Ever since his second season in 2004 with the San Diego Chargers, Antonio Gates has either been the undisputed king of, or arguably one of the best tight ends in fantasy football. Over the last decade, Gates has averaged 70 catches, 880 yards and nine touchdowns per season. Additionally, he has made the Pro Bowl eight times and selected as an NFL All-Pro five times. His other accolades include being selected as the 2005 NFL Alumni Tight End of the Year and also being a member of the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
With all of the achievements listed above, it may seem a bit strange as to why this article is focused on Ladarius Green and not Gates. However, as many of us know, football doesn’t last forever and even the greatest players eventually have to pass the torch to their heir apparent. In this case, we will see the passing of the TE torch from Gates to Green and it will have significant fantasy impact. The passing of the torch was put into motion around Week 11 of last season when Green emerged as a viable deep threat in the passing game for the Chargers. He ended up with four catches and 81 yards in that game, and he then followed it up with three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown the following week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Green would end his 2013 campaign with 17 catches for 376 yards and three TDs. Considering the fact that he didn’t start in six games last season, Green was on pace for 27 receptions, 602 yards and five TDs if he started all 16 games. Additionally, these numbers would have taken place with Gates still there as he accounted for 77 catches, 872 yards and four TDs last year.
Clearly Gates was still the top TE option in San Diego last year, but at age 34, his days in the NFL are numbered and retirement may only be a few years away. Therefore, the Chargers must groom his eventual replacement, and Green is proving to be the ideal candidate. Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 250 pounds, Green is a bigger target than Gates. Additionally, his 4.45 40-yard speed and 35-inch vertical jump make him athletically superior to Gates at this point in their careers. We also can’t forget the fact that Green is literally 10 years younger than Gates and presents greater upside. The Chargers realize this and plan to give Green a significant increase in targets this season. We’ve already seen glimpses of that plan during preseason games this year, and it will be on full display once the regular season starts. While he won’t surpass the number of targets that Gates will get, it’ll be much closer to a 50/50 split than it was last year. Additionally, Green gets to learn from one of the best TEs the league has ever seen, and an education like that is valuable for TEs with sky-high production ceilings such as his.
Due to his size, athletic upside and proven ability as a reliable deep ball threat, I currently have Green projected to catch 55 passes for 785 yards and six TDs. Those stats may end up being higher if Gates as to miss any time due to injury. This makes him a safe candidate to buy into as a TE2 in redraft leagues of any scoring format. However, by this time next year, I feel extremely confident that I’ll be buying Green as a legit low-end TE1 with elite TE1 potential.