There's a long line of college basketball players who've gone on to find success in the NFL. Most of them have done it at the tight end position. You have to be an athletic freak to pull it off—tall and muscular, but with the speed to beat linebackers and the explosiveness to elevate and snatch balls over defenders.
Well, there's a new basketball player trying to follow in the footsteps of guys like Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas—and he might be the biggest freak of them all.
Rico Gathers was a four-year letter-winner for Baylor's basketball team. He averaged a double-double (11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds) his junior season and followed that up with 11.2 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game his senior season. Though he was a great college basketball player, Gathers knew his NBA potential was limited. That's why he decided to give football a shot, despite the fact he hadn't played competitively since he was 13.
For players like Gathers, their football future depends almost entirely on their Pro Day results. Since their technique is always rough and their football IQ is limited, they need to impress with raw athleticism to get their foot in the door. Gathers did exactly that. He didn't have a lot of time to train—his last college basketball game was March 17 and his Pro Day was on April 25th—but the 6-foot-6, 273-pound Gathers managed to clock a 4.75 40-Yard Dash and jump a 9-foot-7 Broad Jump. His physique was also impressive. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein said he was "absolutely shredded with plenty of beef on the bone."
Then there was his segment on ESPN's Sport Science. On a high jump, Gathers produced 9,300 watts of peak power—the second-most ever recorded in the Sports Science lab, behind only Adrian Peterson. He also had his hands measured at a gargantuan 11.25 inches—the same size as Kawhi Leonard. On social media, Gathers showed his impressive ability to throw 40-yard bombs to himself:
— Grand Master Hill (@TheHypeIsReal2) February 28, 2016
Gathers' raw potential was enticing enough for the Dallas Cowboys to spend a sixth-round draft pick on him. Now that he's in the NFL, a buzz is beginning to grow. "What I've seen so far, [Gathers] embraces everything that he does," Dez Bryant recently told the San Antonio Express-News. "He listens. He wants to know. With him having that mindset, he's not going to fail."
"He's the perfect project player," added Cowboys tight ends coach Mike Pope.
Perhaps the best decision Gathers has made this off-season is choosing to work with noted wide receiver trainer David Robinson:
— David Robinson (@drobsports1) July 12, 2016
Gathers has size and athleticism, but to make it in the NFL, he'll also need excellent technique and route-running skills. That's where Robinson comes in. His client list includes Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell. If Robinson can help Gathers learn the art of route-running, he'll be a real handful for NFL defenders. Here's a taste of the drills Robinson uses with clients, with Treadwell demonstrating:
— David Robinson (@drobsports1) July 9, 2016
Although it's unrealistic to expect Gathers to make an immediate impact, his potential is out of this world. Massive height, jacked build, humungous hands, ridiculous speed, incredible explosiveness—it's like if the Predator decided to try out for the NFL. If Gathers can learn how to diagnose a defense and create space with his route-running (which will be no easy feat), he could become the league's next unstoppable offensive force.
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