A Dallas Cowboys insider shares a story about the development of the team’s 2016 sixth round selection and former basketball player turned tight end Rico Gathers.
If you are the final player selected in the NFL Draft, they call you Mr. Irrelevant. If you are the final selection by an NFL franchise, your chances of making the team’s roster are likely slim. And if you are attempting to make the transition from college basketball back to football, a sport you haven’t played since middle school, and you’re the team’s last pick in the draft: then your chances of making an NFL roster are minuscule.
Despite the long odds, former Baylor basketball star Rico Gathers attempted just that, declaring himself eligible during last year’s NFL Draft. Despite not having played football since the eighth grade, the Dallas Cowboys saw enough potential in Gathers to selected him with their final pick in the sixth round, 217th overall. That also happened to be Dallas’ final selection in that draft.
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The very definition of a developmental player, the 6-6, 273 pound Gathers is a tremendous athlete for his size. The All-American power forward known for his gritty play and defensive prowess, is attempting to transition to the NFL in a similar fashion as other former basketball stars like the San Diego Chargers Antonio Gates or the Seattle Seahawks Jimmy Graham.
Gathers spent his rookie season on the Cowboys practice squad, learning what it takes to become an elite tight end in the NFL. And he likely had the best teachers in the league to help him progress. Cowboys tight end coach Mike Pope is a legend, having guided players like Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey during his stints with the New York Giants. The 23-year old Gathers also gets to study a future Hall of Famer in Jason Witten on a daily basis.
According to one Cowboys insider, veteran quarterback Tony Romo is also helping to bring the inexperienced Gathers along. While running the scout team last season, Romo apparently made the rookie tight end his favorite target, causing headaches for Dallas’ secondary.
"“I will say this. I had people come up to me and say, cause I was always curious about Rico [Gathers], I had people come up to me and say ‘You ought-of seen what [Tony] Romo did with him today,” football analyst Bryan Broaddus remarked during an episode of The Draft Show this week. “Cause Romo was with him on scout team. And Romo just kept throwing him the ball because he was so much bigger. He was battling [Barry] Church, he’s battling [Byron] Jones, he’s battling [J.J.] Wilcox and [Jeff] Heath. The kid just kept making plays. The problem is not the athletic ability, it’s the mental side…he just hasn’t played football”"
Broaddus went on to talk about how much Romo just lit Gathers up, as the veteran quarterback surely enjoyed playing with such a large, athletic target. But the former scout also warned that the still raw prospect will likely not be ready to step up and play a major role in 2017. But it’s hard not to get excited about the possibility of adding a hyper-athletic tight end to the Cowboys already explosive offense. Gathers’ developmental is something we will all have to watch very closely this offseason.