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Football Outsiders: Rico Gathers’ “receiving ability” & “big play potential” sets him apart

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Uncle Rico is up for debate again.

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

We continue our conversation with Football Outsiders about the state of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 (you can see the first installment here, second installment here, third installment here). The FO Almanac is an awesome resource for any football fan. Not only can you learn about the Cowboys, but all the other teams in the NFL and even some college stuff. Go ahead and pick up a copy if you’re so inclined.

Today’s topic is sure to ignite plenty of debate. Why? Because it’s about Rico Gathers. While reading through the FO Almanac we came across a “Top 25 under 25” list. To the dismay of some and the delight of others, Rico Gathers made the honorable mentions list. Given that Gathers has yet to play a single NFL game, we wondered why he made their list.

Blogging The Boys: You have TE Rico Gathers as an honorable mention on your “Top 25 under 25” list. His status has been a hot debate among the Cowboys faithful. Why does FO rank him as such?

Football Outsiders: Largely due to opportunity -- it’s not like there’s a proven player above him on the depth chart. We were enticed by the big-play potential and athleticism he showed as a basketball player at Baylor, and the pair of 20-plus-yard touchdowns he scored in the preseason in 2017. His two years on the sidelines didn’t bother us, because it’s perfectly reasonable that he would be a late bloomer in the NFL after not playing football since middle school. Since FOA 2018 was released in mid-July, reports on Gathers haven’t been encouraging, with some reports that he’s a long shot to make the roster. His best bet might be if Geoff Swaim, a pure blocker, wins the top tight end job -- that might make Gathers’ receiving ability more attractive as a complementary piece.

Well, there’s plenty in that answer for both sides of the debate. FO is on the same train that many Gathers backers are on - big-play potential. In terms of pure athleticism and ability to create a big play in the passing game, Gathers is likely the leader in that category among the Cowboys current tight ends. Granted, that is only one aspect of the game and even then there is uncertainty as to Gathers translating that ability into regular-season games. It’s all those other jobs a tight end must take care of that are bedeviling Gathers.

FO also notes the less-than-encouraging reports coming out of training camp and preseason games about Gathers. His playing time is at the bottom for the tight ends and he’s only really getting time late in games. If the Cowboys coaching staff doesn’t give him significant playing time in the upcoming game against Arizona, the writing might be on the wall.

The Rico Gathers debate has engendered strong feelings on both sides, but it could be coming to a close soon for the Cowboys. In our latest roster projections, only three front-page writers felt that Gathers would make the 53-man roster. Whether the Cowboys keep three or four tight ends is the big question, and with injuries piling up at other positions an extra roster spot may weight heavily in the thinking.

Although if Gathers doesn’t make the Cowboys 53-man roster, he will likely be given a chance by another team, so the debate won’t truly end.