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Dream-chasing Rico Gafford sees 'perfect opportunity' with Packers

Second-year cornerback/returner thrilled to reunite with Rich Bisaccia in Green Bay

CB Rico Gafford
CB Rico Gafford

GREEN BAY – Rico Gafford knows how high the stakes are this summer.

For the past four years, the 26-year-old cornerback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback again has done anything, and played everywhere, in order to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.

The Packers signed Gafford to a futures contract as a receiver this past January, but after drafting three receivers in the spring, Head Coach Matt LaFleur approached the 5-foot-10, 184-pound speedster to get his thoughts on shifting back to defense.

"Coach LaFleur came up to me, he was like, 'The receiver room is pretty stacked right now. Your best bet honestly to make the team is to go back to defense,'" Gafford said.

"I was like, 'Say less, Coach. Say less.'"

Gafford was fully onboard with a shift back to cornerback, the position he played at the University of Wyoming, Iowa Western Community College and Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.

It wasn't until Gafford signed with the Raiders in 2018 that he was moved to receiver to capitalize on his speed. A year earlier, Gafford developed some serious NFL buzz after clocking a scorching 4.22 time in the 40 at his Wyoming pro day.

While offense was a bit of an odyssey, Gafford found comfort on the Raiders' special-teams units. A big reason for that was the team's no-nonsense coordinator Rich Bisaccia, whose clear and direct coaching style appealed to Gafford.

As fate would have it, a little more than a week after Gafford signed with the Packers in January, LaFleur tabbed Bisaccia as Green Bay's new special teams coordinator.

Perhaps nobody was happier with the news than Gafford.

"Honestly, I love it," Gafford said. "Last season, I was with the Broncos and when he was with the Raiders, I talked to him and was like, 'I want to come back and play for you.' I'm going into Year 5. I haven't really played much. I want to play. I want to show I can play for you. I can be one of your guys."

Gafford was only active for eight games in three seasons with Las Vegas but was a mainstay in Bisaccia's meeting rooms. He fielded one kickoff in 2020 but unfortunately pulled his hamstring on the play.

Gafford has a clean slate in Green Bay, where the Packers have an open competition at both return spots. As Bisaccia begins to his place his stamp on Green Bay's special teams, Gafford had a chance to rotate with Amari Rodgers as returner with the No. 1 kickoff team during Friday's practice.

"He's a very explosive guy. He can really run," LaFleur said. "I think he's a guy that definitely can give us some speed on special teams, which typically is what you need your fourth and fifth corners for."

While his job title may read cornerback again, Gafford has been around the game long enough to understand the pivotal role special teams will play in his 53-man roster aspirations.

That means no wasted reps, no wasted moments and no wasted opportunities on any of the core special-teams units.

"Whenever I've gotten the opportunity to return for Rich or if it was scout-team return, I always gave him a great look because I wanted to show him that I could actually do it," Gafford said.

"He's basically throwing me in the fire now and I'm just telling him I can take it. I'm excited for it. I'm just trying to do everything I can to win a spot."

As congested as the receiver room became in the spring, the Packers didn't select a cornerback with any of their 11 picks. Instead, they're looking for contributors to emerge behind the talented trio of Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes.

Gafford saw plenty of snaps with the second-team defense throughout OTAs and now the early portion of camp. He spent his summer break focusing on his backpedaling and technique.

Standing by his locker alongside many other undrafted rookies and dreamers, Gafford says Green Bay presents the "perfect opportunity" to break through the NFL's glass ceiling.

"This is an opportunity to show I could have played five years ago," Gafford said. "No one has seen me at corner other than what I've done in the preseason my rookie year. This is my chance to show them what you have, show them what you can bring to the team and do it every single day."

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