After a year on the practice squad, can the former Baylor basketball standout become the Dallas Cowboys’ breakout player in 2017?
This time last year, Rico Gathers was playing football for the first time since he was in the eighth grade. The Dallas Cowboys had just selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, hoping he could use his athletic abilities to develop into a tight end.
In college, Gathers was a rebounding machine at the power forward position. He played four years for the Bears, ending his career as Baylor’s All-Time leading rebounder.
His ability to “box out” is what drew NFL scouts to believe he could play football. It is the skill that most often translates success for basketball players trying to become productive tight ends. This is evident in the careers of future Hall of Famer, Tony Gonzalez and current L.A. Charger, Antonio Gates.
At 6’6”, 290 lbs, Gathers presents a huge target for the quarterback to get the ball to. More impressive however, is his speed for that size. At his pro day, he ran a 4.75 second 40-yard dash, which translates to him being able to beat linebackers down the field.
Gathers has all of the athletic tools a coach could want in a tight end. However, he is still understandably raw in terms of blocking and route running. These limitations to his game are what kept him on the practice squad all of last season.
There are signs for hope this season, as Gathers has improved mightily since his rookie year. Wednesday, OTAs were available to the media, allowing DallasCowboys.com’s football analyst Bryan Broaddus to observe the following:
"“I heard Jason Garrett praise Rico Gathers for his route running during practice, which has come a long way since last season,” Broaddus wrote. “Gathers has a much better feel for how to get off the line, plant his foot and get settled to work up the field. Gathers also had a nice drive block on Taco Charlton where he was able to get under him and push him wide.”"
With Cowboys’ tight end Jason Witten scheduled to get veteran days off during OTAs and training camp and the offense utilizing plenty of two tight end sets, Gathers will get a lot of reps with the first team offense.
Hopefully, Gathers can take advantage of them, build a good relationship with Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, and cement his status in the offense. If he is able to do that, look for Rico Gathers to be a breakout player in 2017.