The 6th in our Tight End Confidential series are the San Diego Chargers who boast an aging veteran still at the top of his game, and a young hopeful with a complete skill set.
At 36 years old with over 10,000 yards and 104 touchdowns in hand, Antonio Gates has already secured his induction into the Hall of Fame when he decides to call it career. However Gates, and more importantly his performance, could make one believe that the end is not in sight for this 13-year veteran. Gates has been the catalyst for basketball players transitioning from the hardwood, to the gridiron. Tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas can thank Gates for paving the way. Don’t be fooled by his stats last season, as Gates only started four games, but still managed to haul in 56 receptions for 630 yards, and five touchdowns. If those numbers were over a full season, he would have been looking at another 1000-yard season.
While Gates production was great considering his availability, the availability is still a concern for San Diego. When Ladarius Green, the original heir apparent to Gates, left for Pittsburgh in free agency, it was important for the Chargers to replace him with another quality tight end. So they used a 2nd round pick in this season’s draft to take Arkansas Razorback tight end, Hunter Henry. Henry had a great career in Arkansas and played in a Pro-style system. He is a guy who is valuable as a blocker and as a pass catcher, and will serve as an immediate impact in that #2 role. Henry will be an upgrade over gates in the run game immediately, which will also facilitate his use in the pass game, especially as a play-action weapon.
The position the Chargers have put themselves in allows them to seamlessly transition from their veteran hall of famer, to the guy they hope will be the next great tight end in their organization. Henry will be assisted by Gates’ presence as it will lessen the expectations of fans for him, and he will be able to pick the brain of quarterback Phillip Rivers’ favorite target. Gates will be able to focus on his effectiveness in the pass game and allow Henry to do most of the heavy lifting in the run game. It could buy Gates another couple years in the league. By that time, the 21-year-old Henry, will only be 24 and ready to take over as the full time guy.
This season they will be leaned on to help propel the Chargers back to the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how much they use 2-tight end formations.