage.
Gesicki was a major matchup problem in college because of his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame and a 41-inch vertical leap to go with it, and the Dolphins are hoping he’ll continue to be a threat in the passing game as a pro.
Baker, meanwhile, is just 6-foot-1, 225 pounds and has always been knocked for his size. It would be particularly disadvantageous against Gesicki, but he held his own.
“Ohio State was a big game for us each and every year, and he was the leader of their defense,” Gesicki said. “There were situations where me and him were matched up together and all that kind of stuff. He’s a great player, really athletic, uses his speed to his advantage.
“People are gonna say whatever they’re gonna say (about his size). He’s a great example of blocking that out and getting to where he is today without listening to that.”
Early in his time at Penn State, Mike Gesicki’s role at tight end was in jeopardy because he was having a bad time with drops. That wasn’t promising for his future at the school or his chances of one day turning pro.
But Gesicki didn’t let that derail him. He dove deep into the problem with his mind bent on burying it. He spent hours doing tennis ball drills, caught around 300 balls each day at practice and reached a point where he was confident his hands would never be a liability again.
“It was three years ago, but it seems like forever now,” he said. “I just did whatever was in my power… My last two seasons were much better. It’s very rewarding to see the hard work pay off.”
Over his junior and senior years, Gesicki became one of the most surehanded targets in Penn State’s offense and totaled 105 catches, 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns to turn himself into one of the best tight end prospects in this year’s NFL Draft class. He is widely considered to be a top-five player at his position.
Naturally, that interests a team like the Dolphins, who haven’t had an impactful tight end in years. Their most productive player at that spot last season was Julius Thomas with 41 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns. The year before it was Dion Sims at 26, 256 and four.
With Thomas not expected back and there being limited choices in free agency, it’s time for Miami to draft a tight end and develop him into a weapon. It’s one of the main things that’s been missing from this offense during Adam Gase’s two years as head coach.
Gesicki, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, is a good possibility. The Dolphins would likely have a shot at him in the second round with the 42nd pick and got started on their evaluation process by sitting down with him at last month’s Senior Bowl.
Gesicki described the meeting as in-depth and efficient, with team representatives getting straight to the point about what kind of player he is. He fielded questions about what plays he’d call on certain downs and distances and what defenses he’d expect to face in some situations.
“They were putting me to the test a little bit,” he said. “I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me.
“Ryan Tannehill’s a great quarterback. He’s proved that. And with their receivers, they have a lot of talent. If you add one guy here and one guy there that can make a difference, it’d be awesome.”
With the hands issue in the past, Gesicki’s goal leading up to the draft is to show teams he’s a capable blocker.
“Some people question my ability to do so,” he said. “I have a great desire to do it, I’m strong enough to do it and I’m big enough to do it.”
The Dolphins have never taken a tight end in the first round—second-rounder Jim Mandich at No. 29 in 1970 was the closest—and aren’t likely to do so this year. They have the No. 11 pick overall, which appears to be a reach for even the best tight ends in this year’s class.
South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are thought to be the top-five tight ends, too, but it’s possible none of them will be first-round picks. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has Andrews as the first one off the board at No. 29, and colleague Todd McShay likes Goedert going first at No. 31.
The consensus among draft gurus is that this is a year stocked with good tight ends, not great ones.
That said, Miami would be more than happy with a good one. The only tight ends currently expected to be on the roster for the upcoming season are A.J. Derby (37 career receptions), MarQueis Gray (27) and Thomas Duarte (none). The team also must decide whether it wants to bring back 33-year-old Anthony Fasano, who hasn’t said whether he intends to keep playing.
Those circumstances make it clear the Dolphins need to prioritize tight end in the draft, and Gesicki’s already got their attention.
The Dolphins drafted Penn State safety Jordan Lucas in the sixth round (No. 204 overall).
Lucas said the Dolphins want him to play cornerback in the NFL.
He said he began his career at Penn State as a cornerback but he was moved to safety to help the team out overall. Coaches also believed the move to safety might help his NFL stock, but the Dolphins will put him back at cornerback.
Lucas — 6-foot, 201 pounds — had three career interceptions.
STRENGTHS: Understands field leverage in run support, taking proper angles. Explodes through his hips as a tackler, putting his hat on the ball. Flows well with the action with another gear in pursuit when he sees his opening. Eager blitzer and does a nice job in space to get his target on the ground.
Can open his hips and turn to run with receivers in the slot. Alert and always looking for work. Crowds the catch point an aggressive mentality. Good drive mechanics to attack what is in front of him. Position versatility with starting experience at both cornerback and safety (34 career starts). Senior captain.
WEAKNESSES: Average at-best athletically with rigid change of direction and transition skills. Adequate frame, but lack of length limits his defense radius. Eyes pay rent in the backfield and his pass coverage can’t afford the bills. Impatient feet lead to false steps, misreading the route and losing spacing with his man.
Too easily controlled once blocked, struggling to break free. Lacks the secondary quickness to work off blocks or make up once receivers gain a step. Marginal ball-skills and struggled to finish interceptions.
Medicals need vetted after a right shoulder injury that prematurely ended his college career and also sidelined him for the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
IN OUR VIEW: Lucas is a competitive run defender with a nose for the ball, understanding football geometry to track and find the quickest route from A-to-B. Although his background at corner is appealing, Lucas lacks the twitchy athleticism and ball-hawking instincts to consistently hold up on an island vs. NFL receivers, which will limit his versatility as a pro.
He has the mentality and appetite for football that will serve him well on special teams, but projects as bottom of the roster defensive back.