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Steelers

Ultra-athletic Penn State product Mike Gesicki catching up on his blocking

Joe Rutter
| Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 6:48 p.m.

The scouting report on Penn State's Mike Gesicki is he's arguably the best pass-catching tight end in his draft class.

The knock on Gesicki is this:

When it comes to blocking, Gesicki is, well, arguably the best pass-catching tight end in his draft class.

Gesicki can do amazing things when the football is in the air. It's the main reason he is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft.

Gesicki is less developed when it comes to pushing around defenders in the running game, and it's that deficiency that has kept him from receiving a first-round grade from talent evaluators.

The 6-foot-5, 247-pound tight end acknowledges he has work to do in that department.

“There are a lot of questions about my blocking,” Gesicki said at the NFL Combine in March. “Do I even want to do it, and do I take pride in it? And the answer's yes.”

A quarterback and wide receiver in high school, Gesicki didn't start playing tight end until he reported to Penn State for his freshman season. He quickly picked up the nuances of catching passes.

Blocking? Not so much.

“In terms of run-blocking, I've only really been doing it for two-and-a-half, three years, so I'm going to get better each and every rep,” Gesicki said. “That's just what I want — a team to trust and believe in me.”

Gesicki is hardly the only unpolished tight end in his group. Most draft analysts have just one tight end going in the first round, South Carolina's Hayden Hurst, who is 24 and spent a few years pitching in the Pirates farm system before going to college.

The next tier includes Gesicki, South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert and Oklahoma's Mark Andrews.

“They're all matchup tight ends,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Think of Zach Ertz in Philadelphia as a potential example. So, if you're going to bring one in at a high level, you have to have a commitment to block, in addition to just being a pass catcher.”

The other phases of Gesicki's game are above reproach. In his final two seasons at Penn State, Gesicki combined for 105 receptions for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Gesicki said he was motivated by a frustrating sophomore season in which he had just 13 catches and more drops than he cares to count.

“I wasn't really playing to my full potential,” he said. “Going through that adversity and those kind of struggles, it made me work harder. There were times I'd go over to the building at 11 o'clock at night and our coaches would find out the next day and were like, ‘Hey, what are you doing in the building? Aren't you supposed to be asleep?'

“I pride myself in my work ethic, so I'm going to outwork anybody and everybody in order to get where I need to go and achieve what I want to achieve.”

Case in point was Gesicki's performance at the NFL Combine. Of the seven measured categories in which he participated, Gesicki finished first in six of the them. In the bench press, his 22 repetitions were one behind Goedert's total.

Not only did Gesicki run a 4.54 40-yard dash, which was .03 seconds faster than Antonio Brown's tested number from 2010, his 41.5-inch vertical jump was a half inch higher than Penn State teammate Saquon Barkley's top leap.

Gesicki attributes his leaping ability to his basketball and volleyball background in high school. He received college scholarship offers in both sports.

“In basketball, going up to get a rebound or going up to attack the rim or dunk on somebody,” he said. “In volleyball, going up for a spike. Getting to the highest point and hand-eye coordination, just everything that those games have to offer, I've been able to translate that to football.”

In the NFL, those skills could give Gesicki an advantage over safeties and linebackers assigned to cover him.

“When the ball's in the air, I consider it mine,” he said. “I don't believe in the whole 50-50 ball. It's more, from my perspective, 80-20, in that range.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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