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Is Gates still the top tight end?

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 29, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

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    Is Antonio Gates still the best tight end investment you can make?



    For the past four seasons, when it came to drafting fantasy football tight ends, Antonio Gates was at the top of nearly every list. It's easy to understand why. Since 2004, Gates has averaged 79 catches, 993 yards and 7.75 touchdowns per season. That's the kind of output you'd be lucky to get from your No. 2 wide receiver, let alone your tight end. But as the 2008 season approaches, many are starting to question whether taking Gates is worthwhile. What seems to be the problem?


    One problem is that darn toe injury. In last season's wild-card playoff game against Tennessee, Gates was carted off the field after injuring a left toe late in the second quarter. X-rays came back negative, and Gates fought through the pain to catch two balls for 28 yards against the Colts in the next round. He had two catches for 17 yards in the AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots, and certainly wasn't the dominant force he had been in the past. In the offseason, Gates had surgery, then wore a boot for a month and was on crutches for another month. It's the image of a hobbled Gates that has some fantasy owners scared that if they use an early-round pick on him (most likely early in the fourth round), he might not give them enough return on the investment.This week, with Philip Rivers throwing passes, Gates ran close to two dozen routes of varying types for about an hour before the Chargers' preseason game against the Rams. "He looked really good," Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "That's encouraging for us, and for him." Gates left the field limp-free and was incredibly confident that he'd be ready to go come the team's Sept. 7 season opener. "I'll tell you what, it's starting to feel close to normal," Gates told reporters. "It still gets sore, but the difference is I can go out and do some things. … I haven't hit a wall. I feel more comfortable every time I go."



    So let's take the toe out of the mix and assume Gates will hit the ground running. If Gates is healthy, why wouldn't you draft him? Well, it's all about value. Although Gates has improved his yards-per-reception average each of the past four seasons and is essentially as good as or better than he was four years ago, the rest of the league's tight ends have seen a surge in fantasy output. Whether this is simply something cyclical or a concerted effort by offensive coordinators to emulate San Diego's success, tight ends all around the league are taking center stage. Check out the numbers:

    In 2004, only five players at the position had at least 400 receiving yards, at least 40 catches and five or more scores. In both 2005 and 2006, the number of tight ends who met that benchmark rose to eight. Last season, 10 tight ends fit the bill, and that number doesn't include the likes of Jeremy Shockey, Desmond Clark, Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels, who all would have made the list with just one or two more touchdowns each. That list also doesn't include rising star Greg Olsen of the Bears and rookies like Dustin Keller of the Jets and John Carlson of the Seahawks. In 2004, the gap between taking Gates as your tight end and the 10th-best option might have been about seven points a week. But by 2007, that gap had closed (depending on your league's scoring system) to around four points a week, and in 2008, that gap should get smaller still.Heck, Antonio Gates might not even be the consensus top choice at the position anymore. As we've said, his numbers have been fairly consistent across the board for the past four seasons. Meanwhile, Jason Witten and Kellen Winslow have both stepped up their games to the point that they both topped the 1,100-yard plateau in 2007, as did Tony Gonzalez of the Chiefs, who has been the Option 1A to Gates' Option 1 since 2004. (Gates had only 994 yards.) Certainly there's no longer as great a need to jump up early to select Gates, when any one of this top quartet would be more than sufficient for your fantasy tight end needs. And we've come to this assessment even before considering whether Rivers might develop better chemistry with 2007 midseason acquisition Chris Chambers, which might cut into some of Gates' targets.


    Gates is a great fantasy football player, and he certainly should be right there near the top of your tight end list, but he's no longer in a class by himself. You should feel free to draft him with confidence that he'll perform well for you. But is that the best investment you can make? I'd have to say no.
     

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