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Every one of us reading this right now respects the heck out of Antonio Gates – he might be the greatest tight end of the past 10–15 years. We respect him, but the fantasy owner in us is circling around him like a buzzard…waiting for the 37-yea-old to finally collapse from the NFL and yield to Hunter Henry. Several fantasy owners will have their Hunter Henry fantasy ticket waiting to be fully punched this year.
Every one of us reading this right now also respects the heck out of Jason Witten, the ‘Ironman’ of NFL tight ends, and another future Hall of Famer. We all respect the aging Witten, but we’re not circling around him like a buzzard like we are with Gates. Why not? You’ve seen these two in action in 2016. Both have slowed down dramatically. Still viable, but nowhere near their peak. We want Gates to move aside, most of us do. Whether it’s for Hunter Henry to take over or fear of owning Gates the year “it’s over.” No one wants to deal with that hot potato. We want clarity. Yet, we don’t demand or care if Jason Witten steps aside, nor fear that we’ll wind up with his “it’s over” season in fantasy 2017.
The reason we don’t care as much about Witten is we don’t see his replacement staring us in the face. In Gates’s case, not only was Henry a top tight end prospect coming out of Arkansas, but he led all NFL tight ends with eight TDs last season while barely playing in Gates’s shadow. Who is Witten’s replacement?
It’s Rico Gathers…former Baylor basketball star turned NFL tight end.
…and it’s not just a simple “they both played basketball” connection with Gathers either.
There are several former college basketball power forwards who never played college football while trying to transition to the NFL these days. It’s not as cute or rare a story as it used to be. There are a couple of different twists with Gathers’s transition.
First, most college basketball players transitioning to the NFL were good/solid performers on the hardwood but not ‘stars.’ Gathers is a bit different, a bit better ballplayer than the average transition prospect. He was essentially a four-year starter and led the Big 12 in rebounding in 2014–15; led the Big 12 in offensive rebounding his final two seasons; was a NCAA top five offensive and total rebounder at various times in his college career. He’s the Big 12 all-time leader in rebounds per game and offensive rebound percentage, and he’s a top 10 record holder in a variety of statistical categories in the Big 12 and nationally.
Gathers has a lot of great college basketball numbers, but leading the nation in offensive rebounding is really something – and should have a nice correlation to the football field. You have to have tremendous anticipation, leaping ability, quickness, hands, and hand-eye coordination to lead all of college basketball in offensive rebounding…especially at ‘just’ 6′6″ tall.
Another area where Gathers deviates from the usual basketball-to-TE convert? Here’s how impressive Gathers’ basketball work and pre-draft workouts were. Most every hoops-to-gridiron tight end prospect goes undrafted. They become a pet project, a gamble that an NFL GM was tipped off to by someone. On the other hand, Gathers was a sixth-round draft pick for Dallas in 2016. The Cowboys were not leaving Gathers to chance after the draft. They locked him up during the draft.
Physically, Gathers is a monster at tight end – a legit 6′6″ and 270+ pounds. He has (reported) less than 11% body fat. He has massive 11.25″ hands. His wingspan is that of a typical seven-footer in the NBA (83.7″). He didn’t earn the nickname ‘Zeus’ for no reason by his NFL teammates.
Listen to any Dallas coaches, personnel people or local media talk about Rico Gathers and they gush. It’s like a high-performance sports car they have been allowed to test drive in traffic, but pine for the day they can get on the open road to open it up and see what she can do.
Besides some B-roll from practices, this is the only glimpse we have of Gathers in ‘real’ NFL action…and it’s a doozy.
— R.C. Fischer (@FFMetrics) September 8, 2016
There are rare few backup tight ends in the NFL that, for fantasy, the media would go crazy with if the starter got hurt for an extended period. Think about all the ‘next Antonio Gates‘ stories forcing fantasy GMs to go wild for the unproven backup. Gathers is one of those rare few backup tight ends that could set off a firestorm. The story, his background, his physical presence…the story writes itself.
We may not have to wait for a Witten injury to force Gathers into the limelight in 2017 – it may happen naturally. Gathers might be the Cowboys’ best red-zone passing game weapon on the roster right now…and that includes Dez Bryant. Who could be better than a legit 6′6″ former college basketball rebounding standout/leaper with a seven footer’s wingspan and 11.25″ hands to throw to in the end zone? Good luck covering him. Gathers may score more TDs as a limited snap backup than Witten does as a starter in 2017, a la Henry scoring more than Gates last season.
Rico Gathers is a freakish weapon heading to fantasy lineups soon. It might be more 2018–2019, but it might happen in 2017. Some prospects are just too good not to put to work, even if they’re not 100% ready to be full-fledged starters. If Gathers is used in 2017 – it will be as a scoring weapon and could mean sweet things for fantasy while coming out of nowhere.
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