Last season I thought I made the scoop of the year, grabbing Rico Gathers in the second-to-last round of my fantasy football league. This was before his injury, and right as he was lighting up the preseason scoreboard.
I probably could have waited until the last round to draft the former Baylor basketball standout, but who could pass on the next Tony Gonzalez in the 16th round? Either way, it was a risk to take a player that wasn’t even guaranteed snaps and now Gathers enters his third year as a fringe roster player.
It will be a real sight to see if Gathers ends up on the practice squad for a third consecutive year, especially waiting in the wings with Jason Witten’s spot vacant.
The past couple seasons keeping Gathers on the payroll gave the appearance the Cowboys were willing to groom him into Witten’s replacement. Now that he saw just 16 snaps in the first preseason game, his future has come into greater focus.
Why he can make the roster:
The reason he can make the 53-man team is the same reason he has kept the same zip code for the past two years, the man can catch.
He blew the roof off the internet earlier this week with a one-handed catch, prompting Football Twitter to speculate his odds on making the team. The consensus seems to be his hot moments are too great to pass on, even if he’s only a gadget player instead of a fully-formed Witten replacement.
Gathers has stuck around as long as he has with the dream that he can morph into Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, or Jimmy Graham- however misguided it may be to expect all basketball-converts to play the same. It’s not out of Jerry Jones’ character to hold on to pet projects like Gathers.
This league’s motto is “What can you do for me today?” So it’s unlikely Jason Garrett and company consider Gathers’ 2017 preseason performance, but anyone that watched him last year before his concussion will recall that he looked like a lock for the roster after a few impressive red zone plays. If he can remind the team with a similar performance against the Bengals this week, his odds will go up if only slightly.
On a lesser note, Gathers brings a fan-favorite sensibility to the team. He has a rabid fanbase just 90 minutes south of Dallas and everyone likes the idea of watching the next great thing just waiting to break loose. If fan morale is taken into consideration, Gathers stays. But America’s Team doesn’t have a hard time selling merchandise or seats, so that’s a small consideration.
Why he won’t make the roster:
As soon as he considered leaping to the NFL, the immediate reaction was how well he could learn blocking schemes and the proper footwork. Before the Cowboys signed him, it was about a decade since he last played with cleats.
Even had he put on pads at Baylor when Art Briles was chasing him down during basketball offseason, it may not have mattered. Look at how the Browns traded away Corey Coleman for not understanding NFL concepts as well. Tight ends were even more malnourished than receivers in Waco.
Gathers himself has recognized the need to learn more complex techniques. He told Matt Mosley and Ed Werder on The Doomsday Podcast the running game isn’t one of his assets. Even with his 6-foot-8 frame, he’s struggling to improve in protection- unlike the four other tight ends fighting for a spot.
But more than his abilities, the sheer amount of competition makes the battle more of a math equation than anything else. If the Cowboys only keep three tight ends on the active roster, Gathers is likely out while projected starter Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and fourth-rounder Dalton Schultz make the roster.