There hasn’t been a local player taken in the first round of the NFL draft since Cleveland took running back William Green (Atlantic City, Holy Spirit High School) 16th overall in 2002.
Tight end Mike Gesicki, a Southern Regional graduate from Stafford Township, might end that drought this year.
Not only that, he could be playing for the Eagles.
“Philly Special” star Trey Burton is expected to leave via free agency. Brent Celek told ESPN.com he wants to keep playing, but it might be for another team, considering he’s 33 years old, caught just 13 passes last season and is due $4 million next season.
If that happens, it leaves standout Zach Ertz, 2017 practice squad project Billy Brown and former Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba.
They could use their first-round pick, No. 32, overall on Gesicki, a 6-foot-5, 252-pounder from Penn State who vaulted up the draft boards in the wake of his terrific performance at the NFL scouting combine last weekend.
He wowed NFL coaches and scouts in Indianapolis, running the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds while recording a vertical leap of 41½ inches, a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump and performing 22 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
He was first among tight ends in five of the six categories, falling one rep short of South Dakota State prospect Dallas Goedert. His vertical leap was a half-inch farther than Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who could be the first overall draft pick this year.
“So you had to just go and get that 41.5,” Barkley wrote to Gesicki on Twitter. “Couldn’t be happy with 41 smh.”
Those of us who watched him play football, basketball and volleyball for Southern weren’t surprised by the numbers.
As a wide receiver at Southern, Gesicki had 103 receptions for 1,817 yards with 16 touchdowns. But as good as he was, he was better at the other sports.
During his senior basketball season in 2014, Gesicki scored 20 points on a mixture of 3-pointers, dunks and acrobatic drives to lead the Rams to a 57-56 upset at two-time defending state champion Atlantic City in the South Jersey quarterfinals. He finished his basketball career with a school-record 1,867 points.
Two months later, he led the Rams volleyball team to their second straight state championship.
“Jumping has always come pretty natural for me, and it’s only improved as time’s gone on,” Gesicki told Pro Football Talk at the Combine. “It’s something that I’ve been able to implement into my game on the field.”
The numbers he put up at the combine aren’t the ones that matter most, however.
As former Eagles defensive end Mike Mamula infamously proved a few years ago, players who train specifically for those drills can turn in impressive times and measurements.
Similarly, the football-specific workouts conducted there prove nothing. Quarterbacks are throwing passes and receivers are running routes with no duress. There are no blitzing linebackers applying pressure, no cornerbacks chucking at the line of scrimmage. Players are wearing shorts and T-shirts, as if they’re preparing for a game of two-hand touch on the beach in Margate.
As Draftcountdown.com analyst Scott Wright noted on 97.3’s “Sports Bash” Monday, quarterbacks are throwing “against air.”
You want to see if a player is ready for the NFL? Turn on his college tapes. Watch how Gesicki played for Penn State the last two seasons. After struggling as a sophomore, he rebounded to catch a combined 105 passes for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior and senior.
He was also a standout in the classroom.
“Proud of how Mike has worked extremely hard to maximize his God-given talent,” Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne wrote on Twitter. “Complete package who also graduated in 3.5 years with a 3.2+ GPA.”
He also appears to have the right attitude.
Like Ertz and other NFL tight ends, Gesicki was not asked to do much blocking in college. His size, strength and leaping ability made him a valuable part of Penn State’s passing game.
That’s also likely to be his role in the NFL, but he won’t mind be part of the running game as well.
“There are a lot of questions about my blocking,” Gesicki told the Allentown Morning Call at the combine. “Do I even want to do it, and do I take pride in it? And the answer’s yes.”
By virture of winning Super Bowl LII, the Eagles have the last pick in the first round. Tight end is among a number of positions that need depth, such as offensive tackle, defensive tackle and linebacker.
I think Gesicki would be a great catch.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)