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The most overrated player for the 2018 Cowboys

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Rico Gathers is the new unicorn.

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

On Sunday, DannyPhantom took a look at who was the most overpaid member of the Dallas Cowboys. The idea was to find someone who was giving the least return for the dollar on their contract. That leads to a related idea: Which current member of the team is the most overrated? This is not in terms of pay, but is more about perception in both the media and the fan base.

Looking at who should be considered led to a rather surprising thing. It is kind of hard to find anyone currently with the team who is generally overrated. Some members of the team are certainly highly regarded - but they have earned it. Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, Travis Frederick, the much wealthier Zack Martin, and DeMarcus Lawrence, who is also likely to be making a lot more money in the foreseeable future, all have reputations that are based firmly on recent performance. Outside of them, it is hard to point to many players that receive perhaps undeserved praise. Dak Prescott lost some regard last season, especially in the national media. And most of the rest of the team seems to be fairly young players that are seen as having potential, but unrealized as of yet. This is something of a change in Dallas, where many players benefited from the “halo effect” of being on America’s team in the past.

Just a few months ago, however, there were two likely candidates for this. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten were still held to be vital to the team, despite disturbing indications that both might be in severe decline. But both are no longer eligible for this debate.

One name that came to mind was Terrance Williams, but his position on the team is not nearly as secure as it was before the Night of the Lamborghini. And he always had his detractors for his inconsistency and persistence in body-catching.

Fortunately, our old friend and alumnus One Cool Customer (who thankfully stays in touch with his excellent insights and analysis) came to the rescue. In his words:

Most overrated, by a country mile, is Rico Gathers, who faces an uphill struggle to even make the team.

All of you were laughing at me for my fondness of Mark Nzeocha. Gathers is this year’s Nzeocha, a fringe player with not enough football experience. But you wouldn’t know that from the headlines he’s generating and similar nonsense hot takes on social media.

Of course. When Witten’s retirement was first announced, there were media reports that Gathers was the “obvious” heir apparent. And when discussion arises on social media about the tight end position and he is not mentioned, you get things like this to gently remind you.

There are many who absolutely love Rico’s athleticism and size. There are, however, a few problems.

Mainly, he really isn’t a football player yet. He is an experiment in creating one out of a basketball player. He has never even been on the field in an actual NFL game, and has had limited snaps in preseason. There were certainly some splash plays, but those came mostly against camp bodies who didn’t make rosters. And of the two years he has been with the Cowboys, he spent one full season on IR, where he couldn’t practice to learn his new craft. All he really has is one year on the practice squad and most of two training camps.

Based on his very limited exposure, he looks more like a receiving tight end and not one who is ready for the role in the ground game that the Cowboys demand. He himself acknowledges this.

I feel like I’m right where I need to be. The running game, that’s not really my strong suit, I’m not even going to lie. I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’m pretty sure that Jimmy Graham, the running game wasn’t his strong suit too, but he’s a five-time Pro Bowler.

At the moment, it certainly appears that Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz all are ahead of Gathers in the depth chart just because all have more to offer as blockers. Jarwin and Schultz don’t have any real experience on the field, either, but they do have a more complete skill set.

There is certainly reason to wonder if Gathers will even make the roster this year. With the crowded wide receiver group and the addition of “web back” Tavon Austin, Dallas may not be able to carry more than three tight ends for this year. Even if they do, it is questionable just how many snaps they would have for a one-dimensional tight end who currently only has utility on passing downs.

Gathers is working on improving his abilities blocking.

But after two NFL seasons and zero regular-season games played, it’s time for Gathers to finally show what he can do on the field. Toward that end, Gathers said he is gaining weight to get into the 280-285 range, significantly bigger than the 265 he weighed in at a year ago, when he said he like he was getting pushed around too much in the preseason.

“Last year was a big adjustment,” Gathers said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I was going for more trying to be quicker, trying to be faster. But that hurt me in the blocking game a lot where I felt like I was just a body, just a body catching a blow.”

A bigger Gathers will, he hopes, be a better Gathers.

“Now coming off, I’m delivering the blow,” Gathers said. “I’m delivering the shot.”

However, he has a lot of catching up to do. As OCC also mentioned, this is likely a make-or-break year for him. He was always a gamble, and given the low draft cost in acquiring him, there is no real reason for the Cowboys to try and protect him if he doesn’t prove himself in camp and preseason. The fact is that he seems a better fit for many other teams that don’t rely on the running game and want tight ends that are really just big, strong receivers.

But for Dallas, he still is not what the team really needs or wants. The high expectations many have for him are hard to understand when you really try to figure out how he might fit. The way so many cling to those ideas shows that he is the most overrated player the Cowboys have.