Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
33. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki
6-foot-5, 247 pounds
Key stats: Finished his Penn State career with at least one catch in 27 straight games. Also set school record for tight ends with 15 career receiving touchdowns.
The skinny: Three- and four-star prep recruit chose Penn State (over Ohio State and some other top schools) to play football, but he also was a star in volleyball and basketball, earning the 2013 New Jersey prep Player of the Year award and won the 2014 state dunk contest in hoops. Once in Happy Valley, he played all 13 games as a true freshman, starting one and catching 11 passes for 114 yards. As a sophomore in 2015, Gesicki started eight-of-12 games and caught 13 passes for 125 yards and a TD.
In 2016, Gesicki was named honorable mention All-Big Ten after starting all 14 games and catching 48 passes for 679 yards and five TDs. As a senior in 2017 he set school season records for touchdown catches by a tight end (nine) and receiving yardage by a tight end (679) and was named first-team All-Big Ten (media) and second-team all-conference (coaches).
Gesicki, who turns 23 in October, won the program’s Quarterback Club Award (given to seniors who deserve special recognition) and was named Academic All-Big Ten. He was a standout at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine.
Upside: Exceptional athletic ability for the position — ranked in the 95th percentile or better among combine tight ends since 1999 in the 3-cone drill, shuttle drills and jumping drills. Finished just outside that range with his 4.54-second 40-yard dash and turned in a pleasantly surprising 22 reps on the bench press.
Long arms and big hands — gives a wide catching radius and can go up and get jump balls. Might possess the best true balls skills of any TE in this class. Gets open with ease against linebackers and safeties. Couldn’t be covered one-on-one at the Senior Bowl. Lined up wide, in the slot, in-line and as an offset fullback. Learned two different offensive systems at PSU.
Natural hands — failed to haul in only three catchable passes (out of 83 targets) last season, and none were sheer drops. Has refined his route-running skills. Subtle head fakes and loose hips can shake defenders at the stem of his routes. Developed into one of the country’s best red-zone targets last season. Natural body control, athleticism and wingspan to outleap almost any defender he’s matched up against.
Watch here as he sells the run fake, blows by the flatfooted Maryland defender and hauls in the tough catch in the back of the end zone:
Downside: Never was showcase weapon in college — only caught more than five passes in a game once (out of 45 contests) and never had more than 89 yards in a game. For all his athleticism, Gesicki was not a big-play specialist — only one career reception went for longer than 35 yards. Rarely featured and often asked to run basic flat routes. Will need to expand his route diversity in the NFL.
Could stand to be more physical as a receiver — needs to learn how to outmuscle corners and safeties on balls in the target area. Can do a better job of adjusting to passes in traffic.
Not a blocker at all, especially in the run game. Gives acceptable effort but just can’t move people. Lacks core and lower-body strength to be true in-line tight end. Narrow, high-cut frame. Also lacks technique and confidence as a blocker. Watch here as he gets decent position to block Northwestern reserve defensive end Alex Miller on the draw play, but Gesicki (No. 88) lunges and lets Miller shove him into the backfield, with only Saquon Barkley’s brilliance allowing him to run for a touchdown:
Best-suited destination: Gesicki will be favored by teams seeking a seam and red-zone threat to stretch defenses that are not as concerned about his lack of blocking prowess. Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
Quotable: “I don’t have him that high. I gave Jordan Cameron [an undrafted grade] coming out, and he’s that type of player. Really athletic but a one-trick pony. [Our coach] wants our tight ends to block a little more.” — NFC national scout
Player comp: Jimmy Graham
Expected draft range: Top 40 pick
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
38. Stanford DT Harrison Phillips
37. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard
36. Stanford S Justin Reid
35. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby
34. SMU WR Courtland Sutton