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2016 Season Offensive MVP: The Case for Mike Gesicki

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The tight end went from zero to hero and took Penn State’s offense with him on that journey.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big questions for Penn State this offseason will be if the team's offensive breakout in 2016 will translate to success in 2017. There are more than enough starters returning to prevent serious regression, but football doesn't always work out the way it looks like it might on paper. Just look at the career arcs of Christian Hackenberg and J.T. Barrett. Both guys were starters at quarterback for multiple years and both guys didn't exactly improve as they gained experience in the Big Ten.

Critics of Penn State football say that Joe Moorhead's offense was over-reliant on the deep ball in 2016 and due for a reality check in the upcoming season, but throwing the ball "up for grabs" isn't much of a gamble when you've got huge targets like tight end Mike Gesicki returning to the lineup.

After a 2015 campaign in which he caught 13 passes and seemed to drop at least one per game, the junior out of Manahawkin, New Jersey was arguably Trace McSorley's most reliable target last season with 48 catches — many of which were in traffic — for 679 yards and five touchdowns.

Gesicki may have been second on the team behind Chris Godwin in all those categories, but he was the best of Penn State's receivers at turning an apparent prayer of a throw into a long completion. And in case you didn't catch many of the Nittany Lions' games this year, the offense was very reliant on long completions.

With Gesicki set to return for his senior season this autumn, he has the chance to become Penn State's leading receiver and work on becoming a more complete tight end. Before the Rose Bowl, he talked about what he can improve on in 2017.

"One thing would be, which I think I've done all season long, which I think I've improved on all season long would be run after the catch ability," Gesicki said. "I think it's gotten a lot better. I used to be kind of catch ball, tackle, whatever it was. Now I've shown I can be physical, you know. I can get some yards after the catch. I can break a tackle here and there, things like that. I'm going to focus on yards after the catch. And then, obviously, continue to improve in blocking," he continued. "Rather than just being satisfied with stalemating, I want to get some more movement. That's obviously going to also come from the weight room and getting bigger, stronger, all that kind of stuff."

Gesicki was a Penn State MVP candidate this year because of his ability to leap past defenders and catch the ball before they have a chance to touch it. Next year, he can be even more valuable by helping McSorley complete passes closer to the line of scrimmage and helping Saquon Barkley gain yards more consistently.

He’ll have momentum on his side after catching touchdown passes in each of Penn State’s last three games. And if Gesicki takes another leap forward in 2017, the offense may follow suit once again.