Lightning Strikes - How Good Is Antonio Gates


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Jan 22, 2006
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Lightning Strikes - How Good Is Antonio Gates
By P.S. Hamilton

Tony Gonzalez had to feel queasy as his heir-apparent flattened safety Sammy Knight on his way to a 35-yard catch and touchdown. Halloween came early to Kansas City in October of 2005, and this game was no treat for the six-time Pro-Bowler.

Three touchdowns. Ten catches for 145 yards. Antonio Gates set personal and team records as the Chargers beat the Chiefs 28 to 20 at Qualcomm Stadium. On that day, it seemed Gates left a living legend in a cloud of dust. Gonzalez would be selected to the Pro-Bowl yet again for 2005, but for the first time in his illustrious career, he would not be the starter for the AFC team. That honor would go to Antonio Gates.

There is much talk about Antonio Gates being the best tight-end in football. With Gonzalez still in the game, that can be a tough sell. The former Kent State basketball power forward played no football in College, and spent the majority of his rookie year learning what the tight end position was all about. However, towards the end of 2003 Gates showed flashes of the player he was to become, with 24 receptions for 389 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2004 and 2005 Gates amassed a staggering 170 receptions for 2065 yards. Not surprisingly, Gates was invited to the Pro-Bowl for his performances in both 2004 and 2005.

It is tough to compare Gates with the greats, simply because there are only three years of statistics to work with. However, A.G. is a remarkable player. How does Gates compare to current and future NFL Hall of Fame tight-ends, I wondered?

I really wanted to get a measure of this Charger phenomenon, so I needed to examine the competition. Based on statistics alone, it appears the top all-time tight-ends are (in no particular order):

Kellen Winslow, Shannon Sharpe, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, Tony Gonzalez

Kellen Winslow. One word best describes the guy -- clutch. That Miami playoff game in 1982 is one of the greatest football games of all time. Winslow’s grittiness showed in that effort, as he caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a field goal while suffering extreme heat exhaustion and debilitating muscle cramps. Winslow racked up 541 receptions for 6741 yards and 45 touchdowns in 109 games before recurring knee problems caused him to retire after 9 years in the game.

Shannon Sharpe is the all-time record holder for receptions and yardage among tight-ends. Sharpe was cocky and brash, and loved talking trash! Like him or not, you have to respect what he accomplished. Sharpe finished his 14 year career with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns in 204 games and won three Super Bowls.

The “Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Newsome, was a Brown’s tight-end for 13 seasons. When he retired after 1990 he was the leading tight-end receiver in NFL history and ranked fourth among all receivers. He finished his career with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns in 198 games. Interestingly, Ozzie Newsome was the first African-American general manager for an NFL team, the Ravens. In that capacity, he negotiated a trade for T.O. in 2004. T.O. raised a stink, as he is so famous for doing. The Ravens traded him back to the 49ers -- who promptly traded him to the Eagles. Newsome is currently second in receptions and yardage for a tight-end, behind Shannon Sharpe.

Dave Casper was affectionately known as “The Ghost”, but he was no apparition. Nor was he friendly to opposing defenses. Casper at 6’4”, 240lbs was a gifted blocker. Casper bounced around the league a little, but the majority of his career was spent in the Silver and Black. Many Charger fans still despise him…he recovered the “Holy Roller” in the end-zone when the Raiders swiped a game out from under the team on a wild and wooly (and questionable) series of events in the last seconds of an important AFC division game. Casper wound up his 11-year career with 378 catches for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns over 147 games and four Pro-Bowl appearances.

Tony Gonzalez has been voted to the Pro-Bowl every year since 1998, his sophomore season. “Gonzo” continues to put up numbers for the Kansas City Chiefs, and will likely remain in the game a while since he has stayed relatively healthy. He needs 170 yards to surpass Ozzie Newsome for second place on the all time tight-end yardage list and just 14 more catches to pass him in receptions. Gonzalez is another basketball-player-turned-tight-end and will most certainly be immortalized in the NFL Hall of Fame. At the end of 2005, he had 648 career catches for 7810 yards and 56 touchdowns over 143 games.

To compare Antonio Gates to these legends fairly, the best method appears to be comparing averages per game in number of receptions, receiving yards per reception, touchdowns and total yards per game. Cumulative numbers based on longevity in the league are not a factor in this comparison, providing a better gauge of actual game-time production.


Armed with these rankings, how do we determine Gate’s theoretical seating at the table of greatness?

Points have been given based on the players ranking in each category with 6 being the highest. Points from each category were added together to come up with an overall score for the player.

As you can see, Gates ranks just below Winslow in game-time efficiency and production.

Gates a long way to go to reach the kind statistics that Shannon Sharpe and the others on this list possess, but he is a young man.

With the numbers Gates is churning out, he has a realistic shot at being the first tight-end in history to reach 100 touchdowns in his career. After 3 seasons he already has 25.

I have a feeling a legend is looking over his shoulder right now.
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