Generally, NFL news items in early July are not good ones, and the round of suspensions handed down on Thursday, July 2 did not reverse that trend. Four players were suspended for substance abuse or performance-enhancing drug violations. The fantasy football world was not spared when the names were released one by one as old hand Antonio Gates went down for four games under the performance-enhancing drug policy.
How does this affect Gates’ stock?
Even though it was an up and down season, Gates’ year-end totals put him square in the mid-TE1 territory, with names like Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett, who were going before Gates in drafts. He had a few performances that showed he could still take over a game like he did regularly in the oughts. Philip Rivers can still sling it, and Gates was holding off size/speed freak Ladarius Green to be the primary receiving tight end in a good pass offense.
Now, Gates becomes a bit of a liability, costing you a dead roster spot for the first three waiver wire runs. It is easier to overlook this cost for players like Le’Veon Bell and Tom Brady because of the size and consistency of the advantage they provide at current cost. Gates’ all or nothing scoring profile makes it more difficult to feel like you’re “banking” anything by landing him at a discount. In 14 or 16-man roster leagues, he might not even be worth a draft pick (few backup TEs are), and certainly not over Ladarius Green, who can contribute startable weeks early and create momentum to cut into Gates’ role.
The additional risk of the Chargers having ample opportunity to rethink the roles of Green and Gates further dings Gates’ stock and should encourage us to err on the side of passing on him. In TE premium and 14+ team leagues, Gates will still merit a roster spot and more consideration as a “sneaky” late pick, but in 10 or 12 team leagues, he is a much tougher sell.
Josh Hill, Dwayne Allen, Delanie Walker, Jason Witten, and Kyle Rudolph should all see bumps as owners who were relying on Gates as a value TE1 will look elsewhere for their TE1. Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett, Zach Ertz, and Julius Thomas were all going ahead of Gates and could tick up a little as one more viable alternative later is gone. Rudolph looks like the best value at current ADP, and he also has an ascendant young QB and red zone prowess. He’s a natural replacement in your TE draft plan if it hinged on getting mid TE1 production at a low TE1 price. Ertz might be the best replacement if you're willing to pay more and looking for the weekly upside that Gates presented - assuming Ertz's involvement in Philadelphia really does spike in year three.
How does this affect Gates’ teammates stocks?
Ladarius Green headlines the list here. He has flashed rare big play ability for a 6’6” 240 weaponized receiving tight end. While he has done a lot with limited targets, that has inexplicably not led to more targets for him over the last two seasons. Now the Chargers have no choice but to use him as a first-team tight end, and the results could irrevocably change the team’s pecking order of targets.
Unless you have deep benches, Green becomes the clear Chargers tight end to draft if you’re going to take one. He’ll try his hand against Detroit, Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Cleveland. Cincinnati could present some opportunity with their lapses against the tight end last year, but it is not the most attractive set of defensive matchups. This is a good moment to point out that Philip Rivers was outstanding early last year against the very tough Seattle and Buffalo pass defenses. In the ten games Gates has missed since 2010, Dante Rosario had a three touchdown game, Randy McMichael had a two-score game, and no-name tight ends like Kris Wilson and Kory Sperry were able to catch passes of longer than 30 yards from Rivers. Green himself had a 30+ yard reception from Rivers in his second NFL game fresh out of Louisiana-Lafayette when Gates was out.
Gates’ reward is questionable given his age and what Green could force with strong play in the first four weeks of the season. It is certainly possible that Green has been ready to break out for over a year, but Gates and Rivers’ sizable history together has been an insurmountable obstacle. With Gates out of the way for four games, Green is not just auditioning for a bigger role with the Chargers for 2015, but for his next contract in 2016. Once again, if you’re going to draft a Chargers tight end this year, it should probably be Green.
Of the remaining supporting cast, Rivers’ existing chemistry with Malcom Floyd, especially in the red zone, makes him a better deep league late pick or DFS cheapo wide receiver play while Gates is out. Stevie Johnson was an under-the-radar offseason acquisition to replace Eddie Royal. He can still play at a high level and reports have him establishing a good rapport with Rivers. Even Danny Woodhead, who is reportedly 100%, could especially benefit from Gates’ absence on two-minute drills and in the red zone. We can’t forget Keenan Allen, who gets a lot of targets in the middle of the field, vacated by Gates.
Philip Rivers has gotten by without key targets at various times, his stock shouldn’t be affected by this at all, and he could actually benefit over the long haul if Green’s powers are “activated” during his four-game starting stretch.
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.