SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has caught almost five miles of passes (8,321 yards) in his illustrious NFL career while accounting for 642 receptions and 83 touchdowns. He made eight consecutive Pro Bowls between 2004-2011, and is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame.
But there’s one number that bothers him -- 73.
That’s his ranking on the NFL Network’s latest list of Top 100 players. There’s no shame in that, of course, except there are four tight ends ranked higher: Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (also Canton-bound) at 47, Dallas’ Jason Witten at 41, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis at 38, and New England’s Rob Gronkowski at 25. (The first 20 players on the list have yet to be announced.)
“It was frustrating to me because I felt like numbers-wise, you can always compare and say statistics mean everything,” Gates told The Times at Chargers minicamp this week. “But once you play, and you understand the game of football and game-planning, I’ve always felt who got the most respect and demanded the most attention ideally is the guy who had the biggest impact.
“That kind of gave me a chip. Sometimes you need that kind of thing. I just feel like the coverages I’ve seen at this position, I don’t really see when I watch other guys that they talk about.”
Gates, who turns 33 next week, saw his productivity drop off a bit over the last two seasons, when he increasingly was more of a factor in the red zone than between the 20-yard lines. He looks leaner and quicker than in recent years, and he remains one of San Diego’s most dangerous offensive threats. He said whereas other tight ends also draw coverage from linebackers, he’ll typically have a cornerback on him, and sometimes the best corner on the field.
“At times on third down, [Denver All-Pro cornerback] Champ Bailey will cover me,” he said. “I’ll get up in the slot, and sometimes corners will just stay there and they’ll say, 'You guard him.’ Normally, you try to get a safety or 'backer out there, and it doesn’t work with us.”
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