Can Rico Gathers be a weapon for Cowboys offense?

Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers (80) catches a touchdown pass in front of Los Angeles Rams linebacker Folarin Orimolade (56) in the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Former Baylor basketball standout shined in preseason a year ago, then spent the fall on IR

This could be a make-or-break season for Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers.

Dallas drafted Gathers in 2016 and assigned him to the practice squad that season. Understandable, considering Gathers hadn’t played football since middle school after starring in basketball at Baylor. In 2017, Gathers appeared ready to make an impact when he caught touchdown passes in the first two preseason games. But a preseason head injury sent him to the injured reserve for all of last season.

He spoke to the media on Monday about learning football the last two years. He seems to have a handle on what his role might be, especially in scramble situations.

“Make my presence as big as possible,” Gathers said. “I’m a big target and stuff like that and I feel like in scramble situations, that’s one of the easiest ways to get a touchdown because it’s basically every man for himself. You’ve just got to get open and give the quarterback a vision.”

The catalyst for Gathers attempting to play in the NFL, along with his muscular 6-foot-8 frame, was the successful path from college basketball to pro football that had been traveled by a couple of noteworthy tight ends.

Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham each played college basketball primarily before launching their football careers (Tony Gonzalez played basketball and football at Cal). Gates was set to play football and basketball at Michigan State, then opted to stick to basketball and transferred to Eastern Michigan and ultimately to Kent State. Graham played four years of basketball at Miami, then used a graduate year of eligibility to play football for the Hurricanes for a year.

But Gathers hasn’t been able to match the pace set by Gates and Graham as star tight ends. Here’s a look at the trajectories of each player.

Player – final hoops season – first season in NFL – rookie catches-yards-TDs – year 2 stats

Antonio Gates – 2003 – 2003 – 24-389-2 – 81-964-13

Jimmy Graham – 2009 – 2010 – 31-356-5 – 99-1,310-11

Rico Gathers – 2016 – NA – NA – NA

With Jason Witten gone from the Cowboys roster, 2018 would be a good time for Gathers to start filling in those NAs.