Unadulterated speed. That’s what separated Rico Gafford from anyone else on the Oakland Raiders roster. And it’s those 4.23 40-yard dash wheels that’ll distance the cornerback turned wide receiver from the rest of the Las Vegas Raiders squad. Head coach Jon Gruden habitually wax poetic about the team’s lack of speed and how the Kansas City Chiefs have it in spades.
Yet, the fastest cat on the roster is left in the cat tree instead of frolicing and flummoxing the opposition.
How the Raiders coaching staff didn’t exploit Gafford’s speed in every shape and form in a downward spiral of a 1-5 finish to a 7-9 2019 campaign is at least, strangely curious. Especially considering what the Raiders boss said about the undrafted free agent from Wyoming.
“Everybody seems to have a dangerous return man, so you can put him back there and put a red dot on him and make sure everybody is aware of the danger that he brings” Gruden told ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez in 2018.
“Everybody is running jet sweeps…. has a threat, most teams do at least, threading across the formation. We use him to do that. Obviously, most teams have some real deep speed, and we use him to do that.”
“I’m excited about him because he seems to like football and really enjoy the challenge”
Why not challenge the opposition’s special teams units by having Gafford be the primary kick and punt returner? After all, Gruden noted the team swapped returners to create some “juice” and “pop” in that portion of the game. Gafford certainly provided that being on the practice squad and scout team mimicking the speed demons the Raiders would eventually face.
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Why not challenge defenses with jet sweeps and end arounds with the ultra-quick 5-foot-10, 185-pounder using his jets? It’s almost as if, after Gafford hauled in the 49-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr against the Tennessee Titans in Week 14 the Raiders saw all they needed to and never exploited the 23-year-old’s talents again.
“He’s a mere undrafted free agent rookie” you counter? So was Deonte Harris out of tiny Assumption. Now the 5-foot-6 dynamo is an all-pro return man for the New Orleans Saints. By the way, Harris ran a 4.35 40 (at Harvard’s pro day) and hasn’t looked back since.
Gafford, who had a much faster timed-speed that matches the game film, should at least be given that same opportunity.
It’s not like the Raiders are flush with options and alternatives. Unless the Raiders acquire another player who runs under the 4.30 mark via free agency, the draft, or undrafted FA, the team should Gafford in every way imaginable. You don’t lock up a thoroughbred in the barn. That was done in Oakland. It must not happen in Las Vegas.