Dolphins rookie TE Mike Gesicki rips through offseason practices

Gesicki (86) is the highest-drafted Dolphins tight end since 1974. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins’ top two picks in this year’s NFL Draft appear to be as good as everyone thought they were. That’s great when it comes to safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but it’s essential with tight end Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki, the second-rounder from Penn State, is immediately on the spot to earn the starting job and add something to the offense that Miami’s been missing for years. Tight end has been a hugely problematic position for this team, which hasn’t had a good one since Charles Clay in 2014.

At 6-foot-6, 249 pounds with exceptional athleticism, Gesicki could be the trend-breaker. He’s got great speed for the position and presents a big target in the red zone with his leaping ability. The main question has been whether he can handle everything thrown at him mentally at this level and master the playbook, and he seems to be progressing well in that department.

“He’s had some really good days,” coach Adam Gase said at the end of Organized Team Activities. “(Wednesday) was a good example where we had a two-minute drill and we had some things in the red zone where he was able to take advantage of a couple matchups that he had.

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“He’s aggressive to the ball and he can make plays. He’s a big man that can run and has really good hands. It’s been fun to watch him kind of develop and trying to learn this offense. He puts a lot of time into it. He’s trying to be one of those guys that can play fast.”
Gase added that Gesicki’s “been good” with the mental side of the game as well. He’s been putting in extra study time with fellow rookie tight end Durham Smythe in their hotel room. The players take turn calling out plays for the other one to draw up on a whiteboard.

Gesicki isn’t much of a blocker and he’s working on that, but the Dolphins didn’t draft him to block. He caught 105 balls for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final two college seasons, and that’s what they’re looking for out of him.

In the last three seasons, no Miami tight end has caught more than 41 passes and the position has been a glaring void in the offense. Julius Thomas’ season of that many catches, 388 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 was better than the Dolphins got out of Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims before him.

It’s not totally surprising given how little emphasis the organization has put on tight ends in the draft. Prior to this year, the Dolphins hadn’t selected one in the first three rounds since Michael Egnew in 2012. Gesicki is the third-highest picked tight end in franchise history.

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WSJ: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ anthem policy influenced by Donald Trump

Ross testified that Trump influenced his position on player protests. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has moved around on his position regarding players protesting during the national anthem, and a Wall Street Journal article revealed that Donald Trump had a substantial influence on his decision to require players to stand or remain in the locker room last season.

Ross, in a sworn deposition for Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL, said Trump’s comments to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were relayed to the rest of the ownership and changed the way he viewed players kneeling.

“I was totally supportive of (protesting players) until Trump made his statement,” Ross said in his deposition, according to the WSJ. “I thought he changed the dialogue.”

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs]

Ross also said he believed the protests were hurting the Dolphins financially.

His testimony was not a huge surprise considering Ross has occasionally mentioned Trump over the past two years and made a similar statement when the Dolphins enacted a stand-or-stay-in-the-locker-room rule last October. That came two weeks after Trump said players who kneel should be kicked out of the league and referred anyone who protests during the anthem as “a son of an (expletive).”

“It’s a different dialogue today,” Ross said before the Titans game Oct. 8. “Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different. (Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”

He added, “I really applaud those guys, but I think it’s different today from the standpoint of Trump has made it all about patriotism with the flag. I think it’s so important today, because that’s what the country’s looking at, that we look at it differently and there will be different ways of protesting or getting your cause out there by the athletes.”

That rule lasted less than a month before Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas convinced coach Adam Gase to rescind it, and the players continued kneeling the rest of the season. In his deposition, Ross indicated the decision to bar players from kneeling was his decision, not Gase’s as was conveyed at the time.

The NFL handed down a policy last week that essentially mirrored what the Dolphins attempted. Players are required to stand and “show respect” for the American flag during the anthem, remain out of sight. The league will fine organizations that have violations of the rule and allows teams to establish their own conduct guidelines as long as they’re consistent with the league’s.

When players began kneeling at the start of the 2016 season, Ross was arguably their most vocal supporter among the owners. He waited in the locker room in Seattle after the season opener to address the media and express that he stood by them.

“I don’t think it was any lack of respect,” he said. “I think everybody here on our team and this whole organization respects the flag and what it stands for and the soldiers and everything. These guys are making a conversation of something that’s a very important topic in this country, and I’m 100 percent supportive of them.

“It’s a country where you’re allowed to indicate what your preferences are and how your feelings are. That’s what makes it so great. I think it’s great and I applaud them for what they’re doing.”

Ross has supported the players’ cause in other ways through programs and scholarships locally, as well as through the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. His team also gave Stills the community service award each of the last two seasons.

On the anthem, though, he’s struggled to navigate the issue. He recently said he would insist that players stand, then followed that by saying his comments were misrepresented. He has not commented publicly about the new policy, which commissioner Roger Goodell claimed was unanimously supported by NFL owners.

[It was easy to forget about Dolphins LB Raekwon McMillan over the past year, but don’t sleep on him now]

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2018 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins need TE Mike Gesicki’s impact immediately

Tight end Mike Gesicki joins the Dolphins as a second-round pick. (Getty Images)

It won’t take much for new Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki to be considered a success. He might have extraordinary expectations, but the franchise’s standards at his position have been dangerously low for years.

As the tight ends have grown increasingly important in passing attacks league-wide, the Dolphins have been way behind. Their most recent failed experiments were Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron, and drafting Gesicki in the second round at No. 42 was a desperate attempt to finally find a long-term answer at the position.

Gesicki comes in from Penn State with basketball-style athleticism and a 6-foot-6, 249-pound frame. Over his junior and senior seasons, he combined for 105 receptions, 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He was first among tight ends at the NFL Combine in 40-yard dash with a time of 4.54 seconds, which was better than what some highly ranked wide receivers clocked. He also finished No. 1 in vertical leap (41.5 inches), broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle.

That’s a lot to work with, and the Dolphins get the opportunity to start shaping him when he arrives with the rest of the draftees next week for rookie minicamp. They’ll also bring in at least a dozen undrafted rookies.

Their hope for Gesicki, whom they chose over Dallas Goedert, is that he can provide a red zone threat that’s been missing at tight end for years.

Before this continues, a brief history of Miami Dolphins tight ends:

— Anyone 26 or younger has never witnessed the splendor of seeing one selected to the Pro Bowl.

— The franchise record for touchdown catches at the position is seven by Keith Jackson in 1994 and Anthony Fasano in 2008. Seven.

— Of the four previous tight ends they’ve drafted since 2010, Dion Sims topped out with a 26-catch season in 2016, Thomas Duarte has appeared in one game, Michael Egnew caught seven passes in two years before dropping out of the league and Arthur Lynch never made it.

— They’ve never picked one in the first round.

Absorb all that and it makes sense that Thomas’ 41 catches, 388 yards and three touchdowns actually qualified as a decent year by a Dolphins tight end. It was better than what they’d gotten from anyone else at the position since letting Charles Clay walk in free agency in 2015.

Coming into this year, it would’ve been more of the same. Miami’s best hope prior to the draft was A.J. Derby, a 26-year-old they got off waivers from the Broncos last season. He’s shown some promise on the practice field, but the Dolphins were his third team in two seasons and he’s got 37 career catches.

Behind Derby, the team would’ve gone into the upcoming season with MarQueis Gray (27 career receptions), Gavin Escobar (30) and Duarte (none). To say that tight end was a draft need would be putting it gently.

The Dolphins answered by taking Gesicki at No. 42, the third-highest they’ve ever picked a tight end, and adding Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe in the fourth round. Gesicki is the receiver of the two, and Smythe is the blocker.

They’ve bypassed some serious tight ends in the draft lately, including Ole Miss’ Evan Engram and University of Miami’s David Njoku a year ago in favor of drafting defensive end Charles Harris at No. 22. Engram went one pick later and put up 64 catches, 722 yards and six touchdowns for the Giants, while Njoku had a reasonably solid rookie year in Cleveland with 32, 386 and four.

Another notable miss came in 2013, when the Chiefs landed a generational tight end in Travis Kelce at No. 63 overall—nine picks after Miami took cornerback Jamar Taylor.

Clay was the last great find, emerging as an above-average tight end after the Dolphins scooped him up in the sixth round in 2011. He’s never made a Pro Bowl, though he did give Miami 127 catches, 1,364 yards and 10 touchdowns over the 2013 and ’14 seasons. Those numbers aren’t overwhelming, but only Randy McMichael had a better two-year run.

Clay left for Buffalo on a five-year, $38 million contract in 2015, and the Dolphins didn’t deem him special enough exercise their option to match the deal. Over the ensuing two years, Thomas was the best replacement Miami could find.

Thomas, by the way, was a player the Dolphins acquired because the Jaguars were about to waive him. He would’ve been in the free agency bargain bin had Miami not traded a seventh-rounder to get him, and that’s the kind of shopping this team doesn’t want to do anymore.

Now the Dolphins have their own young, gifted tight end and the chance to mold him into exactly what they need. In one sense, there’s little pressure on Gesicki because the standards haven’t been very high, but there’s also a lot riding on him finally being Miami’s breakthrough at a position that’s been problematic for a long time.

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2018 NFL free agents: Tight ends disappearing, Dolphins still need one

Jimmy Graham might’ve looked good in aqua and orange. (Getty Images)

Maybe this is the year the Dolphins finally spend a high draft pick on a tight end. It’s looking they won’t have a choice.

They weren’t players when it came to the top two free agents at the position, with Jimmy Graham going to Green Bay and Trey Burton landing in Chicago shortly after the legal tampering period opened.

There are still some worthwhile options, but none are sure bets.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins is only 25, but has never come close to reaching the potential Tampa Bay saw in him as a second-round pick in 2014. Spotrac estimates his market value at a tolerable $12.5 million over three years.

Martellus Bennett has been a monster in his career, but he’s 31, has injury concerns and was all set to retire until last month.

Tyler Eifert is a former first-round pick who’s had one good season in five years and underwent two surgeries in 2017. Spotrac predicts he’ll draw offers in the neighborhood of four years, $30 million, which would seem to rule him out for Miami.

Then there’s Ed Dickson, a guy who is turning 31 this summer and hasn’t had a 500-yard season since 2011. Last year, with Carolina, he had 30 catches for 437 yards and one touchdown. That’s not far off of what Julius Thomas gave the Dolphins last season.

Thomas is likely to be cut by the end of today, which leaves Miami with three tight ends on its roster: A.J. Derby (37 career catches), MarQueis Gray (27) and Thomas Duarte (none). The team could also explore re-signing Anthony Fasano, who is known more so as a run blocker and had 12 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown last year. He turns 34 next month and hasn’t said whether he’s going to keep playing.

“That’s always going to be a position we look at and try to figure out what’s going to be best for us,” coach Adam Gase said at the NFL Combine. “Any time that you can have a tight end that can be effective in the pass game and still be effective in the run game and pass protection, that’s what you want there. The last two years, we’ve had some movement where guys have been in and out. We’ll kind of see what happens this year.

“Picking up A.J. late last year was good for us. He did some things that really impressed us in practice and we tried to get him involved a little bit in a game.”

Furthermore, Miami is losing its best red-zone receiver and third-down hero in Jarvis Landry.

Tight end has been a long-neglected area for the Dolphins, who have never drafted one in the first round. Their most recent picks were Duarte (2016, seventh round), Arthur Lynch (2014, fifth round), Dion Sims (2013, fourth round), Michael Egnew (2012, third round). Sims, whose career-high in catches is 26, has been the best of the bunch. Lynch never played an NFL game, and Egnew lasted two years in the league.

The last time Miami took a tight end in the second round was when it selected Loaird McCreary in 1979, and the highest tight end it’s ever selected was second-rounder Jim Mandich at No. 29 overall in 1970.

They passed on Evan Engram and David Njoku in the first round last year to take defensive end Charles Harris. Engram, from Ole Miss, had 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns for the Giants. The last Dolphins tight end to put up those numbers was Charles Clay in 2013, and before him it was Randy McMichael in 2004.

In an era that has seen tight ends emerge as one of the most explosive threats on the field, the Dolphins are in the unenviable position of never having one and always getting crushed by someone else’s. If any team has seen the value of the tight end over the last several seasons, it’s this one.

Making matters worse, this is a tricky year for them to find one in the draft. With the No. 11 pick, they’re way too high to take one in the first round and probably can’t pass up the opportunity to land a top quarterback in that spot. Their second-round pick is No. 42, which might be too late to grab a top prospect like Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews or Dallas Goedert.

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Dolphins’ cuts of Julius Thomas, Lawrence Timmons show good planning, good luck

Lawrence Timmons goes down as a lucky break for the Dolphins. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Sometimes a team knows exactly what it’s doing and executes it exactly right. Other times, it’s just about catching a break.

In the case of the Dolphins’ one year with tight end Julius Thomas and linebacker Lawrence Timmons, it was some of each. They cut Timmons today and will let Thomas go shortly, saving around $10 million in salary cap space for the upcoming season. That’s important with free agency starting this week.

Both underachieved, but with Thomas the Dolphins were well-prepared for it. Jacksonville was prepared to cut him a year ago, when Miami was simultaneously about to do the same with left tackle Branden Albert, so the teams came up with the brilliant idea of trading them for each other. It’s worth keeping in mind that they gave up next to nothing to bring him aboard.

Thomas restructured his contract in a way that allowed the Dolphins to let him go after one year if things didn’t work out. Both sides hoped he’d rekindle the prolific production he had with Adam Gase in Denver. He never came close to the numbers he posted as a back-to-back Pro Bowler in 2013 and ’14: 152 catches, 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns.

He went almost the whole first half of last season without catching more than three passes in a game, and Gase constantly lamented that he wasn’t getting favorable coverages. That explanation was an obvious tip that Thomas wasn’t what he’d hoped Miami was getting. Dynamic pass-catching tight ends don’t care about favorable coverages.

His best day was against Oakland when he had six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He failed to top 60 yards in any other game.

Thomas had a good second half of the season and finished with 41 catches (out of 62 targets) for 388 yards and three touchdowns. On the plus side, that’s more production than Miami got out of any tight end the previous year. The position remains major issue that needs to be addressed in free agency or the draft.

Thomas, 29, will be a free agent now after averaging 39 receptions, 374.7 yards and four touchdowns per season since leaving Denver. It’s possible he could return to the Dolphins if he’s willing to come back for significantly less than what he would’ve made, but quite frankly, the team badly needs someone better and younger.

With regard to Timmons, one of the weirdest, most frustrating things to happen to the Dolphins in their recent history turned out to be one of their luckiest breaks.

Remember when Timmons shockingly went AWOL the night before the season opener against the Chargers? Not only did he desert, he did it at a point in time that prevented the Dolphins from adding a practice squad player to replace him.

That seemed like one of the dirtiest things a player could do to his team, but the truth is Timmons did them an incredible favor. As part of his reinstatement to the Dolphins, they were able to make the second season of his contract nonguaranteed, a league source confirmed.

He’d almost certainly still be on the team this season if it wasn’t for that, and a 32-year-old linebacker who ran out of gas late last year is something Miami decidedly doesn’t need.

His original two-year, $12 million deal was guaranteed for all but $1 million and almost certainly would’ve forced the Dolphins to keep him this year at an $8.2 million cap hit. That contract was a mistake in hindsight, but Timmons let them off the hook.

Did he do much else for them? Yes. Timmons wasn’t nearly the letdown Thomas was. He put up 84 tackles and three pass breakups in his lone season with the Dolphins after a decade in Pittsburgh. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 67 linebacker in the NFL last year. Considering some of the alternatives, Miami could’ve done worse than Timmons.

Going forward, the team is counting on a resurgent season by Kiko Alonso and an impressive talent in Raekwon McMillan, the 2017 second-round draft pick who would’ve been a starter last year had he not torn his ACL in the first preseason game.

Miami still has other cost-cutting moves to consider. The next big question is whether to rescind right tackle Ja’Wuan James’ $9.3 million team option, followed by navigating the complexities of free agency.

Regardless of those decisions, the Dolphins are better off without Timmons and Thomas on the field, and markedly better off financially. Some of it was savvy and some of it was silver lining, but both exits clear the way for them to fix two highly problematic spots on their roster.

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NFL national anthem protest: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says no kneeling

Stephen Ross is against the players kneeling in 2018. (Getty Images)

[Update, March 6, 11:25 a.m.: Ross said this morning he does not intend to require players to stand for the national anthem.]

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has gone back and forth on the issue of NFL players protesting racial inequality over the past two years by kneeling during the national anthem. He was once one of the most outspoken owners in support of those players, but now is firmly against those demonstrations.

Ross told the New York Daily News on Monday that “all of our players will be standing” when Miami begins the 2018 season.

Several Dolphins players have kneed during the anthem during the last two seasons. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who won the team’s award for community service each year, has been kneeling since the 2016 opener. Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster, Laremy Tunsil, Jay Ajayi, Maurice Smith, Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Phillips have also protested during the anthem, and a few of those players are expected to still be on the team this year.

The organization did not immediately return a request to clarify or elaborate on Ross’ comments.

Stills has not directly responded to Ross’ comments, but tweeted out a video this morning of comedian Dave Chappelle talking about white people’s outrage over the protests.

As he did last fall, when the team briefly banned kneeling, Ross is siding with Donald Trump’s position. Trump has ripped anthem protests repeatedly, and Ross believes he turned the issue into one of patriotism and supporting the military.

“When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling,” Ross said. “I like Donald. I don’t support everything he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.”

Ross added that he remains in communication with Trump. He made those comments after being honored in New York by the Jackie Robinson Foundation for championing equality.

Last week, in an appearance on CNBC with defensive end Cameron Wake at his side, Ross praised Trump for the thriving stock market. When asked to give him a grade as president, he said it was too early to tell.

“Things are going well,” Ross said. “You can’t agree with some of the things, but Donald is really getting people to think differently.”

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s comments last September, Ross answered with a statement calling for “unifying leadership… not more divisiveness.” He defended kneeling players as “smart, young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone.”

Just two weeks later, Ross called for players to stop kneeling, and coach Adam Gase implemented a policy requiring that them to either stand for the anthem or remain in the tunnel.

“Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different,” Ross said then. “(Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”

Publicly and privately, players around the NFL have argued that Trump doesn’t get to determine the purpose of their protest or dictate the conversation around it.

Gase, had mostly avoided the topic since it surfaced in the summer of 2016 and said it wasn’t his place to limit players’ freedom of expression. When he banned kneeling, he refused to explain why he was doing so.

“I don’t need a reason,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Within a month, he reversed course. When Stills, Thomas and Thomas confronted Gase about the rule and said it was interfering with their pre-game routine, he rescinded it. He gave minimal explanation for that, too.

Gase said last week he would not be averse to drafting any players who want to protest during the national anthem.

“My biggest thing I’m looking for is–everything’s football related to me,” he said. “We support our guys when they do anything outside our building to try to help our community. In Kenny’s case, he’s really branched out to not only South Florida, outside of there. We’re very supportive of trying to help as many people as our players can try to reach. I feel like our guys do a really good job of that.”

Separately, Ross said he’s been in touch with former Yankees star Derek Jeter, who recently took over the Marlins and discussed some of the obstacles for a team succeeding in South Florida.

“Miami is a great city. It’s not a great sports town,” Ross told the Daily News. “They haven’t been winning. He has to start all over again. I think you have to be patient and give him the time it’s going to take to build a winner. He’s a very smart, capable guy. He was a great baseball player. Hopefully he’ll be a great executive. The best way to get a fan base is to win.”

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2018 NFL Draft: Are Miami Dolphins averse to players who protest?

The Dolphins have had multiple players protest during the national anthem the last two years. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS—It’s been a tense couple of years for the NFL when it comes to players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States, and the Dolphins have been right in the middle of it.

Owner Stephen Ross went back and forth on whether the players should kneel, and coach Adam Gase did the same. Gase instituted a policy requiring those players to remain in the locker room during the anthem, then rescinded it after a meeting initiated by Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas.

Gase reiterated throughout the last two seasons that anthem protests weren’t much of a concern to him overall and said today at the NFL Combine that it won’t factor into draft evaluations.

“My biggest thing I’m looking for is—everything’s football related to me,” he said. “We support our guys when they do anything outside our building to try to help our community. In Kenny’s case, he’s really branched out to not only South Florida, outside of there. We’re very supportive of trying to help as many people as our players can try to reach. I feel like our guys do a really good job of that.”

The Dolphins had several players kneel before last season’s game at the Jets, which came shortly after Donald Trump made derogatory comments about Colin Kaepernick and others who protest. One of those players was undrafted rookie Maurice Smith, and his choice did not jeopardize his standing on the roster in any way.

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Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

2018 NFL Draft: Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki talks with Dolphins

Penn State’s Mike Gesicki already has the Dolphins’ attention. (Getty Images)

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.

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[The Palm Beach Post‘s first 2018 NFL mock draft]

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2018 NFL Draft: Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli meets with Miami Dolphins

Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli could be a great pickup for the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

The only one who doesn’t seem to notice that Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli is missing a finger on his left hand is Troy Fumagalli.

He had his index finger amputated as an infant because he was born with Amniotic Banding Syndrome, the same disorder that cost UCF’s Shaquem Griffin his entire left hand, and has never known anything different. It’s not something Fumagalli thinks about until someone asks him how he overcame that disadvantage to become one of the most surehanded pass catchers in college football.

“I’m so used to it that it’s second nature to me,” he said recently.

Fumagalli is a compelling draft prospect for the Dolphins, who sat down with him at last month’s Senior Bowl. He’s 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, clamps down on the ball with a bear-like grip and starred for the Badgers at a major position of need for Miami.

Over his final two collegiate seasons, he caught 93 passes for 1,127 yards and six touchdowns while proving to be a reliable blocker as well. He had five games of 80-plus yards, including a seven-catch 84-yard performance against Ohio State as a junior and a 100-yard opener versus Utah State last year.

All of that makes him someone worth considering for the Dolphins, possibly in the third round of this year’s draft.

“You could basically throw a football anywhere,” his father Doug told ESPN last season. “He catches it with one hand. And he picks up the ball in flight very well. On some of those things, you can’t work at it. You either have it or not, and he just had it.”

That probably sounds amazing to Ryan Tannehill.

Tight end has been a void for Miami for most of its recent history, which is somewhat expected given the team has never drafted one in the first round and hasn’t chosen one in the second since 1979.

The Dolphins’ most recent tight end picks were Thomas Duarte (2016, seventh round), Arthur Lynch (2014, fifth), Dion Sims (2013, fourth) and Michael Egnew (2012, third). Egnew and Lynch are out of the league, Duarte has appeared in one game and Sims has never caught more than 26 passes in a season.

The all-time records for Dolphins tight ends are staggeringly low: Randy McMichael’s 2004 season holds the title for yards (791) and catches (73), and no one’s caught more touchdown passes at the position than Anthony Fasano’s seven in ’08. Over the past decade, the NFL has seen 61 seasons of 800-plus yards by a tight end, but none from Miami.

Fumagalli’s favorite players to study are Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, all of whom make South Florida jealous.

The Dolphins have been unsuccessful trying to solve this problem in free agency. Jordan Cameron underproduced his first season, then his career was ended by a concussion the next year. Miami coach Adam Gase thought he could rejuvenate Julius Thomas this season, but that never came together.

With few great options expected to be available in free agency, the Dolphins must consider spending one of their higher-round picks on a tight end. Other than the o-line, this is the most immediate need for their offense. They need a pass-catching tight end amid a promising group of skill players in Jarvis Landry (if he re-signs), Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Kenyan Drake.

While there don’t appear to be any tight ends in this draft class worth taking at No. 11, there’s a bevy of them expected to go in the second through fourth rounds. The Dolphins could hope for South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst at No. 42 overall or look for someone like Fumagalli in the middle rounds.

“I want to prove that I’m a complete tight end. I can do everything and do it well,” he said. “Regardless of what’s asked of me, I execute at a high level.”

[Column: Dolphins can’t turn down Colin Kaepernick as Ryan Tannehill’s backup]

[Jason Taylor weighs in on Jarvis Landry’s free agency saga]

[Dolphins WR DeVante Parker not off to great career start]

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NFL national anthem protest: Doug Baldwin praises Dolphins’ reversal

Baldwin admires what Thomas has been doing in South Florida. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

ORLANDO—The national anthem protests have been a polarizing issue in the NFL over the last two seasons, and the Dolphins have been right in the middle of it.

Miami has been among the most vocal teams, led primarily by safety Michael Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills, when it comes to taking a stance against social and racial injustice. Stills, Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas all kneeled during the national anthem this season, and a few other players joined them in the Week 3 game against the Jets after inflammatory remarks by Donald Trump.

Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin, who has also been active in the players’ movement, praised Thomas for making an impact.

“It’s fantastic when you have a guy who takes the time to be empathetic about other people’s plights and put himself in other people’s shoes and try to listen and learn as much as he can and try to effect change,” said Baldwin, who played with Thomas at Stanford.

The Dolphins’ story took a surprising turn, however, when the order came down for players to remain in the locker room if they intended to protest. Owner Stephen Ross said publicly it was time for them to stand in unity, and coach Adam Gase instituted it as a new team policy.

Shortly after that, though, the players met with Gase to express their displeasure with the rule. He reconsidered and allowed them to resume kneeling.

“It’s a step of empathy,” Baldwin said. “You have a lot of guys who are owners or coaches who are willing to hear the conversation and willing to listen, but the next step is toward them being empathetic. When they do that, it’s very easy for them to relate to guys and connect with guys in a passionate way like you’ve seen. It’s a hard step to take because it’s an unknown step at times.”

[Jarvis Landry stars in 2018 Pro Bowl, which could be his final game with Miami Dolphins]

[Jason Taylor weighs in on Jarvis Landry’s free agency saga]

[Dolphins legend Don Shula asks for patience for coach Adam Gase]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook