Football Outsiders recently has been breaking down the best teams, offenses, defenses, special teams units, and individual seasons of the past 30 years. They did top 30 lists of teams, offense, defense, and special teams, but only top 10 lists for individual seasons. Antonio Gates still managed to show up three times on their list of tight end seasons.
Starting at number 8 on the list was Gates’ 2004 season:
This was Gates' breakout season, when everyone was shocked that a guy who never played college football could develop into an All-Pro tight end in two years. He had 81 catches for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns, which set a new record for tight ends (since broken).
It was immediately obvious watching Gates that he had the opportunity to be special and he wasted very little time proving that to be the case.
At number 6 on the list, Gates’ 2009 season was even more impressive than his original breakout campaign:
Another strong year for Gates, with 79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns.
The future Hall of Fame tight end scored fewer touchdowns but he was incredibly efficient putting up nearly 200 more yards despite two fewer receptions than in 2004.
Gates topped out at number 4 on the tight end list with his absurd 2010 season:
Gates' greatest season wasn't even a full season. He was healthy for only the first half of 2010, suffering plantar fasciitis that limited him to just two games after October. But in the 10 games he did play, he was remarkable. The standard stats -- 50 catches, 782 yards, and 10 touchdowns -- don't quite do it justice. Gates had a touchdown in every game he played that season but two. He had a 77 percent catch rate, the highest in his career and the highest of any tight end with at least 30 targets that season. What's more remarkable is that Gates did all this even though he was the only elite target Philip Rivers had in 2010. Vincent Jackson played only five games; San Diego's leading starters at wide receiver were Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee.
That Gates’ best season was injury-shortened and happened while he was the only real receiving threat on the team is simply incredible. We probably only have one more season left to enjoy watching #85 and his best days are behind him, but it’s important that Chargers fans appreciate how dominant Antonio Gates has been throughout his Chargers career.