Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had a 2016 season worthy of being named the best in the Big Ten. It didn’t happen, but he could aim a little higher next season.
Gesicki has a chance to be the best tight end in America in 2017.
Michigan’s Jake Butt earned Big Ten tight end of the year honors, which is officially called the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year Award. Butt and Gesicki had similar numbers, though Penn State’s tight end had nearly 100 more receiving yards and a clear advantage in difficult, leaping catches downfield in traffic.
Penn State's Mike Gesicki made a jaw-dropping one-handed catch in the win over Temple! ?? pic.twitter.com/tRNhOSOsUm
— Campus Insiders (@CampusInsiders) September 17, 2016
Amazed by Trace McSorley's ability to keep eyes down field, and great catch by Gesicki between two defenders for TD: pic.twitter.com/m8rDutWxQh
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) November 27, 2016
It’s weird to give out an award when there are still games left to play. That’s been a thing in college football for a long time, so Gesicki’s work in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl did not count toward the award.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 4, 2016
Mike Gesicki is something else. My lord. pic.twitter.com/mw739xqT3a
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) January 2, 2017
Butt was also the returning winner of the award, and if the numbers are close the more recognizable name is going to win more often than not. Gesicki might be on the other side of one of those types of decisions in 2017 after his star-making performance for the Nittany Lions this past season.
Gesicki finished the 2016 campaign with 48 catches, a school-record 679 receiving yards (for a tight end) and five touchdowns. He had a highlight-reel touchdown catch in each of Penn State’s final three games.
At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, he became a matchup nightmare for defenses trying to deal with Joe Moorhead’s spread-’em-out-and-throw-it-deep attack. Gesicki’s ability to go up and snatch the ball out of traffic became a great asset for Trace McSorley, particularly when he needed to move around to find more time to throw the ball.
With Chris Godwin off to the NFL, Gesicki is Penn State’s leading returning receiver for next season. While younger receivers like Irv Charles and Juwan Johnson are expected to help replace Godwin and support DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall, Gesicki could emerge as the go-to option in the passing game in 2017.
Moorhead’s offense can lead to spreading the ball around to a variety of targets in the passing game, but he’s also been adaptable depending on the talent available. Five different players had between 31 and 37 catches for Fordham in 2015 when Moorhead was the coach there, but the Rams also ran the ball 57 percent of the time.
When Moorhead had an experienced quarterback in 2014, Fordham threw the ball 51.3 percent of the time and the Rams had three players with more than 60 catches and 1,000 yards.
Who could be Gesicki’s top competition for first-team All-America honors next season? Here’s a few candidates:
Adam Breneman, Massachusetts
Penn State fans know Breneman well. He came to State College with Christian Hackenberg, but injuries derailed his career. He retired from football, but then returned in 2016 at UMass and caught 70 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State
Samuels is a versatile guy, a tight end/H-back type who also lines up in the backfield in certain packages. He had 55 catches for 565 yards and seven touchdowns last season and also ran the ball 33 times with six more scores. His quarterback, Ryan Finley, is back as well.
Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
Hurst had 48 catches for 616 yards last season, which is pretty close to what Gesicki had. He also had a freshman quarterback for part of the season who actually should have been a senior in high school (Jake Bentley graduated a year early). The Gamecocks could be one of the most improved offenses in the country next year, and Hurst should benefit.
Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Nauta was the top tight end prospect in the 2016 recruiting class, and he collected 29 catches as a true freshman. He and fellow freshman Jacob Eason are going to be a big reason why the Bulldogs could win the SEC East in 2017.
Marcus Baugh, Ohio State
Baugh had 24 catches for 269 yards and two touchdowns last season. That’s not a lot, but the Buckeyes’ top three receivers are all gone. Also, Kevin Wilson has arrived and could help the passing game become dynamic again after a lackluster 2016.
Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
Serigne used to be one of McSorley’s top targets in high school and remains one of his best friends. He had 54 catches as a freshman, but his total has dropped each of the past two years. Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford will be a senior in 2017, and this team certainly seems likely to complete more than 190 passes next season.