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There were some high hopes for Antonio Gandy-Golden last season when the Washington Football Team drafted him in the fourth round. The sample size, however, was disappointingly small, as injuries hampered the Liberty standout for most of the year.
Now that he's back on the field, Gandy-Golden is starting to look like the player Ron Rivera and his staff hope he will become.
"He used his big body to make a couple of plays for us, and that is what he did coming out," Rivera said. "That's what drew us to him as a big receiver with quickness, good hands, and he'll go and get the ball."
Gandy-Golden's 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame was one of the reasons Washington was so enamored with him in 2020. That led to three straight 1,000-yard seasons and 30 touchdowns, and he was the fourth-most productive receiver in college football during the 2019 season with nearly 1,400 yards. The small list of names ahead of him included LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, both of whom became first-round picks.
The other factor was how Gandy-Golden consistently came down with catches; he had 36 contested grabs -- the most among draft-eligible receivers in his class since 2018. He got a chance to show that off during a two-point conversion in Washington's first preseason game against the Patriots. It looked like he came down with the ball at first, but after a review, it was ruled that he did not complete the pass as he fell out of bounds.
Gandy-Golden got a second shot one week later against the Bengals. This time, on a similar play, Gandy-Golden completed the grab on another two-point conversion to put Washington up by a touchdown. In fact, Rivera said after the game that Gandy-Golden "plucked that ball." And on top of that, he led the team with 38 yards on three grabs.
"It was good to see him bounce back. He's a big body," Rivera said. "Big bodies give themselves opportunities to make plays and that is what he did."
In practice, Gandy-Golden has been just as effective. He's beaten experienced corners like Darryl Roberts and made athletic grabs against Troy Apke in 1-on-1 drills. He's also laid key blocks on running plays, most notable one on the edge on Aug. 6 that resulted in a 20-yard gain from J.D. McKissic. Those are the things Rivera thought Gandy-Golden could do when Washington first drafted him.
"He's a guy that can make his presence felt," Rivera said last April. "We believe in the red zone, certain short yardage -- third and intermediate, third-and-three, third-and-seven -- he's a guy that can work the middle for you. He can block, he's a guy that we feel can be a very physical blocker."
Rivera and his staff have believed in Gandy-Golden for some time now, although there were people who were curious as to what he would do in Year 2. And to his credit, he has provided an answer to every question thrown his way. With final roster cuts only eight days away, Gandy-golden is in a good spot to carve out a role for himself.
"Going well, he's doing some good things," Rivera told reporters Aug. 17. "Catching people's attention. He's a big body, works well with the quarterbacks in terms of the vertical stuff. So he's done a nice job, he really has."