Fantasy Football: Mike Gesicki Is in Store for a Breakout 2020 Campaign
The Miami Dolphins drafting of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa seems to be ushering in a brave new era for the team after what seems like decades of ineptitude. The Dolphins have been searching for a true franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season. Tagovailoa can be the one to end this wait.
However, in 2020, the Dolphins player that I'm most excited about in fantasy was already on the roster before Tagovailoa heard Roger Goodell call his name. That player is tight end Michael Gesicki.
As a rookie in 2018, Gesicki caught just 22 passes for 202 scoreless yards. Allied to this, Gesicki's production in the first half of 2019 was beginning to make him look like a bust. In the first eight weeks of the season, Gesicki had a mere 15 receptions for 153 yards and was still waiting to find the endzone for the first time in the NFL.
As bad as his counting stats were, his per-play efficiency was downright awful. Gesicki averaged 0.39 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target in his first seven games -- which would've ranked 36th among the 38 tight ends with at least 40 targets on the season -- and a putrid -0.07 Target NEP per target -- would've ranked 37th out of 38. He was well off anyone's fantasy radar, with just two instances of 8.1 PPR points.
But something suddenly clicked for Gesicki after the midpoint of the season. Over the remaining nine weeks, Gesicki hauled in 36 passes for 417 yards. He also found the endzone five times, helping him to amass the eighth-most fantasy points among all tight ends for the second half of the season.
His efficiency output was greatly improved too, with him averaging 0.56 Reception NEP per target and 0.13 Target NEP per target.
Gesicki's success was based mostly on volume. He saw the eighth-most targets among all tight ends with 89 looks. And of the 27 tight ends with at least 75 targets, Gesicki finished 23rd in Reception NEP and 25th in Target NEP.
However, when it comes to fantasy football, volume will always trump efficiency. If this is the case, then Gesicki is an excellent bet to be a late-round tight end to target. The Dolphins did practically nothing to bolster their offensive skill positions in free agency or the draft, instead choosing to run it back again in 2020 with the players they had last year.
The Dolphins have 67 vacated targets from last season, the 25th fewest among all NFL teams. This means that Gesicki doesn't face insurmountable target competition. He'll be competing with DeVante Parker, who enjoyed a breakout season of his own in 2019, Preston Williams, and Albert Wilson. Williams and Wilson combined for just 75 receptions, 779 yards, and 4 scores in 2019.
While the players competing for targets with Gesicki are not exactly Hall of Famers, there is one small factor that slightly concerns me. That factor is Williams. Gesicki's second-half of the season form coincided with Williams's missing time due to injury. Indeed, Gesicki's splits with and without Williams make for interesting reading.
|With Williams||Without Williams|
|Targets per Game||4.4||7.25|
|Recs per Game||3||3.75|
|Yards per Game||35.4||40.2|
|TDs per Game||0||0.62|
|PPR per Game||6.5||11.5|
However, if Gesicki is going to be manning the slot in three-wide receiver sets, then he is likely to see plenty of playing time. Plus, Williams did tear his ACL in Week 9 of the 2019 season, so his readiness for the start of the season has to be in some doubt.
Role and Other Factors
The Dolphins are expected to deploy Gesicki out of the slot in 2020, furthering the role he created for himself last season. The 24-year-old played 222 snaps in the slot in 2019, according to PlayerProfiler -- third-most among all tight ends. Gesicki averaged the fifth-most fantasy points per slot target among tight ends with at least 50 targets. He provides quite the mismatch inside, given that he is likely bigger than most cornerbacks and faster than most safeties. Gesicki ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2018.
The truncated offseason, allied to the lingering question of whether or not Tagovailoa will start immediately, further enhances Gesicki's appeal for me, as he already has an established relationship with the Dolphins' presumed starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick averaged a robust 7.47 adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Gesicki last season.
The appointment of Chan Gailey as the Dolphins offensive coordinator might give people more reason to discount Gesicki. Like Bruce Arians, Gailey has a reputation as a coach who seemingly has little need for a pass-catching tight end in his offense. In his 14 seasons as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator, Gailey has only had a tight end top 43 receptions once.
However, to suggest that he would ignore a talented tight end out of sheer scheme bias would be inaccurate. Gailey was the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2008 when Tony Gonzalez posted a 96 catch, 1,058-yard season with 10 touchdowns. While his other tight ends may not have caught a whole lot of passes, they did catch their fair share of touchdowns. A tight end caught at least 6 touchdowns in 5 of Gailey's 14 seasons.
Gesicki is currently being taken outside of the top 12 tight ends over at the FFPC, behind players such as Jared Cook, Hayden Hurst and Austin Hooper. These are players with much stiffer competition for targets than Gesicki, and I would look to take him ahead of this trio. Our projections also have Gesicki finishing outside of TE1 airspace. Our Editor-in-Chief, JJ Zachariason, projects Gesicki to post 56.4 receptions for 617.4 yards and 4.2 scores. That would've amounted to TE11 in 2019.
However, from an upside point of view, given how much volume he is likely to command, Gesicki could seriously outperform our projections and become a true stud at fantasy football's most volatile spot.