Player Spotlight: Antonio Gates

A detailed examination of Antonio Gates' fantasy prospects for the 2015 season.

An All-Time Great

Antonio Gates will go down in history as one of the NFL's all-time greats, but he'll also be remembered as one of the most valuable fantasy football assets in our hobby's existence.

All-Time NFL Ranks

  • 4th all time, receptions by TE -- 788 catches
  • 4th all time, receiving yards by TE -- 10,014 yards
  • 2nd all time, receiving TDs by TE -- 99 touchdowns

Fantasy Accolades

  • 10 times as a Top 10 fantasy TE
  • 8 times as a Top 5 fantasy TE
  • 7 times as a Top 3 fantasy TE
  • 3 times as the #1 fantasy TE

From Value Pick to Cautionary Tale

Thanks to being on the wrong side of 30 and dealing with periodic bouts of plantar fasciitis, Gates' fantasy ADP has been misaligned with his overall value for a number of years.

  • In 2013, Gates was being drafted 110th overall (TE13) in spite of finishing TE12 the prior season. He finished as the 9th ranked TE.
  • In 2014, Gates was being drafted 141st overall (TE16) in spite of finishing TE9 the prior season. He finished as the 2nd ranked TE.
  • In 2015, Gates was being drafted 143rd overall (TE15) in spite of finishing TE2 the prior season.

Had we written this Spotlight a few weeks ago, we would have implored you to aggressively target Gates in drafts. In spite of being the 2nd best fantasy TE last year (behind Gronkowski), and returning to an identical situation (same QB, system, coaches, supporting cast), fantasy owners were ignoring Gates' value for the 3rd consecutive season.

But then came...THE SUSPENSION

On July 2nd, the NFL announced Antonio Gates would be suspended for the first four games of the season for violation of the league's PED policies.

The NFL announced on Thursday that San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Gates is eligible to return to San Diego's active roster on Monday, Oct. 5, following the team's Oct. 4 game against the Cleveland Browns. He can participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.

In a statement released by the team, Gates said he did not knowingly take a banned substance, but acknowledged he did take supplements this offseason and accepts the consequences.

Assessing the Consequences

There are two ways to think about Gates' 4-game ban:

  • Scenario A -- Gates misses four games, and returns for the final 12 resuming his role as Philip Rivers top target and the Chargers main red zone threat
  • Scenario B -- In Gates' absence, backup Ladarius Green finally gets enough snaps to prove himself, and essentially forces Gates into a more limited role upon his return

You view on which scenario plays out is directly linked to what you think about Ladarius Green. I view Green as an overhyped, limited player that will be exposed in the first month. If I'm right, Gates remains a compelling fantasy asset for the final three months of the season. Alternatively, if you feel Green's ascendance has only been limited by his part-time snaps, this suspension news is going to knock Gates completely off your draft board.

Positives

  • Gates was the 2nd best fantasy TE last year (69 receptions for 821 yards and 12 TDs), in spite of being drafted outside the Top 10 at his position
  • Phillip Rivers remains a hyper-accurate quarterback who looks to Gates in critical situations; particularly the red zone
  • Gates is healthy, and the 4-game suspension should assure his effectiveness into the critical Week 14-16 playoff gauntlet

Negatives

  • Unless your league is deep enough to roster multiple tight ends, Gates' suspension makes him undraftable
  • Ladarius Green will have the opportunity to earn a significant role; and COULD displace Gates permanently given their respective ages and contracts
  • Gates has been prone to plantar fasciitis in the past; a recurrence would rob him of his effectiveness

Projections

YEAR GRECYDTD
2012 SD 15 49 538 7
2013 SD 16 77 872 4
2014 SD 16 69 821 12
2015 PROJ-Dodds 11 42 487 5
2015 PROJ-Henry 12 48 545 5
2015 PROJ-Wood 12 52 600 6
2015 PROJ-Tremblay 12 43 505 6

Final Thoughts

Gates was set up to deliver MASSIVE fantasy value again in 2015. He was being drafted outside the top 12 at the position in spite of outscoring every tight end not named Rob Gronkowski. His ability and opportunity were intact, he has an undeniable rapport with an elite quarterback, and was set to be the Chargers top red zone target. The 4-game suspension completely changes the paradigm. At best, Gates will return to TE1 productivity after the first month. At worst, Ladarius Green will rise to the occasion and force the Chargers into using a committee upon Gates' return. League size and roster requirements dictate the plan of action here. If you plan on drafting two tight ends, Gates remains an ideal choice as your TE2. If you only roster one TE (and use the waiver wire beyond that), Gates is undraftable. Don't worry too much about Ladarius Green, but if he explodes in the first month, and you drafted Gates as your TE2, strongly consider dropping him for a high upside waiver pick.


Thoughts from Around the Web

Rotoworld's Ray Summerlin thinks Gates' per-game productivity remains compelling:

There is not much reason to think a suspension would suddenly take away Gates’ per-game consistency. Unlike holdouts or players with preseason injuries, suspended players are able to participate in training camp and the preseason. As a result, players who begin the year on the suspended list rarely see a drop in efficiency. Since 2000, 31 skill position players have served suspensions to begin the season. On average, those players saw just a .03 drop in their point per touch efficiency from their career average. It is a non-factor. 

Our own Sigmund Bloom believes passing on Gates on draft day is the right decision:

Antonio Gates could return and resume 2014 production levels from the word go, but even the value of that is questionable because of his inconsistency. There are equally plausible scenarios where other targets shrink the small margin Gates had over other low TE1s. If you’re still fascinated with Gates, the right move is probably still to pass (and maybe take Green instead), because his owner will likely grow tired of waiting for his return while others pick low-hanging fruit off of the waiver wire.


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