Despite being 35 years of age, San Diego tight end Antonio Gates has been outrunning Father Time longer than most assumed he would. However, in light of the recent four-game PED-related suspension handed down by the NFL, is it now fair to wonder if he had a little help in doing so? Perhaps more importantly, what ramifications will his absence have on the entirety of the Chargers offense?
Let’s take a look at the principal parties involved…
Antonio Gates, TE SD
Obviously this hurts contending teams counting on the future Hall of Famer for TE1 viability. Last year, Gates finished as the PPR TE3, largely on the back of his 12 receiving scores. He also finished second on the team in both receptions in receiving yards, proving once again age was just a number.
But to the point I made in the initial paragraph, how much of that was due to an illegal advantage?
Feel free to lambaste me for this take, but I don’t think it had anything to due with performance enhancing drugs. In 2013, Gates actually had more receptions and receiving yards, but simply failed to score the ball at the same rate (only four touchdowns). 2012 was definitively a down year (538 yards in 15 games), but 2011 (778 yards in 13 games) and 2010 (782 yards in 10 games) were spectacular. So clearly, for the sake of believability we have to assume Gates began taking PEDs after the 2012 season and somehow didn’t get caught until two full seasons later.
Nope, I’m not buying it.
Much like Tony Gonzalez before him, there exists the possibility – no, probability – that Gates is just that good. Remember, he isn’t going to be elected into the Hall of Okay, he’s going to the freaking Hall of Fame, largely because much like Gonzo and Mike Ditka before him, he helped revolutionize the position. If I owned Gates I’d be holding fast, expecting him to put up TE1 numbers once he comes back. And if your league-mates think his production was solely a by-product of an illegality, now’s the time to buy.
Philip Rivers, QB SD
Since taking over as “the guy” in 2006, Rivers has tossed 251 touchdown passes – 72 of these scores have gone to Gates, equating to 28.7%. Considering the duration of time we’re talking about, that’s absolutely huge. In fact, excluding 2013 and his rookie season, Gates has never failed to haul in at least seven scores in any given season – that’s a massive safety blanket for any quarterback.
While I don’t expect Rivers to fall flat on his face in 2015’s opening quartet of games, it’s fair to wonder if his red-zone effectiveness will suffer. I certainly wouldn’t be looking to sell here (after all, he’s still only 33 years old), but if I’m counting on the guy as my starter for nearly a third of the fantasy season it’s something to think about. Ultimately though, I think you need to stay the course – Rivers remains one of the best signal callers in the league, and should still be valued as such.
Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and Malcom Floyd, WR SD
[inlinead]This can only be a good thing for the trio above, right? Last year Allen, Floyd and the now-departed Eddie Royal combined for 304 targets, showing that the offense clearly revolved around its receivers and Gates. As such, I would expect slight bumps for all three, particularly Johnson since he seems most likely to spend his time in the slot, corralling the shorter passes. The touchdown vacuum should also favor Allen, who despite his down year as a sophomore still managed to catch eight touchdowns on just 105 targets as a rookie. It might be challenging to predict who will receive the weekly bump, but as the most talented of the three I can see Allen procuring the additional work.
Ladarius Green, TE SD
Ah, now we’ve reached the crux of the matter. As the man slated to directly replace Gates for the early-season stretch, as well as a card-carrying member of the “Christine Michael Super Hype All-Stars,” much of the dynasty focus has shifted to Green and his theoretical potential. Let’s explore what this means for the soon-to-be fourth year player.
To date, Green truthfully hasn’t done much of anything between the white lines of the NFL playing field. In three years he’s only managed to achieve a modest line of 40/658/3, never seeing more than 30 targets in a single season. I understand he was stuck behind one of the all-time greats, but if he was as good as advertised, why wouldn’t the coaches scheme specifically for him?
To that last point, the list of Chargers targeted more heavily than Green last year is six-deep, including the previously mentioned Gates, Allen, Floyd and Royal. Also above Green in the pecking order were a pair of running backs in Branden Oliver and “Dammit” Donald Brown, neither of whom could possibly be confused with any sort of transcendently talented footballer. So apart from Gates, and to a lesser extent Allen, why was Green so blocked off from making any sort of NFL (and fantasy) contribution?
Some of it comes from where he plays – tight end is arguably the most nuanced position in the NFL, and it takes rarities like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham to make any sort of early-career contribution. But I also don’t think we should be glossing over the fact that Green was a fourth round pick by now-deposed General Manager AJ Smith, a man affectionately labeled as “The Lord of No Rings” by local media. In other words, though Green has physical gifts on his side, it wasn’t enough for the 31 other teams to pass over him (at least) three times apiece, ultimately ending in a selection by a comically bad GM.
Speaking to those physical gifts, I want to draw your attention to the figure below, which highlights a direct comparison of the measureables of two different NFL tight ends, while also showing their stat-lines through three years:
So who’s behind our two mystery doors?
I’ve already provided the answer to Contestant A earlier, who is none other than Mr. Green. But how about Contestant B, a player who is not only more of a physical presence than Green but has also out-performed on the gridiron? Yup, that’s none other than budding superstar Rob Housler.
If you’re wondering what I’m driving at, it’s simple. Firstly, it’s not as if Green’s physical gifts are some sort of new NFL phenomenon – the tight end landscape is littered with guys who “just need to realize their upside,” and Housler is a perfect example. Yet despite his relative successes compared to Green, he’s viewed as a fantasy pariah instead of a budding superstar who “just needs a shot.”
Secondly, Green’s lack of production to date is alarmingly low. I’ve touched on the fact that he’s behind Gates, but even a guy like Housler, who was so deep in Bruce Arians’ doghouse that he effectively resembled a post-Ramsey Theon Greyjoy, out-performed him with ease. For a fourth round pick with little more than a profile as an “athletic mismatch” to his name, that’s not exactly good.
Bringing this full circle, I think it’s imperative to see what owners of Green have to say on the matter. Recently I took to Twitter and asked said dynasty aficionados what draft picks they would have accepted in compensation for Green, both before and after the Gates suspension. Here are the tabulated results:
While this is only a small sample size, it’s easy to glean a common trend – seven of the nine owners placed a higher value on Green after the Gates suspension than they did before. Again, it’s not as if Green himself did anything during this timeframe to cause us to value him more highly, but rather it’s owners sensing the volatility of the tight end landscape, and understanding the potential valuation shift. It’s also notable that outside of one owner, the consensus remained that Green still wasn’t worth more than an early second round pick.
So what should dynasty owners be looking to do with Green right about now? For my money, I’d be actively seeking the Housler owner and trying to flip Green for Housler and a future second round pick. Not only would this provide additional draft capital next year, but it would also result in procuring a player who has a full season of opportunity as a starter, and one who offers the same “upside” as Green.
But ultimately, I won’t fault those owners who choose to stand pat. Likely they’ve been riding out the storm for a few years now, and truly believe in the eventual Green breakout. Perhaps more importantly, they know he’s a free agent at the conclusion of the season, so if he puts a good show on tape it’s entirely possible he’ll find himself in a more ideal situation next season. At the end of the day though, I expect more of the same – Gates coming back in week five and reclaiming his starting job, with Green owners left holding the bag full of another off-season’s worth of “what if?” eventualities.
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Plenty of good points regarding Ladarius, but… he was always a devy kind of player, a converted WR, which hurt his production, and San Diego has had some bad O-Lines, so his (presumed) blocking deficit further kept him off the field. Housler is a quality prospect as well, but it may be apples and oranges to compare their production; there certainly was no Antonio Gates in Arizona.
Also, there are a lot of current top 10 TEs that started slow:
first 3 years: 33-359-2 Delanie Walker
first 3 years:68-602-4 Martellus Bennett
Julius Thomas had 1 catch in 2 years before year 3 breakout
Jordan Cameron had 26-259-1 in first 2 years before year 3 breakout
Charles Clay had 34-445-5 in first 2 years before year 3 breakout
I have Ladarius in one league, and the only reason I would sell for any worse than a high/mid 2nd rounder is to open up some contract space (he is my TE3 behind J.Graham and T.Kelce and has a 4 yr contract on a max 45 year roster). He is a hold if one cannot get a top 15 pick, IMO.
Regarding Gates post-suspension…
As you pointed out, his strong year last season was largely on the back of his 12 scores. But those 12 scores represent an outlier for him.
Remember how Gates was week to week in 2013, without the high scoring rate of 2014?
After Week 5, he went the next thirteen weeks only managing 10 fantasy points in my half-ppr *twice*. He averaged a measly 6 points per week from Week 6 to Week 17. Difference making, he was not.
Flip a coin, because after the suspension owners are just as likely to get back 2013 Gates as 2014 Gates.
As for Green…
He’s only been held in check by coaching decision. Which people need to realize is *not* always the player’s fault in the NFL.
McCoy, like most NFL coaches, will not go very far to alter their playbook to fit what they actually have on the roster. McCoy prefers a wide-receiver in the slot, and Gates wasn’t gonna get benched for Green, because he’s Antonio Gates. So this just left nothing for Green to do. McCoy didn’t want to run two TE sets, because they just aren’t in his playbook.
I’m not hating on McCoy; this is really just the reality of coaching in the NFL. It’s by large a conservative culture, and most coaches are very reluctant to alter what they’ve been doing before, what got them the job in the first place.
Yes, this. SO often fans see a player with talent and assume the coaches will scheme specifically to accommodate that player (or complain when they don’t).
Football is the most nuanced team sport there is, and I have to point out aside from teams favoring 2 TE schemes there is only 1 TE on the field at almost all times. Players fit into the greater plans to win the game, choaches do not give the smallest of a blank as to how much stats any individual player puts up. So, to note how many WRs had more targets or production is flawed reasoning, and he should only be measured by what he has done when on the field. If he only played x amount of reps, that’s what he should be judged on, not a final stat line compared to other starting tight ends in the league.
He may or may not have his predicted breakout, but the fact that he didn’t have it as fast as fantasy owners would like while backing up one of the greatest tight ends ever does not warrant this level of value drop. I got him in a startup dynasty draft super late as my 3rd TE because I knew he would be a steal. Here’s to finally getting a shot, go Green
Incidentally, the above also applies to Rob Housler’s career to date.
It hasn’t been his fault, either.
Arians has never been much for scheming tight ends.
I think Stevie Johnson is going to flourish in this situation. Look for him to come close to Keenan Allen’s production, but at a much, much lower price.
I think this article paints a good picture of identifying another potential breakout TE that others may not have considered but the argument between Green and Housler is a bit skewed. Have you considered snap count over the 3 year period? Housler had 1,423 offensive snap counts from 2012-2014 as compared to Ladarius and his 643 which represents a difference of 120%. You apply that difference to Ladarius’s stas and he would have had over 1,450 yards receiving and about 7 touchdowns compared to Housler’s 1k of yards and ONLY 1 touchdown.
And those figures and analysis do not factor in that: 1) Most of Ladarius offensive snaps were as a blocking tight end and he has never had the opportunity as Housler has (granted Housler’s situation under Arians not ideal) in playing the role as the only receiving tight end on the field; hence he has now been FREED for 4 games. 2) Housler is now playing on a team that will feature the run exclusively. Call me surprised if the Browns pass over 25 times a game at best.
So from a redraft perpsective, I agree Housler may likely be a better option since he is almost guaranteed to have more snaps over the 16 game season but there’s no argument for me in in dynasty. If Ladarius produces as we expect him to over the first 4 games as starter, he will get his chance next year as a full time TE1 starter either in SD or the team of his choosing.