Fantasy Football junkies have been drooling over tight end Antonio Gates for nearly a decade now, but many of those folks have been quite disappointed by his production in recent years. The San Diego Chargers had one of the league’s most prolific offenses less than a handful of years ago. Recently, however, those days seem like an awfully long way in the rearview mirror.
Although he is another year older coming into this season as a freshly minted 33 year old, Gates still has the unique athleticism that is more frequently found on the hardwood than the gridiron. His hoops background from his collegiate days at Kent State still frequently show up in his play as he posts up defenders in the red zone like a seven-footer calling for a pass down in the paint. He may not be as fast as he once was, but Gates has compensated for the loss in speed with his savvy veteran knowledge as far as positioning is concerned.
As one of quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite targets over the years, Gates has compiled quite a statistical resume during his Chargers career. Still the Bolts have been grooming his heir apparent in Ladarius Green who figures to be making guest appearances in the San Diego offense this coming season. Newly signed tight end John Phillips will also be in the running for some time on the field, and his blocking skills will be beneficial to the Chargers running game.
That running game figures to take a step forward this season as well because, let’s face it, it can’t take any more steps backward. If that does take place and the Bolts are actually formidable on the ground in 2013, safeties will be forced to come down into the box and respect the run which will open up real estate for Gates to work in over the middle.
A healthy Antonio Gates is what the Chargers need this season, and last year they saw the veteran on the field for 15 out of the 16 regular season games. That was his best total since foot injuries began plaguing him following the 2009 season where he played in all 16. He may have seen his lowest numbers production-wise last year in a long time, but that had more to do with an offensive line in shambles and Rivers running for his life more often than not.
The new offense under head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt promises to emphasize the short passing game which should help Gates regain his status as an elite tight end. It may not be back to the heyday of Gates circa 2006 or 2007 this season, but it seems reasonable to expect him to significantly outperform his 49 catches for just 538 yards and seven touchdowns from a year ago.