Antonio Gates has long been the face of the tight end position for not only the San Diego Chargers, but arguably the entire NFL. All due respect to Gates, a future Hall of Famer who appears to have plenty left in the tank, but that is about to change and change in a hurry.
206 yards and two touchdowns, including 60 and 30-yard scores, during a three-week span last November secured Ladarius Green‘s standing as Gate’s heir apparent in San Diego. But the tight end of the future may become the tight end of the present if Green keeps tapping his wealth of potential.
With Gates away from the team this offseason, attending to what has been deemed a “personal matter,” Green stole the show during OTAs, lining up with the first team and routinely burning San Diego’s coverage. According to writer Kevin Acee of the Union-Tribune San Diego, “there are plays Green makes, with his height, hands and speed, no one else on the roster can make.” Acee later added that he expects Green “to at least double last year’s 17 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns.”
Green’s production, on the surface, was a bit underwhelming in 2013, which is probably a big reason why he’s still flying under the radar despite flashing some serious ability during his second year. In reality, though, he simply wasn’t allotted enough opportunities to shine. Green only played 36 percent of San Diego’s offensive snaps, and was designated as a blocker 56 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, he was only targeted 28 times, but made the most out of those chances with 17 receptions and 22.1 yards per catch.
Pro Football Focus ranked Green second in the entire NFL in yards per route among tight ends who acquired at least double-digit targets, producing a ridiculous 2.67 yards every pass pattern. Frankly, the Chargers would be insane not to make Green a focal point of their passing game in 2014.
And it’s not just the numbers; it’s how impressive he looked producing them. With outstanding size for the tight end position, Green has the athleticism of a receiver, highlighted by 4.5 speed. His catch radius is absurdly large, making him a dangerous red-zone threat with more snaps this coming fall.
The biggest reason why Green didn’t see more snaps and subsequently targets last year may have been some rawness as a route runner. But that’s reportedly something he’s been working tirelessly to refine this offseason. More crispness in and out of breaks would make Green virtually impossible to cover for linebackers given his speed and defensive backs given his size.
He’s in the ideal situation to breakout too, assuming, of course, the coaching staff lets him off the leash. Quarterback Philip Rivers enjoyed arguably his best season as a pro in 2013, his 10th year in the league. And encouragingly for Green’s prospects in 2014 and beyond, Rivers appears to be his biggest fan.
“The sky is still the limit for (Green),” Rivers told the Union-Tribune San Diego earlier this month. “You have to have desire and ability. He has both.”
Outside of wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is one of the game’s brightest young wideouts after a prolific rookie campaign, no pass catcher on San Diego’s offense has a higher ceiling than Green. Not even the Chargers’ loyalty to one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, Antonio Gates, can impede what Green has in store this season.
Green is simply too promising not to garner a significant spike in playing time. And when he does, he’s simply too talented not to become an elite tight end.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.