Dallas Cowboys 2017 Breakout Prospect: Tight End Rico Gathers

After spending 2016 learning the nuances of the tight end position, could Rico Gathers be a breakout player for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2017 season?

A lot of talk this offseason for the Dallas Cowboys has centered around finding a pass rusher for their defense. This obviously makes sense because the lack of quarterback pressure led to their demise in the postseason. As big of a need as that position is, every now and then talk surfaces of the need for more playmakers on offense in the passing game.

The biggest area that could use an infusion of talent has to be the tight end spot. While future Hall-of-Famer Jason Witten currently mans that starting spot, it’s no secret he has lost a step. Witten is always reliable, runs cleans routes, is a leader, and is also incredibly durable. What he isn’t, though, is a playmaker. While the thought of finding a younger, pass catching tight in the draft end is appealing, it may not be necessary.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cowboys used a sixth-round selection on Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers, who planned to transition to tight end in the NFL. He was considered a project player considering he didn’t play football while at school in Waco, but turned heads during the season while working with the scout team.

According to DallasCowboys.com writer and former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus, Gathers is a player to keep an eye on this season:

I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Rico Gathers was the player on this roster that makes the biggest jump contribution wise from last season to next season. One of the best things to happen to Gathers was that he had the opportunity to work with Tony Romo. Folks that I had the chance to visit with after the season told me Gathers wore the defense out during these practices.

As Broaddus mentions in both his article and his tweet, Gathers had a luxury not afforded to most project pass catchers: a quarterback the caliber of Tony Romo throwing him the ball. The former scout said that Romo forced the ball to Gathers despite being covered and the tight end usually delivered.

By the end of the season he had moved from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and found himself working with the starters in practices. Gathers still has yet to play in a regular season game, but the strides he made in 2016 were huge.

Another thing that could Gathers is his ability to build a rapport with quarterback Dak Prescott. Both were rookies last season and at one point they were even roommates. If that sounds familiar to Dallas fans it’s because Romo and Witten were both rookies together in 2003 and were also roommates. Should Gathers and Prescott build a similar bond, it’s possible there could be another long relationship between the Boys signal caller and tight end.

With the team looking as if they could lose wide receiver Terrance Williams and tight end Gavin Escobar in free agency, another big jump from Gathers would be great for them. He is definitely a player to keep an eye on as the offseason programs get under way.

This article originally appeared on