clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Where in the world is Rico Gathers?

New, comments

And can he help the Cowboys passing game?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, remember Rico Gathers? The second-year tight end was a preseason phenom, exhibiting the exciting physical gifts that had fans and scouts alike drooling over his potential:

Since entering the concussion protocol and going on injured reserve in the final weeks of preseason there’s been precious little information about Gathers.

So, according to Todd Archer he’s eligible to come off the IR yet the coaches seem unhurried about bringing him back to the team. I find this interesting because while the Cowboys’ offense has been effective (5th in NFL scoring per game) it hasn’t been perfect. And I can’t help wondering if Gathers is exactly the kind of player that could make this offense even more potent.

It is worrisome that this concussion has kept him out for so long, and there is no real return date in view. Gathers might be a real cure for a passing game that missing a deep-middle threat.

We all know the Dallas running game has reached mid-season form and is back to being one of the very best in the league. It is the strength and identity of the team. But an NFL offense cannot succeed on running alone. It also must pass the ball and the Dallas passing game has some room for improvement.

Here is Dak Prescott’s passing charts against Washington and San Francisco:

What stands out to me about this chart is there’s very little down the field and especially down the middle of the field. You can pick any other game and the throws down the field and particularly down the middle of the field will be few and far between.

This is odd, because Prescott has been better than average when throwing deep:

Note that while Prescott has been effective throwing deep, the intermediate middle route is where he has struggled most.

The lack of downfield action is found in the receiving numbers for the team’s primary targets. Earlier this week, OCC outlined the struggles of the Cowboys’ receivers. The following show how each receiver’s 2016 numbers compare to their 2017 numbers pro-rated to a 16-game season:

Notes:

  • Cole Beasley has seen his targets drop by 25%; but his receptions are set to decline by almost 50%.
  • Dez Bryant, staying healthy, looks to have about a 50% increase in both targets and receptions.
  • Terrance Williams is looking at a 10% or so increase in both targets and receptions.
  • Jason Witten, at the age of 35 and in his 15th season, is set to increase both his targets and catches.
  • Butler’s already minimal targets are down but his catch projection is up slightly.

Other than Beasley’s numbers, none of these are particularly concerning. But let’s look at the yardage numbers:

Notes:

  • Not only is Beasley seeing fewer targets and catching fewer balls, he’s generating barely half the number of yards per target as he did in 2016.
  • Bryant, with increases in both targets and catches, has suffered a 2.6 yard decline in yards per target.
  • Williams, a traditional big-play specialist, has also seen his yards per target decline by more than 2.5 yards.
  • Witten’s already modest yards per catch numbers have declined slightly (0.4 yards)
  • Only Butler, who’s 17.3 yards per target is stratospheric, has improved. But remember, he averages less than two targets per game.

Gathers could be exactly what this offense needs to jump-start the intermediate passing game. Gathers is big, fast and athletic and gives the team a deep, middle-of-the-field weapon. Adding him to the mix could reduce the attention given to the outside receivers.

The Cowboys have not had a deep middle-of-the-field threat in a while. Jason Witten is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. But he’s simply not a downfield weapon like he was in his prime. The following is a 16-game rolling average of both his yards per target and yards per catch numbers since entering the league:

Both have seen significant, long-term decline. Witten’s current 6.7 yards per target is a pedestrian number, ranking 15th among eligible tight ends (those with at least 20 targets). While still a good player he’s simply not the dynamic weapon he was earlier in his career. Adding Rico Gathers to the mix would seem to be a viable solution to one of the offense’s weaknesses.

Ezekiel Elliott won at least a one-week reprieve from league suspension but the Cowboys still face the possibility Zeke won’t be available for an extended period this season. That will create more pressure on the offense to make up the lost production. The lack of news on Rico Gathers would indicate the coaches plan on going with the Witten/James Hanna/Geoff Swaim group at tight end for now.

Could a healthy Gathers return at some point down the stretch? It could be a huge boost if he does.