San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates played all 16 games last season for the first time since 2009, and not surprisingly he posted his highest catch (77) and yardage (872) totals since that season. A fast start, with two-100 yard games in the first four weeks and at least four catches in every game from Week 2-Week 11 (nine games), gave way to a late fade as Gates did not break 50 yards in any of the final six games of the season. Gates also only had four touchdowns last year, his fewest since his rookie year (2003).
Ladarius Green averaged 22.1 yards per catch in a minimal role last season, and all indications are he will have a much bigger role this year as Gates’ backup and eventual replacement. Having his snap count reduced may actually benefit Gates some at age 34, but it also means his target volume (113 in 2013: third-most among tight ends) will go down too. Gates has seen more time with the first-team offense than Green over San Diego’s last two preseason games, for what that’s worth. That may mean there’s room for both tight ends to have a prominent role this year, especially with the Chargers having some question marks beyond Keenan Allen at wide receiver.
Gates clearly has great rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers, and that will not go away this year even if the veteran tight end moves into a more specialized role. Gates had at least seven touchdowns in nine straight seasons (2004-2012), with at least eight in the first seven of those campaigns, so it would make sense to utilize Gates in the red zone extensively.
Gates’ presence may prove to be a drag on Green’s fantasy value more than anything, and as a result both can’t be relied on as a sure-fire TE1 coming out of drafts and auctions. Green’s current average draft position (via Fantasy Football Calculator.com) is in the 11th round, while Gates’ ADP is close to two full rounds later. Gates missed 10 games from 2010-2012 and is not the player he was in his prime, but that ADP removes a lot of the risk attached to him. With the prospect of 5-10 touchdowns negating some likely drop-off in catches and yards, I think Gates can be fantasy relevant for at least one more year.