The Chargers let Gates walk in free agency this offseason after his contract expired in March. However, that was before Hunter Henry suffered a torn ACL during offseason workouts in May, opening the door for Gates to extend his storied 15-year tenure with the only team he's ever known. The two sides finally came to an agreement in early September, with the 38-year-old rejoining the Chargers just one week before their season opener. Virgil Green is still expected to serve as the starting tight end, likely leaving Gates to handle a part-time role in passing situations. There's always potential for a contribution in the red zone, but he hasn't been a consistent starting-caliber fantasy option since 2014.
Much to the likely dismay of Tony Gonzalez, the 36-year-old Gates decided to come back for his 15th pro season. Gates caught Gonzalez for the all-time TE touchdown record last year, an interesting development when you consider how shamelessly the Chargers fed the ball to Gates in the red zone. He can't get much after the catch these days, and his YPC hit an all-time low last year. This time around, the Chargers won't be playing favorites. They're trying to win over a new fanbase in Los Angeles, and they fancy themselves a playoff contender. Gates probably will be less utilized than rising second-year tight end Hunter Henry, and the Bolts also have Keenan Allen returning from injury and rookie WR Mike Williams as a red-zone threat. We're going to cheer Gates when he eventually passes Gonzalez, but we don't expect much else this year.
Given the choice of re-signing upside TE Ladarius Green or the ancient Antonio Gates, the Chargers, of course, went for the latter. But maybe it's less of a sentimental play than it seems. The team drafted John Mackey Award winner Hunter Henry 35th overall, making him the latest understudy to Gates, who surely can't outlast his new two-year deal (can he?). The Chargers essentially traded a more expensive Gates replacement for one who'll be on a rookie contract the next four years. The Chargers said they expect Henry (6-5, 250; 4.66 40) to catch passes right away, but they said the same of Green the last few years, to little avail. And Henry is an unproven rookie. So it's the Gates show once more, at least. Gates missed five games last season, including a four-game PED suspension to start the year, and didn't make a big impact. His first two games were the highlight, as he combined for 18 catches, 187 yards and two scores. After that, he averaged less than 50 yards a game. Gates will gets his share of red-zone targets – 13 last year, from where he scored all five of his TDs – thanks to his uncanny connection with Philip Rivers. He'll need plenty, because each year he seemingly gets more touchdown-dependent. Last season, his YPC and YPT fell to some of the lowest of his career, and he had only five catches of 20-plus yards.
Gates scored a 10-year high 12 touchdowns last season, tying for the league lead among tight ends and vaulting himself to the second-leading fantasy producer at the position after a couple years of fringe top-10 status. Gates had fewer targets last year than in 2013, but his yards and catches were similar thanks to slightly increased efficiency (11.9 YPC, 8.4 YPT). He came alive at the goal line, though, with a seven-year high 19 red-zone targets, which he converted into 10 catches for nine touchdowns. But Gates' scoring binge came mostly in the first half of the season when he had nine touchdowns. He had only six red-zone looks in the last eight games, going five games without one, and he had just one of his six 25-yard receptions in the second half. He stayed healthy all year, playing 16 games for the second consecutive season, and proved he can still be productive at an advanced age. Playing a full slate isn't in the cards for him this season, however, thanks to a four-game suspension to start the season. Once he's back -- at 35 this year, though, it wouldn't surprise if his work was scaled back, especially considering the second-half fades he's experienced the last two years. Understudy Ladarius Green, 6-6, 240, was not as involved last year as expected, but the Chargers spoke again this offseason of their desire to work him into the offense more and that will happen early on. Gates' value likely will hinge on touchdowns again. Even if his targets stay stable, his weekly yardage isn't enough to make him an automatic fantasy play anymore.
Gates played 16 games last season for the first time since 2009, receiving a six-year high 113 targets. While he led the team in receptions, there were some ominous signs: Gates' four touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie season, his 11.3 yards per catch was the second lowest of his career (only slightly higher than his 11.0 mark the year before) and his 7.7 yards per target ranked 13th among qualified tight ends. A heavy workload early in the season when he received double-digit targets in half of the first eight games might have taken its toll on Gates, who also was asked to do more blocking last season. He slowed down the stretch, failing to break 50 yards in the last six games, averaging 3.5 receptions and 34.6 yards. In the team's two playoff games, he totaled three catches for 15 yards. Gates is 34 this year, and the Chargers likely will work third-year tight end Ladarius Green into the passing game more. The potential of the 6-6 Green, who averaged 22.1 yards per catch last season, is undeniable. That could work to Gates' favor, though. While his targets might dip, his efficiency might increase with less wear and tear on his body.
After missing nine games the previous two years, Gates stayed healthy enough to play 15 last season. Still, he turned in his lowest marks since his rookie year thanks to his advancing age, Philip Rivers' erratic play and the team’s offensive struggles.
At 33, Gates had only one game with more than 59 receiving yards, and the days of double-digit YPT are long gone as he finished with a mere 6.7. Moreover, of Gates' 80 targets, only 11 were in the red zone, though he converted an impressive six for scores. (He also had one longer TD). If Philip Rivers can regain his quarterback prowess, Gates, health permitting, could see an uptick in his numbers, but his best days are clearly behind him.
Gates once again battled injuries in 2011, playing only 13 games. He has now missed nine games the last two seasons. And that doesn’t include the games where he played through injuries – after missing three early season games last year he didn’t return to top shape until mid-season. Still, prorating his 2011 numbers to 16 games would give him about 80 catches and 1,000 yards – impressive for a guy with bad wheels. At offseason workouts this spring, Gates said he felt like himself again after dealing with the lingering effects of the plantar fascia injury that has plagued him since 2010. If so, that’s good news for fantasy owners because Gates has long been considered one of the league’s best tight ends and could actually come at a discount this season given his recent injury history. He excels as a blocker and is quick enough to attack the second level once he bursts off the line of scrimmage. Scouts praise his footwork, which allows him not only to get out of the break quickly, but also move to get balls most tight ends can’t reel in. Gates’ 8.8 yards per target last season was down from 12.0 and 10.6 the previous two seasons, but still fourth among tight ends with 80 targets or more. Philip Rivers should turn in a better season after a four-year low 7.7 YPA, and Gates is still his first look in the red zone and near the goal line. With the loss of Vincent Jackson, Gates should see his targets (88 last season) surpass 100 again and should return to elite tight-end status – provided he stays healthy.
A converted basketball player out of Kent State, Gates is perennially considered one of the league’s best tight ends. At 6-4, 260, he’s a plus-blocker both at the line of scrimmage and at the second level. Despite his size, he possesses a burst off the line and has become a polished route runner. Gates missed six games last season with toe, ankle and foot injuries. It was the first time since 2005 he missed a game, though he has played through minor injuries in recent years. Even with the missed time, his 10 touchdowns tied him for the lead at the position, and he added a seventh year to his record of consecutive seasons with at least eight scores. Thanks to quarterback Philip Rivers' consistent play and Gates' soft hands, Gates led all starting tight ends with a 76-percent reception rate and ranked fourth with 744 receiving yards. Gates also benefited from increased passing in the red zone. After throwing on just 36.3 percent of its red-zone plays in 2009, San Diego returned to a more typical 52.3 percent in 2010. Coupled with the holdout of Vincent Jackson, who averaged 14 red-zone targets the previous three years, this provided Gates with 15 red-zone targets in his 10 games after he saw only 12 in 16 games the previous year. To grasp just how impressive Gates' production was, prorating his stats to 16 games gives him 80 receptions, 1,251 yards and 16 touchdowns. Gates might not reach those numbers this season, but it shows what he's capable of – if healthy. At press time, Gates’ rehab from last year’s foot injury was going well, and he’s expected to be 100 percent for the start of training camp.
Gates put an injury-filled 2008 behind him
to lead all tight ends in receiving yards (1,157)
and yards per target (10.6). His production was
even more outstanding considering his limited
action in Week 17 when he finished with one
catch for 12 yards. Despite a four-year low of
only 12 red-zone targets, Gates scored eight
touchdowns for the Bolts, making him the only
tight end in NFL history with at least eight
touchdowns in six consecutive seasons. Philip
Rivers targeted Gates an average of 115 times
the last five years, a number that easily should
be approached this year.
Even with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons
from wideout Vincent Jackson, Gates is still the
top option in the passing game as his speed
and agility in a 6-4, 260-pound frame is an
impossible matchup for opposing defenders.
And though his red-zone targets were down
last season, he didn’t lose targets to teammates.
The Chargers simply attempted fewer passes in
that area of the field last season. Just 36.3
percent of their red-zone plays were pass
attempts, compared to 51.8 and 48.9 percent
the previous two seasons. Perhaps without
Norv Turner’s favorite workhorse, LaDainian
Tomlinson, who had a three-year high 36
rushes inside the 10 last season, the Chargers
will look to Gates more at the goal line this
It’s worth noting Gates was diagnosed with a
“minor form of plantar fascitis” in late May, but
a couple weeks of rest are all that's prescribed,
and he’s expected to be healthy for the start of
Gates is a defensive coordinator’s nightmare, possessing too much size (6-4, 260) for safeties and too much speed for linebackers. Even though he finished last season with good stats, Gates saw an overall drop in production due to hip, toe and ankle injuries – he had a five-year low in receptions (60), yards (704) and touchdowns (eight). Despite being less than 100 percent, Gates was third among tight ends in red-zone targets (19), and his eight touchdowns were second only to Tony Gonzalez. Over the last three years, Gates has the most touchdowns at the position with 26. A model of consistency, he has scored at least eight touchdowns in the last five seasons, and his 12.68 yards per catch over the last three years is the best among tight ends with at least 100 targets. Playing alongside teammates Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson will help keep opposing defenses honest and limit his double teams. The hope should be that fellow owners focus on last year’s stats and slightly downgrade Gates even though past history suggests a rebound this year. The former Kent State hoops star should be healthy to start the season and will vie for top fantasy player at this position.
Gates has been a touchdown machine at the
position, leading all tight ends with 28 the last
three years. Aside from his size, agility and
excellent hands, the reason he so consistently
gets into the end zone is opportunity – over the
last three years, he's seen 58 red-zone targets
(only seven wide receivers have seen more),
22 targets from inside the 10 (tied for third
among tight ends) and 11 targets from inside
the five (tied for fourth). The Chargers do have
some red-zone competition in LaDainian Tomlinson
who's highly effective in that area (this
explains why Gates leads in red-zone looks,
but not inside-the-five or inside-the-10 ones)
and big receivers Chris Chambers and Vincent
Jackson. But Gates is such a difficult matchup
for opposing defenses that he'll continue to be
Philip Rivers' first look from in close.
Keep an eye on Gates recovery from offseason
toe surgery. He's expected to be ready
during the middle of training camp. If he looks
completely healthy, bump him back up to the
top spot on the board.
The Chargers weren’t blessed with a lot of talent at wideout last season, and it showed as Gates led the team in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. San Diego used its first-round draft pick on WR Craig Davis (LSU), but Gates remains the No. 1 option in the passing game. He led all tight ends in overall targets (120), red-zone targets (21), yards (924) and touchdowns (9). Early reports from minicamp have him running routes at wideout, so look for more yards per catch (13.0 last year) in 2007.
Gates has put up two consecutive monster seasons, second only to Tony Gonzalez in receptions and yards in that time, but he kills Gonzalez in the red zone, catching 23 balls for scores during that span to Gonzalez’s nine. Gates does a tremendous job of leveraging his size, speed and athleticism from in close, bringing in a whopping eight of his 12 red-zone targets down for scores last year. There will be a new QB (Philip Rivers) in San Diego, but that shouldn’t hurt Gates’ value much as young quarterbacks often look to the tight end as a safety valve, and he has little competition for red-zone targets among San Diego’s receiving corps.
We figured Gates would become a larger element in the San Diego offense last season, but quite frankly, we were blown away by his performance. He exceeded anyone’s forecast, catching 81 passes (57 more than in 2003) for 964 yards (575 more). And then there were the touchdowns – 13 – setting an NFL record for tight ends. Quarterback Drew Brees relied on Gates heavily during the Chargers renaissance and figures to do so again, given the lack of elite San Diego wideouts. The torch hasn’t been passed just yet, but those who select Gates before Gonzalez this year aren’t likely to raise many eyebrows.
As a rookie, Gates was third on the team in receiving yards. The talent level at the wideout position in San Diego isn’t strong, so we expect Gates to become more of a target in 2004. He could be a nice sleeper pick if you can’t land the position’s studs, though keep in mind that he might have rookie quarterback Philip Rivers throwing him the ball.