Rico Gafford

Perseverance Will Lead Rico Gafford to a Breakout Season in 2020

The Las Vegas Raiders possess two vertical threats at the wide receiver position as they enter the 2020 season. While many focus on the April acquisition of Henry Ruggs III, Rico Gafford is entering his third year with the Silver and Black. Based on his journey to the NFL, a breakout season from the former Wyoming Cowboy is not out of the question.

Rico Gafford’s Tough Start

Rico Gafford’s story begins in Des Moines, Iowa. He played football and was a state-champion sprinter at Dowling Catholic High School.

Photo by Reese Strickland/The Des Moines Register

Unfortunately, his grades and stature kept universities such as Iowa and Iowa State from recruiting him as a football player. As a result, he started his collegiate football career at Iowa Western Community College for two seasons. On the verge of giving up, his mother encouraged him to persevere. Within time, he received the opportunity that he had been working towards.

Road to Las Vegas

Gafford’s former football coach at Dowling Catholic High School, Tom Wilson, called up Wyoming Cowboy defensive back coach (at the time) Curt Mallory. Mallory and Wilson once worked together on the same coaching staff at Ball State University. Wilson insisted that Rico would thrive as a cornerback under Mallory’s tutelage in the Wyoming football program.

Former Wyoming Cowboy defensive back coach Curt Mallory. Photo by Getty Images

Soon thereafter, the University of Wyoming offered Gafford a Division I football scholarship. In two collegiate seasons with the Cowboys, He did not disappoint.

His endeavors paved the way for an opportunity to showcase his talent at Wyoming’s pro day prior to the 2018 NFL draft. There, he caught the eye of NFL scouts.

Ultimately, he wasn’t drafted but the Raiders did sign him to their practice squad as a cornerback. However, the coaching staff decided to move him to the wide receiver position prior to last season. After being told about the position change; he began to have second thoughts about his NFL career. Thankfully, his mother once again prevented him from giving up his dream.

“This is a dream. It’s obviously not how he envisioned it right away, but I just told him to keep practicing and keep working hard.” -Gafford’s mother in an interview with The Des Moines Register

The combination of his elite athleticism and mental fortitude provides endless possibilities as he enters year three with the Silver and Black.

Rico Gafford is Ready for 2020

Rico Gafford scores a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum in 2019. Photo by USA Today Sports

As the Raiders prepare to open training camp this week, Gafford has finally arrived in the desert both figuratively and literally.

While he may be new to the position, his ability to exploit opposing defensive backs with breakneck speed is second to none.

This singular play in 2019 completed an improbable journey for the Iowa native.

“It felt like I had finally made it”

In 2019, Gafford only saw 43 total offensive snaps. Despite minimal usage, it is evident that with higher utilization he can be a game-changer for the Silver and Black. In spite of a convoluted offseason program due to Covid-19, he has been working hard to become a more complete wide receiver in year three.

Head coach Jon Gruden has always had a soft spot for speed on the football field. Should Rico impress in other facets of the game such as route running, run blocking, and special teams during training camp; it is quite possible that he will become a key player for the Silver and Black in 2020.

In Review

Arguably, the wide receiver position bears the steepest learning curve for young NFL athletes. Gafford’s position switch from cornerback to wide receiver on the Raiders is just another testament to his character. In addition, head coach Gruden’s offensive scheme for receivers is one of the most complex at all levels. His journey to Sin City has been impressive. Should he continue to persevere, the Silver and Black may possess a receiver position group in 2020 that leaves opposing secondary’s in the desert, literally.

Interview Credit to the Des Moines Register Des Moines Register interview with Rico Gafford

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