We are back with another edition of Hail Rookie. In this edition, a small school prospect that has been on the Burgundy and Gold Report’s radar for some time, goes under the spotlight. Rookie wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden was selected in the 4th round at 142 overall and is an imposing force measuring 6’4″ 223 lbs.
The Liberty University receiver comes to Washington after posting 3 straight 1000 yard receiving seasons and recording 10 touchdowns in each of those season (33 career TD’s). AGG had his most productive year in ‘19 with a 17.7 ypr average and finished his career with a 15.9 ypr average. If not for playing at the small school level, there’s little doubt AGG would have been a top 100 selection.
Injuries and off-the-field issues have affected the depth at receiver for Washington this offseason. Some evaluators question if HC Ron Rivera has done enough to upgrade the receiver position after failing to land Amari Cooper. The draft would be Washington’s other option, but not having a 2nd round pick hurt. The 2020 draft class was the deepest in recent memory and Washington might have just struck gold by selecting Gandy-Golden in the 4th round. Head Coach Ron Rivera and new WR Coach Jim Hostler will have their work cut out for them with such a young group.
After losing their second receiver in a month, in Kelvin Harmon, to a season ending knee injury, depth has become a glaring issue. To further complicate things, Cody Latimer was booked on assault in the second degree, menacing, illegal discharge of a firearm, prohibited use of a weapon and reckless endangerment. In all likelihood, Latimer won’t make the final roster and is currently on the Commissioner’s exempt list. The former Giant would have been the elder statesman in the receiver room, but many viewed him as nothing more than depth with special teams upside.
Even after the aforementioned losses, their core is still intact. Terry Mclaurin is expected to lead this group and will undoubtedly draw more attention in coverage this year. It was believed Harmon would battle Gandy-Golden for the opportunity to be the starting Z receiver, but AGG’s assimilation now must be fast tracked with Harmon lost for the season.
Former Washington safety and NFL journalist for ESPN Matt Bowen recently appeared on the John Keim Report podcast and had the following to say about AGG:
“I wonder if he could be the backside X receiver, but he looks like a Z. Who’s your iso receiver that can run the slant, can run the fade, can run vertical, can run the deep dig, who can run the skinny post. When I watched his college tape, excellent ball skills at the point of attack. You want the sweet spot for him to be about 12-15, running deep curls and running deep comebacks. You want him to be a guy, as a rookie that has red zone upside and has critical down and distance situations upside.”
Year One Expectations
Making the leap to the NFL from college is a tall task, especially from the small school level. With no preseason games and a revised training camp, the learning curve has increased substantially. Learning on the fly and picking up the playbook quickly will be imperative for Gandy-Golden. Finding the best way to use AGG or, as Bowen put it, finding “the sweet spot” will be key. Although Gandy-Golden made a career at Liberty making acrobat catches on deep outs, he has all the makings of a big-time possession receiver.
Washington’s struggles in the red zone are well documented. When healthy, former Skins tight end Jordan Reed was their top red zone threat. AGG has the length and plays the position like a power forward, which will be needed with the installation of a new offense. Utilizing Gandy-Golden’s size and ability to attack the back of the end zone provides Dwayne Haskins with a great safety blanket and more options for OC Scott Turner in the red zone.
Under Turner, the offense will undoubtedly go through the run game, early on at least. There’s no denying the depth at receiver will be an issue for Rivera and Turner. But if they can stay healthy, the trio of Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr and and Antonio Gandy-Golden, although inexperienced, make up an ultra explosive group of play-makers. Bringing Gandy-Golden along slowly would have been ideal, but based on necessity, the rookie will be asked to contribute immediately.
Rivera will utilize his stable of running backs to establish a solid running game, while Haskins continues to gain chemistry with his receivers. The loss of Harmon will be felt, but they gain size and big play ability with Gandy-Golden at the Z receiver. Antonio Gandy-Golden will need time to refine his timing and route running within Turner’s offense, but having a pass catcher with such a wide catch radius, that can be thrown open if the play breaks down can be invaluable. Multiple receivers in this draft class possess similar size, but the Liberty pass catcher is only scratching the surface of his ability.
During Gandy-Golden’s pre- and post-draft interviews, he displayed his ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute while simultaneously answering questions. The rookie receiver admitted he has issues sitting still for long periods of times and puzzle solving has always helped his focus. In addition, he binge watches film of other NFL receivers as a hobby. So preparing for the draft with the likes of Julio Jones and Anquan Boldin only made his focus and attention to detail stronger.
Although the small school receiver will have a lot of pressure early on to perform, he’s always proven to be up to for he task. Although controversy has surrounded Washington this off-season, they slowly but surely started to build a strong receiving core, albeit very young and inexperienced. The trio each brings a unique skill set to the table; Terry McLaurin runs crisp routes and showed the ability to beat any corner in football. Steven Sims Jr rose from undrafted special teams dynamo to the unquestioned starter at the slot receiver and is a big play waiting to happen. Lastly, the addition of AGG adds the big body Z receiver that can make the tough 50/50 catches. Becoming a better blocker will be imperative, but having a receiver of his size that can make the tough, back shoulder catch in the end-zone will keep this offense competitive.
With the announcement that the NFL will not have any preseason games and no scrimmages have been scheduled for Washington, rookies will have little time to learn the new system, let alone get acclimated to the pro game. Investing in Antonio Gandy-Golden might be the sleeper move of the draft for Washington. Rivera will surely sign a few more veteran receivers, but none will have the impact that the trio is sure to have. Fans will have to be patient while Haskins and The Washington Football Team’s new offense gets its bearings, but investing in a play-maker like AGG is a move that could help bring this offense back to the glory days. Will the trio form “The Posse” 2.0? It’s way too early to make that type of prediction, but it would be misguided to think the talent isn’t there.
By Adam Aniba
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*Special thanks to Josh Taylor @JoshTaylor_21 and his Burgundy Network Podcast @BurgNetworkPod for the article cover art. Give him a follow on Twitter.
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