The Miami Dolphins got major contributions from their four first- and second-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft, and the hope is that third-round pick Hunter Long will join the party in his second season.
The tight end from Boston College had little impact as a rookie buried on the depth chart, but the Dolphins drafted him for a reason.
One reason for optimism, besides Long having gained a year of experience, is that he looks bigger and stronger than he did as a rookie.
To that end, Long figures to be much more effective if he's called on to block in 2022, something tight ends are expected to do in the offensive scheme that new head coach Mike McDaniel has brought with him from San Francisco.
Dolphins Have Same Tight End Group
The Dolphins still have the same five tight ends they had on the roster last season after re-signing Durham Smythe as a free agent and putting the franchise tag on Mike Gesicki, with Cethan Carter and Adam Shaheen the other two.
Long was behind all four last season, but he certainly would seem to have the opportunity to jump ahead of at least Carter and Shaheen in 2022 if he shows the desired improvement from last year.
It may be that Long could become the second receiving tight end at option behind Gesicki and the second blocking option behind Smythe, which certainly would make him valuable for the offense.
"I just need to show more what I can do," Long said. "And I'm confident I'll do it this year and carve out a role."
When talking about all the reasons for optimism for the 2022 offense, improvement from Long isn't typically — if ever — mentioned, but it still could be a factor.
Looking Back at Hunter Long's Rookie Season
Let's face it, pretty much anything the Dolphins can get from Long will be an improvement from last season when Long had one catch for 8 yards all season.
It wasn't a totally wasted rookie year for Long, however.
"Yeah, I mean, I learned a lot on and off the field," Long said. "I mean, it's a huge, huge growing phase for anyone to make that leap. And I learned a lot about myself and what I can do, and my work ethic hasn't changed. I'm gonna come out and do what I do, and how much I plan and when, that's up to them. So I'm gonna keep doing what I can do and try to help the team as much as I can."
Long is listed at 6-5, 253 on the Dolphins roster, which are his same dimensions as last year. But his body absolutely looks different.
"I definitely bulked up," he said. "I haven't gained much weight, but I gained some gain some muscle, lost some fat. Just trying to do what I can do. I tried to attack it this offseason and I'm gonna keep attacking it.
"Everyone kind of watches their own tape and everyone can see it on tape. So those were changes that I felt I needed and I tried to attack it."
Whether a stronger, more experienced Long will mean a better, more productive Long for the offense remains to be seen. But if that happens, it will be just one more added piece for a Dolphins offense already filled with promise.