The buzz surrounding Rico Gathers has been building steadily this off-season after the 6-foot-6, 290-pound tight end spent his first year in the NFL on Dallas’ training squad. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Gathers didn’t even play football in college, opting instead to pursue a basketball career while at Baylor. After realizing it was unlikely that he would find his way onto an NBA team, he took the bold step of declaring himself eligible for the NFL Draft instead. Gathers’ unique blend of size and speed intrigued the Cowboys enough to take a chance on him, effectively acknowledging that Gavin Escobar, the tight end they spent a second-round draft pick on during the 2013 NFL Draft and who many believed that Dallas was grooming to take over for Jason Witten down the road, was not in their future plans. Ultimately, Escobar signed with Kansas City during this year’s offseason.
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
Gathers isn’t yet ready to challenge Witten for starting snaps, no player would be ready after completely foregoing a college football career. As I mentioned at the opening of this piece, he spent his entire first season as an NFL player on the Cowboys’ practice squad, playing only 16 snaps during the preseason and never dressing for a single regular season game. However, successful dynasty teams are forged by looking beyond the here and now and seeing what other owners don’t yet see.
So what is it I think I see and why is this important for all DLF readers? Well, admittedly, maybe nothing. There is smoke here but no flames yet. I want to be clear this is a speculative play, but one worth keeping on your radar. First, those 16 plays Gathers played all of last preseason, well he quadrupled that output in just the first preseason game against Arizona on August 3rd. Gathers looked very impressive and was targeted four times, hauling in three receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. The one target he didn’t haul in was a catchable pass either.
Now, I hear what you’re saying, “Ghost, it’s just a preseason game, the first one played at that!” I get it, I really do, I feel the same way. However, there is more at play here than just a single preseason game. For instance, Witten is currently 35-years-old, the oldest starting skill player on the Cowboys roster and his 15 years in the NFL top all players on the roster. His 223 games played places him as the fourth-highest player among all tight ends to have ever played in the NFL. If he can play even 12 games this season he will surpass Pete Metzelaars for third among all tight ends. How can I put this nicely? Witten isn’t getting any younger. Dallas also appears to be actively looking to get younger, with the team’s average age trickling downward over the past three years and with Tony Romo retiring this off-season, they may end up as the youngest team in the league when all is said and done at the end of the preseason.
While I’m on the subject of Romo, it was him that helped mentor Gathers last season as he found himself in charge of the practice team after losing his job to Dak Prescott. Cowboys beat writers spoke regularly about how often Gathers would be targeted by Romo during practice. According to many who followed Dallas practices regularly, Gathers was by far Romo’s favorite target and the two often talked on the sidelines and hung out together off the field. It’s hard for Gathers to not soak in some of the wisdom Romo has about the game, but what of the current Cowboys’ signal caller Prescott? What does he think of Gathers? Well, Prescott too has nothing but good things to say about the massive upside Gathers holds.
“Throw him the ball up high, give him a chance and he’s going to come down with the rebound. There are great tight ends in this league that are Hall of Famers that were basketball players. Not putting that on Rico, but I’m just saying that he’s got something those guys got. He’s just got to keep improving.”
Gathers and Prescott have been building a bond off the field as well as both players roomed together during their rookie minicamp last year and have a friendly rivalry regarding which of the two is the better basketball player.
Basketball has been pivotal to projecting how Gathers could make an impact in the NFL. Many elite tight ends have had basketball careers before transitioning to the NFL, something Prescott alluded to in his quote. Chief among those basketball-trained tight ends are Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. Each of those players seem destined for Canton. There is obviously a very long way to go before Gathers can be even mentioned among those names but his basketball career might hold some interesting information that we can glean about his future in the NFL. First, Gathers holds the Baylor school record for most rebounds in a career. His ability to box out opponents while going up to get the ball is an obvious translatable skill. Over his four-year career he tallied 1,134 rebounds, absolutely eclipsing Graham (502), Gates (663) and Gonzalez (356), all who played the forward as Gathers did. His ability to block shots, another skill which requires the ability to get vertical, also looks quite favorable, with only Graham (104) surpassing Gathers’ 96 career blocks, while Gates (30) and Gonzalez (12) lagged far behind.
Two of the most intriguing aspects of Gathers’ build, beyond his incredible height and weight combination, is his arm length and hand measurement. His arms are an incredible 35 inches long and his hands are each 11.2 inches long! These measurements are absolutely insane and his arms were longer than any tight end in his draft class, his hands are bigger than all but one tight end prospect in the past five draft classes (Michael Roberts – 2017). The catch radius this man can bring to bear is staggering and perhaps one of the most impressive ever in the NFL. On natural talent alone he has the potential to redefine the tight end position in his image, if he can put some finesse around his game then we don’t have a way to describe how he can transform the game.
However, just as Prescott said, “Not putting that on Rico.” I, too, am not going to put those expectations on him. I do, however, feel very confident in recommending that anyone reading this article go out and find a way to stash Gathers on your squad. He might not blow up this year but he is a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode. Perhaps my original analogy describes him better:
Beware, a storm Gathers, don’t be left out in the cold.