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Don’t Put Antonio Gates Out to the Pasture Quite Yet

In what seems like an annual column, Antonio Gates is lined up for another year of being a great value pick. Despite his puzzling ADP, another successful year looks to be in store for Gates due largely to his consistency at such a variable position and the touchdown success he’s shown over his career.

PUZZLING ADP

Currently being drafted as the TE15 at the end of the 12th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator ADP, are we being too quick to assume Gates will decline this season?

Starting Week 5 after returning from his suspension, here’s how Gates performed and his 16-game pace:

Antonio Gates 2015 Pace

Gates finished the season as the TE12 despite missing a decent portion of it. However, that 81-916-7 stat line would’ve netted Gates a TE6 finish, right behind Greg Olsen.

Now we’re seeing him fall to the end of the 12th round after questionable guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins?

That’s just screaming a tremendous value.

CONSISTENCY

Week-to-week volatility is something every fantasy football owner inherits, but the volatility at the tight end position can be nauseating at times.

Despite playing only 11 games last season, Gates finished as a top-12 tight end on six different occasions. Three of those games he finished within the top six, providing elite top-end production at the position.

Only five tight ends saw more targets per game than Gates last season. He was a consistent presence in the San Diego offense, seeing eight or more targets on six different occasions. To put that in perspective, that was the same number as Rob Gronkowski. Only six tight ends topped that number, all of which played in three or more games than Gates.

Gates was also one of the few tight ends that could capitalize those opportunities into production. He either surpassed 50 receiving yards or had a touchdown in nine of his 11 games, providing a safe floor that most other tight ends taken around him have yet to show on a week-to-week basis.

HOW VITAL ARE TOUCHDOWNS TO TIGHT ENDS?

Part of what makes Gates such an intriguing prospect to target once again in 2016 is the success he’s shown in the red zone over his career. Unsurprisingly, touchdowns make up the largest percentage of fantasy points attributed to tight ends compared to other skill positions.

Touchdown Percentage of Total Fantasy Points

After his return in Week 5, Gates saw over 22 percent of San Diego’s red zone targets. No wide receiver saw greater than 11 percent. His five red zone touchdowns were also the second most on the team outside of Danny Woodhead.

Some might be projecting Keenan Allen to become a big factor in the red zone this season, but that really hasn’t been a major part of his game. In fact, during the first eight weeks of the season, Allen saw the same number of red zone targets as Gates, despite playing in four more games!

After scoring eight touchdowns in his first season, Allen has only scored eight more over the last two seasons combined. Sorry Allen truthers, he’s a PPR magnet, not a touchdown-scoring machine.

Additionally, the Chargers haven’t been a team that often runs the ball in the red zone. Since taking over in 2013, Mike McCoy’s offenses have passed 57.4, 58.5, and 65 percent of the time from within the 20-yard line over the past three seasons. Melvin Gordon has yet to score his first career rushing touchdown, and while that statistic will most likely encounter positive regression, it’s clear the Chargers will heavily look to score through the air.

Tight ends get a large part of their fantasy points through their ability to outsize defensive backs in the red zone and score touchdowns. If Gates can once again dominate the market share of red zone targets (he scored nine red zone touchdowns on 19 targets in 2014), he should once again have no problem finishing inside the top-12 tight ends.

CONCLUSION

Our composite projections currently have Gates at TE9. Guys like Zach Ertz, Martellus Bennett, and ASJ are being taken ahead of him, all facing questionable workloads. I’m taking Gates all day ahead of his ADP if he continues to be valued by the masses down at TE15.

Dating back to 1994 (as far back as ProFootballReference has game-to-game data), only Tony Gonzalez (87) has scored more receiving red zone touchdowns than Gates (81). His uncanny ability to find the soft spots in the defense, coupled with his long-time connection with Philip Rivers, make him one of the most dangerous red zone weapons in the league.

Sure, Gates could see a slight decline in targets with a healthy Allen back in the fold, but Gates’ red zone usage and week-to-week consistency make him the preferred target over the other tight ends being drafted around him.

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